BEREA, OHIO (AP) - Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini doesn’t have the hangdog look of a man whose job teeters on the brink.
As he strolled from station to station on the field at Saturday’s first practice of training camp, there were no singe marks on his baggy shorts from that hot seat on which he’s sitting. He looked tanned and comfortable as he began his second year as head coach of the Browns _ something that seemed almost impossible as winter set in for good on nearby Lake Erie in December.
Mangini knows things have to change in Cleveland, a city awaiting the next major disappointment from one of its sports teams. The cycle of losing, of pessimism, has to end. Now.
"I want to accelerate it as quickly as possible," he said calmly. "If I could press the fast-forward button I’d probably get carpal-tunnel syndrome pressing it so much. I want it as badly as anybody and more importantly I want to be able to provide that for everybody here. It’s a great, great group of people."
The Browns won just one of his first 12 games as their coach last season. Everyone in Cleveland and observers around the country were already making up a list of candidates to succeed him.
But all of a sudden the Browns rode a resurgent running game to four wins in a row to close out the season. Mike Holmgren, who led the Packers to a Super Bowl title, came aboard as team president just in time to see the winning streak.
Tom Heckert Jr. took over as general manager after the firing of George Kokinis, who has been hand-picked by Mangini. Both Holmgren and Heckert have expressed support for Mangini.
"If I thought (Mangini) couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t have come here in this role," Holmgren said earlier this week. "We have some new talent and Eric is going to put it together."
Now there’s a feeling of expediency around the team’s preseason camp. Another slow start and that late step forward will be meaningless.
"It’s nice to have Mike and Tom and to be able to really focus on coaching," Mangini said. "That’s been a huge plus."
The 39-year-old swears that just as he expects his players to improve, he is also striving to get better.
"You go through every offseason evaluating the things that you did, whether it be game to game or over the course of a season," he said. "You look at each phase and you say, ‘OK, that didn’t work out very well, let’s change it.’ And you try different things to see if it works out better."
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who injured a shoulder in Week 6 last year and missed the rest of the season, said he’s noticed the changes in Mangini this time.
"He’s more laid back," he said. "You can tell the guy’s more confident."
Mangini was a defensive assistant for five years and defensive coordinator another year for the New England Patriots before going 23-25 in three years as head coach of the Jets.
He was fired after going 9-7 in 2008, then was scooped up by the Browns who had just fired another former Patriots defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel. Crennel had averaged six wins in his four seasons.
The Browns have changed a lot in the months since Mangini was hired. Gone is the weekly drama involving quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. Now Jake Delhomme, who threw for eight touchdowns with 18 interceptions last season at Carolina, is guiding the offense. Obviously, a lot is riding on his 35-year-old shoulders.
Running back Jerome Harrison rushed for 570 yards and five TDs in the season-ending winning streak.
There are questions everywhere. Cleveland, fresh from losing LeBron James, has come to expect the worst _ and get it _ from its sports teams.
Mangini optimistically says that everyone should look at that 4-0 finish instead of the 1-11 start. Success is at hand. The fans just need to be patient.
At the same time, he expresses his impatience.
"My biggest priority is for us to make sure that we really build on the lessons of last year," he said. "There’s a lot of guys who were here through the latter part of the season last year and understand what I’m looking for and what we need in terms of Browns football. I really felt that we played that way at the end of the season. You want to start at that point. And each of those guys who were here needs to be a teacher, needs to help that happen a lot quicker than it did last year."
If not, the despair will continue in Browns Stadium.
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