Mangini, Belichick disciples alienate players

Joshua Cribbs(notes) is a popular man in the Cleveland Browns' locker room, an undrafted free agent from nearby Kent State who developed into a Pro Bowl kick returner. He is also the team's unofficial social coordinator, which is of no small importance in a city where success has been scarce in recent years.

"We all love Cribbs," one Browns veteran said Thursday of the speedy fifth-year receiver, who might also have a future as a defensive back. "He's the guy who always throws the Halloween parties and the Christmas bashes, so yeah, he's very popular."


Mangini was hired to replace Romeo Crennel.

(George Shamus/Getty)

In light of recent developments, that would make Browns coach Eric Mangini the Grinch – and the man who hired him, owner Randy Lerner, Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Cribbs and his bosses are currently locked in what seems on the surface to be a typical NFL contract dispute between a player who has outperformed his long-term deal and a team that is in no hurry to provide an upgrade. In reality, this is a credibility dispute between a dependable, accountable athlete and an abrasive coach consumed with flexing his newly acquired power.

It's the latest testament to Mangini's apparent lack of tact and people skills, personality traits he honed under his estranged mentor, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Like two other Belichick disciples, new Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and neophyte Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, Mangini has marked his arrival at a new organization this offseason by alienating established leaders while projecting a self-assuredness that borders on arrogance.

With three Super Bowl titles as a head coach and a prior record of success as a brainy defensive coordinator, Belichick, a future Hall of Famer, can get away with his power trip. Whether Mangini, Pioli and McDaniels are able to pull it off will depend upon how many football games their respective teams win, something that often depends upon the men in uniform buying into the program.

In the meantime, in Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver, the new guys in charge seem to be consumed with winning mind games, a strategy I'm not so sure will serve them well over the long haul.

In Denver, McDaniels' sloppy handling of his interactions with Jay Cutler(notes) after an unsuccessful attempt to trade him at the start of free agency led to the loss of a franchise quarterback, largely because the 33-year-old coach was obsessed with demonstrating his unquestioned authority.

In K.C., Pioli's arrival as the all-powerful general manager after years as Belichick's right-hand personnel man was soon followed by a less-publicized incident involving a star player. According to Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, perennial Pro Bowl guard and locker-room leader Brian Waters(notes) asked to be traded or released after becoming offended by the arrogant attitudes of Pioli and his newly hired coach, Todd Haley.

Waters, a source told Whitlock, flew to Kansas City in February specifically to meet with the new GM and coach in an effort to become familiar with their leadership plans. The source said Pioli told Waters he had no interest in meeting and that Haley began a hallway conversation with the player by proclaiming that 22 guys off the street could win two games, as the Chiefs had in '08.

Mangini, fresh off a 1-4 finish with the Jets that got him fired after three seasons – he had a 23-26 overall record (including a playoff loss) in New York – arrived in Cleveland with a similar swagger. One of his first moves was to orchestrate the firing of director of pro personnel T.J. McCreight, the highest-ranking personnel man remaining after Lerner's dismissal of general manager Phil Savage, and one of the people who'd interviewed to replace Savage. (Mangini, hired while the GM job was still open, successfully lobbied Lerner to choose Ravens personnel executive George Kokinis.)

McCreight, a source said, was called into the office of team president Mike Keenan, who pulled out cell-phone records showing that McCreight had engaged in conversations with reporters – an act frowned upon by the paranoid Mangini. McCreight explained that speaking with the media was among the duties with which he'd been entrusted by Savage, but he was nonetheless terminated; he has since been hired as the Cardinals' director of pro personnel.

A team source said Mangini, upon his arrival in Cleveland, was brusque when dealing with other Browns employees and spent most of his time in his office with the door closed. Early on Mangini, according to multiple reports, alienated the team's top performer from 2008, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers(notes), by failing to acknowledge him on a pair of occasions: once in the team's training room and once at a local awards show.

Rogers reportedly asked the team not to pay him a $6 million bonus and to trade or release him. Mangini, who claimed he didn't notice Rogers at the awards show, apparently patched up the relationship; Rogers recently said the two had put aside their differences "just like grown men do."

It's unclear how another Browns defensive lineman, Shaun Smith, feels about Mangini, who a source said told the player during their first interaction at the team's facility, "Lose some weight and lose the attitude."

The latest coach-player dustup involves Cribbs, who signed a six-year, $6.7 million contract extension in 2006 and, after a Pro Bowl '07 season, began earning comparisons to the Chicago Bears' ultra-explosive breakaway threat Devin Hester(notes). Last July Hester signed a four-year contract extension worth a reported $40 million, which did not go unnoticed by Cribbs.

When Cribbs' representatives at All-Pro Sports and Entertainment approached Savage last summer about their client's desire for a new deal, they were told the team was amenable to adjusting his salary following the '08 season because Cribbs was deserving and was a positive locker-room influence.

