Mangini confident that Browns are catching on to his system

BEREA, Ohio -- Eric Mangini's boss sent a congratulatory text message. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown delivered his in person. Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid dropped Mangini a note, and even the guy who delivers the Cleveland Browns coach's newspaper told him how much he appreciated the win.

Not just any win. One over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It's nice to beat them," Mangini said. "It's important."

Important for the Browns. Important for Cleveland. And, perhaps most importantly, for Mangini's future.

On a frostbitten Thursday night, the Browns (2-11) ended a seven-game losing streak and a 12-game slide against Pittsburgh with a 13-6 upset of the Steelers, whose fifth consecutive loss might have ended any chance of the Super Bowl champions defending their title.

Mangini has been increasingly under fire as the Browns have staggered through one of the worst seasons in their history. But by guiding Cleveland to just its second win over its archrival in 20 games, Mangini might have shown that his system can work.

"Yesterday was proof," Browns linebacker David Bowens said. "We played a good Pittsburgh team. They were down with losing so many games in a row, but they're still the Super Bowl champs. Yesterday and last week (a 30-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers) showed the type of team we can be."

Mangini's future remains cloudy, but the coach, who has been criticized for almost everything he has done since arriving in Cleveland in January, is convinced that his system is taking hold. The record doesn't show it, but it will, he says.

"I believe in what we do," Mangini said. "I know it works. I know it's going to work here. I know we're going to win a lot of games here. I know we're going to have a team week in and week out the city is going to be proud of. These are good guys, working toward the same goal. That to me is the essence of winning.

"It's going to happen."

Mangini said he received a "nice, positive" message from Browns owner Randy Lerner, who intends to hire a "czar" to oversee the team's football operations. While Lerner has kept his search secretive, Mangini has made it known that he's willing to work with anyone who can help the Browns.

He might have no choice.

Lerner's hire likely will be the one who decides whether or not to keep Mangini, who was fired after three seasons with the New York Jets. Mangini is confident whomever Lerner brings in will appreciate what the coach has done since taking over a Browns team that went 4-12 last season under Romeo Crennel.

Mangini might have to convince any new executive that he's worth keeping. He's positive he will.

"I would imagine if anybody who would merit the title czar would look a lot deeper than just the record," he said. "I think that there's been rationale for all the decisions. There's a thought process, some of it's been good, some of it's been bad. There's a reason behind it.

"Anybody who comes in can take a look at it. Sit down, talk to the coaches, they're good coaches. Sit in on any meeting. Watch our practices. See how we operate. Come to our meetings, see how we do things. See how we function as a staff. It's good and it's right, and I'm confident. Come take a look because it's a good product."

Mangini has been tough on his players, but he believed he needed to be. The Browns had it too easy under Crennel, and one of Mangini's objectives this season has been to instill discipline by implementing strict rules and working his players harder than they have before.

He has asked a lot of the Browns, but Mangini said he actually has softened up since his days in New York.

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"I know this may be hard to believe, but I actually came in here a lot less heavy-handed than when I went into New York," he said, raising his right hand as if he was being sworn in by a bailiff. "I've never wanted to instill discipline for the sake of being in charge -- that's not what it's about. It's because it helps you win games. I don't want to exert power to exert power; I want the group to operate efficiently. That's always been the goal."

Mangini believes he always has had his players' support. And the idea of a coaching change doesn't sit well with some of Cleveland's players, who favor stability.

Josh Cribbs, the Browns' multitalented kick returner, wide receiver and part-time quarterback, said firing Mangini would be mistake.

"It takes time to build," Cribbs said. "To give a football coach one year to turn a football team drastically around is not possible. You don't expect a coach to come in right now and win. To get rid of coach Mangini, I don't think would be a good decision for our organization. To start rebuilding all over again, this will be three different head coach regimes in the past (three) years.

"Who would want to come coach here knowing if they don't win right away they're gone?"

With three games left this season, the Browns have more chances to show how much they have grown under Mangini. The results could sway public opinion about him and maybe change the minds of those who will decide if he should come back.

Mangini said he won't spend any time worrying about his future. There's too much work to be done.

"I believe in what we do. I believe it to my core," he said. "I've seen it work. I know it works. I'm confident in it. I mean that in a sincere way. I've seen it. I've experienced it. I believe in good people. I believe in hard work. I believe in discipline. It's truth in sports.

"If you have those things, you win."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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