The Browns wrapped up another losing season by firing Eric Mangini after just two seasons. It's a shame that the combination of president Mike Holmgren -- an offensive genius -- and a defensive-minded head coach such as Mangini couldn't turn around a franchise in a city starving for a winner. Mangini leaves Cleveland with many questions to be answered regarding the future of the team, and it should be clear to Holmgren that this is no easy fix.
1. Who is the head coach?
The best head-coaching candidate is probably in the building sitting in the president's office. Holmgren might look at the work to be done in Cleveland, then the impending work stoppage, and conclude this is not the time to jump back on the field. Fair enough, given that Holmgren really does have a lot to do from his present post.
Who is the right coach, then? Ideally, an offensive-minded young coach with great energy who isn't burdened by the team's rich history. Hopefully, that offensive-minded young coach has a top-notch 3-4 defensive coordinator coming with him. Switching defensive schemes on top of addressing the offensive issues would be too much at one time. There are 12 teams in the playoffs, and 10 of the head coaches of those teams came from the coordinator ranks. Only Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll don't fit that mold. Marty Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator of the Eagles, is a solid name to consider.
2. Do they have a quarterback?
My digging around leads me to believe there is uncertainty about Colt McCoy. I really like McCoy, and I remember what NFL.com personnel guru Gil Brandt said at the 2010 NFL Draft when McCoy was available. Brandt said that McCoy has a chance to be really good if he gets a chance to go to a place like Cleveland with Holmgren.
I like McCoy's 7.1 yards-per-attempt average, as well as the fact that he led the Browns to wins over the Saints and Patriots, but there are still major questions about if he can lead this team to a division title against the likes of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Do the Browns draft a quarterback high in April? Trade for a guy like Kevin Kolb? Or, stick with McCoy?
3. What are the top three draft needs?
When it comes to the Browns, I could list seven positions -- like one of their coaches did when I asked him. The top three areas of need after quarterback should be: 1. A top wide receiver; 2. Right tackle; 3. Defensive end. Backup consideration in the draft should go to guard, linebacker and free safety. The Browns gave up the most passing touchdowns in the AFC North last season with 26, and they scored the least amount of passing touchdowns with 13, which means the blame is on both sides of the ball.
4. What scheme to run on defense?
As Bill Parcells said to me the year after he took over the Dallas Cowboys, "I'm not moving to the 3-4 until I have the necessary pieces." He stayed in the 4-3 for another year.
So many coaches make the jump and really struggle. Buffalo abandoned the project and got back to the 4-3. The Redskins went from a top-10 defense in 2009 in a 4-3 scheme to the No. 31-ranked defense in 2010 trying to play a 3-4. I don't believe the Browns are ready for a quick transition. Whether it's 4-3 or 3-4, the real problems are in the coverage area.
5. Do the Browns need better backups?
Roster depth is critical in the NFL, and when a team goes 2-5 down the stretch after beating the Saints and Patriots earlier in the season, that indicates the backups just couldn't get the job done. Only nine Browns regulars were able to start at least 15 games. A team such as Baltimore had 15 players, and Kansas City had 17. Granted, some teams won with multiple starters out, but those teams proved to have roster depth.