Two sources say Lerner, too, was on board with the decision and that the owner, after firing Savage and coach Romeo Crennel immediately after a season-ending defeat at Pittsburgh last December, called Cribbs on the team bus to assure him that regardless of the moves he would honor his word and address the player's contract situation.


Cribbs had a 92-yard kickoff return for a TD vs. Baltimore in Week 9.

(Tony Dejak/AP Photo)

Yet after Mangini's arrival, no one in the organization expressed interest in negotiating a new deal. Frustrated by the team's unresponsiveness, Cribbs decided to skip this week's voluntary minicamp. The Browns then issued a statement that disputed Cribbs' reported perspective, saying, "no one from the current Browns organization, including Owner Randy Lerner, has ever made any promises to Josh Cribbs with regard to his contract status."

That, said a source close to Cribbs, "took his anger from Defcon 3 to Defcon 1." Cribbs, through his representatives, has since asked for a trade, a request the Browns said they were not amenable to honoring.

On Thursday, Cribbs was asked to come to the facility for a meeting with Mangini. The player complied, explaining to the coach that he wouldn't participate in voluntary offseason activities until the team honors its promise to adjust his contract. Mangini, according to a source familiar with the conversation, said little in return. Cribbs then attended a team meeting before departing the facility, leaving teammates wondering if a resolution is in sight.

"They need to figure out a way to get that fixed," the aforementioned unnamed Browns player said Thursday, "because the guy is a special player."

Could the situation be handled any more clumsily? Whatever Mangini's perception of Cribbs' value, he should be especially sensitive to the player's contention that the team broke its promise to upgrade his deal. During Mangini's tenure with the Jets, three players no longer with the team – guard Pete Kendall(notes), tight end Chris Baker(notes) and wideout Laveranues Coles(notes) – went public with similar accusations.

Why would a team do business this way? Why did Lerner, with no other NFL franchises in pursuit of Mangini as a head coach, rush to make the hire before naming a GM and then grant him so much control over the team's football operations? Why is a franchise, whose powerbrokers are paranoid enough to check an employee's cell-phone records, be so rattled by a player's absence from a voluntary minicamp that it put out a public statement essentially calling one of its model citizens a greedy liar?

"The whole thing is so screwy," said one former Browns employee. "I think it's about control. If the fans knew what was really going on over there, they wouldn't even buy a ticket."

Football, of course, is a bottom-line business. Fan support will persist if Mangini, despite his warped methodology, turns the Browns into a winner, as he did with the Jets in his first season. The same goes for Pioli and Haley in K.C. and for McDaniels and his handpicked GM, Brian Xanders, in Denver.

I wonder whether Mangini, Pioli or McDaniels can attain the type of immediate success enjoyed last year in Atlanta under first-year general manager Thomas Dimitroff, another former Pats employee who approached his new job with a far less contentious management style.

If not, it won't be a very merry Christmas for them or their affronted employees. It's safe to say that in Mangini's case, there's one popular party to which he likely won't be receiving an invitation.


Jon Gruden, unless forced to room next to me on road trips, will be an engaging, energizing presence in the Monday Night Football booth. … In a development that will thrill my wife and children, Adam Lambert, who finished second on this season's "American Idol," will become the biggest male star to have appeared on the program thus far, while winner Kris Allen will end up as the answer to a trivia question. … If I had been on this American Airlines from London to Chicago and was privy to the flight information about the scheduled pilot, there would have been even more cause for police intervention.


1. Should an expanded regular season push Super Bowl XLVII to two days before Fat Tuesday, I'll return to my hotel room after the game, dutifully file my column and head immediately to the airport.

2. If wide receiver Plaxico Burress(notes) signs with the Bucs, he'll request a special dispensation from Florida authorities to carry a handgun for protection, "in case Aqib Talib(notes) is unable to control his emotions."

3. Thrilled by a recent photo shoot with Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) that included several shirtless shots, GQ editors lined up Bengals rookie tackle Andre Smith(notes) for a similar spread.


OK, so you're Michael Vick(notes), and you've just been released from prison after more than a year-and-a-half behind bars – and your fiancé, Kijafa Frink, is there to greet you. You decide to avoid the friendly skies and make a 1,200-mile drive from Kansas to Virginia, where you'll begin serving two months of home confinement, with security personnel and a videographer in tow. To which I say … a videographer? Really? Look, I realize that someone in Vick's inner circle may have perceived some value in the recording of his long trip home, perhaps for a documentary or other future offering as he attempts to rehabilitate his public image (and replenish his bank account). Or perhaps it was Vick's idea, and the outlaw quarterback now fashions himself an updated version of English Bob from the Clint Eastwood classic "Unforgiven". But given that Vick, presuming he was not allowed conjugal visits from his a fiancée, had been denied a certain pleasurable activity for 19 months, another movie character comes to mind: Reggie Hammond (in one of Eddie Murphy's greatest roles) from "48 Hours," who vividly described his state of mind regarding women upon his release from behind bars. So trust me: If I'm Michael Vick and I just got out of prison, the only way I'd want a videographer hanging around with me and my fiancée is if I'm planning a career in adult cinema.


