CLEVELAND (AP)—Numbed by a frigid shower on a frostbitten Sunday, Eric Mangini triumphantly walked off the field following his first season as Cleveland’s coach.
He doesn’t know if he’ll back.
Jerome Harrison(notes) rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown and Josh Cribbs ran for a TD as the Browns beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 on Sunday, giving Cleveland its first four-game winning streak since 1994 to push Mangini into an uncertain offseason with momentum to fight for his job.
Mangini will likely meet with new team president Mike Holmgren in the next day or two to discuss his future. When the Browns (5-11) were 1-11 following a Dec. 6 loss to San Diego, there appeared to be no chance of Mangini returning for a second year.
But his players—some of them publicly voicing their support to Mangini— rallied and closed the season by going 4-0, the Browns’ first four-game win streak since their expansion rebirth.
Mangini, who received the cliched sideline Gatorade bath in the final seconds, is proud of the progress he made in Cleveland. He feels he could make more.
“I was never looking at this as a one-year situation,” he said. “I knew there were short-term sacrifices that had to be made. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that happens in six games or even 16. You build and that takes hard work and effort and time.
“I think we did a lot of good things.”
Holmgren is scheduled to take over on Monday, and the former Green Bay and Seattle coach said last week that he intends to meet with Mangini soon after his arrival. Holmgren said he would only need a “little while” to decide whether to bring back Mangini, whose Belichikian personality irritated some Cleveland fans and whose discipline—long practices, pop quizzes, excessive fines—had some of the Browns in an uproar.
Mangini, who has been more personable recently, acknowledged he made some mistakes.
“I’m not hiding from the mishaps,” he said. “There were some things I wish I could have done better and we could have done better.”
Holmgren said he will review the entirety of Mangini’s season and will not be swayed by any winning streak. Mangini is confident Holmgren will appreciate what he’s accomplished.
“I’m proud of my body of work,” said Mangini, who said he expected to speak with owner Randy Lerner “shortly.”
If Mangini is indeed through, he went out with the longest winning streak for a Cleveland coach since Bill Belichick.
And, if Holmgren has not yet made up his mind, Mangini gave him more to consider as he weighs whether to gut the Browns.
Cribbs believes in his coach.
“He came in here and he turned it around,” Cribbs said. “What he’s brought to this team, the discipline … to win four straight like that, getting the group of guys he wanted, it’s a slow start because it takes some time to get that group of guys that you want on your team that’s going to fight hard.
“He is surrounding this football team with hungry players that want to fight no matter their contracts, no matter the score.”
While the Browns ended their season on a high, they extinguished Jacksonville’s razor-thin AFC playoff hopes. The Jaguars (7-9) had to win and needed four other teams to lose just to qualify. They’ll have the months ahead to ponder what went wrong.
Playing on a slippery, snow-covered field, the Florida visitors were mostly out of their element and lost their fourth in a row. Coach Jack Del Rio had his team poised for a playoff appearance, and although he has come under fire for the Jags’ slump, he is expected back.
“I’m not pleased with not finishing with an opportunity to make the playoffs,” Del Rio said. “In the end, we came up short so I am disappointed. I would like to find a way to get in there (postseason.)”
Cleveland’s four-game winning streak—the club’s longest since its expansion rebirth—was bookended with victories over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, two quality teams that add credence to the Browns’ late-season surge under Mangini, the former New York Jets coach who is trying to avoid joining Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia, 1998; Green Bay, 1999) as the only head coaches to get fired in consecutive full seasons by two different teams.
Mangini said there is not a scenario by which he would not want to coach in Cleveland.
“I love the Browns,” he said. “I didn’t come here for one year.”
Harrison’s emergence was one of many surprises for the Browns down the stretch. He made the most of his opportunity after Jamal Lewis(notes) sustained a season-ending injury and capped his three-week breakout by rushing for 561 yards on 106 carries.
His 6-yard TD run on 4th-and-1 with 4:03 left in the third quarter put the Browns ahead 20-3.
The Jaguars pulled within 20-10 on David Garrard’s(notes) 6-yard TD pass to tight end Zach Miller with 10:30 left. But Browns quarterback Derek Anderson(notes), who only attempted 11 passes, took the Browns on a 14-play drive that devoured more than eight minutes. Phil Dawson(notes) capped it with a 33-yard field goal to make it 23-10.
Garrard found Miller again on a 15-yard TD on the final play.
Following Anderson’s interception on a ball knocked down by the wind, the Browns turned to their running game—they finished with 214 yards rushing—to take a 10-3 lead in the second on Cribbs’ 14-yard TD.
NOTES: Cleveland’s string of four consecutive rushing games of at least 160 yards is the club’s longest since 1968. … Jaguars WR Torry Holt(notes) was inactive because of a hand injury. He finished with 51 receptions for 722 yards. … Lewis spoke to the media for the first time since being placed on injured reserve and said it’s possible he could keep playing. Lewis said he suffered a concussion in Week 1 against Minnesota.