My favorite youth soccer team, Supremacy, which played fast and furious footie in 100-degree heat last weekend to take home a first-place medal at the Concord Cup. Beer floats? That's not a misprint; that's what our little ladies' triumphant effort inspired me and a bunch of similarly stoked soccer dads and moms to consume Sunday night, and we're hoping to do it one more time in a few days. So congratulations to Alice, Allie, Annie, Aubrey, Bee, Cheyenne, Emily, Gretchen, Lea, Margaret, Mariah, Megan, Michaela, Natalie H., Natalie S. and Stephanie – and assistant coach Clarissa (who's lucky she's lactose intolerant) and head coach Mike (who probably wishes he were) – on a well-deserved victory and a terrific season. And for what its worth, with Dreyer's vanilla ice-cream and Young's double chocolate stout, the floats are stunningly tolerable. On a far less celebratory note, Don Julio shots are in order, as well as thoughts and prayers, for the Mickelson family and for my friend Ricky Sandoval, the Lions' director of security, as they face their respective medical challenges.


Wait, The Gameface is smiling now. Congratulations to second-year coach Amanda Augustus and the Golden Bears' women's tennis team which, for the second consecutive season, upset top-seeded Northwestern en route to a second-place finish at the NCAA tournament. OK, perhaps I'm a little grumpy, as the latest edition of Pure Silver on's attests. There are more titles to be won, however – Cal's men's and women's crew teams each captured Pac-10 crowns and will compete for national championships later this month. And, best of all, it's Tecate time for Cal softball loyalists: After sweeping through their regional in Tallahassee, Fla., – on the strength of junior Marissa Drewrey's pitching and the speed and hitting of freshmen outfielders Frani Echavarria and Jamia and Elia Reid – Diane Ninemire's unseeded Bears battle No. 1 Florida in Gainesville in a best-of-three Super Regional beginning Saturday at 5 p.m. PT and continuing Sunday. Cal was eliminated in two games by the Gators in last year's Super Regional, but something tells me the Bears won't be so easy to dispatch this time around. Cal is looking to return to the Women's College World Series, once an annual pilgrimage, for the first time since 2005.


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In the wake of Reading's elimination from the Football League Championship's promotion playoff – and the resignation of manager Steve Coppell – the bad news keeps on coming. Veterans Graeme Murty, Leroy Lita, Michael Duberry and American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann were released upon the expiration of their contracts, and center back Andre Bikey had his four-game suspension for improper conduct (after picking up a red card in the first leg of the Royals' semifinal at Burnley) extended an additional match. Hahnemann, 36, played in 252 matches for Reading over eight seasons and is a friend to The Gameface, which is currently frowning more than usual.


While hosting the Super Bowl champion Steelers at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on Thursday, President Barack Obama refrained from taking any playful jabs at absent linebacker James Harrison(notes), who, in a tradition established by ex-Packers hypocrite Mark (Chewy) Chmura and continued by ex-Pittsburgh linebacker Joey (Peezy) Porter, used the occasion to send some smack-talk toward the commander-in-chief. If you think the Prez wasn't peeved by Harrison's snub, however, I've got a bullet-ridden lifeboat in the Indian Ocean to sell you. Here's how I imagine the First Fan would've vented his feelings, Roger Daltrey-style, upon learning of Harrison's boycott. Perhaps he even would've smashed a guitar, Pete Townshend-style, to punctuate his passion to the tune of The Who's "Who Are You":

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

I walked into the Oval Office
Rahm Emanuel on my trail
He said, "Brett Favre(notes) still can't make up his mind
And Michael Vick just got out of jail"

I said, "What is up in Steeltown
With this dude James Harrison?"
My dog Bo had left a mess on the ground
And it got under my skin

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

I took the dude's phone number down
Dialed from my BlackBerry
I felt a little like a young Jim Brown
And an old Dirty Harry

I stretched back and I hiccupped
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours with Tim Geithner
God, I wish this mess would go away

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Ohhh who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh who the hell are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Who are you?
Ooh wa ooh wa ooh wa ooh wa ooh wa ooh …

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

I really wanna know (Who are you? Who who who who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who who who who?)
Come on tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who who who who?)
Oh I really wanna know (Who are you? Who who who who?)

I know there's an assault charge
And that thing with the BBs
I saw you in the Super Bowl
Punching that dude down on his knees

I spit out like a sewer hole
You doubting my street cred?
Dan Rooney is Irish ambassador now
But you'll still get audited

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, tell me who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Come on, come on, who? (Who are you who who who who?)
Ah, who the F are you? (Who are you who who who who?)
Who are you? (Who are you who who who who?)
Oh tell me who are you? (Who are you who who who who?)
I really wanna know
Oh I really wanna know
Come on tell me who are you you you?
Who are you?