Last June, Browns coach Eric Mangini triggered a controversy by taking the team’s first-year players by bus from Cleveland to Connecticut for participation in the annual youth football camp Mangini hosts in his hometown.
This year? No bus.
Zac Jackson of FOXSportsOhio.com, who worked for the Browns’ official website last year and rode the bus to and from Hartford, takes a look at this year’s edition of the camp — but also confirms some of the details from last year’s “voluntary” involvement of the team’s incoming draft picks and street free agents.
“As if any of the rookies were going to decline
the invitation,” Jackson observes.
He says that at least one rookie “complained privately” about giving up a weekend to attending the camp, the meat in the sandwich of a pair of 10-hour bus rides. “[T]heir agents got to the media,” Jackson writes, “and threw a
Mangini didn’t take the bus to Hartford, opting to fly instead. Due in large part (if not exclusively) to the criticism, Mangini took the bus back to Cleveland with the players.
Lost in the controversy was the fact that Mangini’s camp provides a benefit to kids in New England, a lot of whom don’t have to pay the $45 fee. Nearly 1,000 youths will participate in today’s camp.
“Even the guys on the bus acknowledged they’d
gotten more out of it than they’d ever thought possible,” Jackson said regarding last year’s camp.
Still, the manner in which it was handled became one of the many complaints that players conveyed to their agents, and that their agents conveyed to the media during Mangini’s first year on the job.
I asked Mangini about the stream of gripes from last year when I met with him 11 days ago for our upcoming Season Preview magazine. “I think that everybody wants progress, but not a lot of people like change,” Mangini said. “And it’s difficult to change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So you have to change, and with that there’s going to be certain people that are going to resist it.”
Still, Mangini later acknowledged that last year wasn’t perfect. “I made mistakes, and I made mistakes in New York, and I’ll probably make mistakes this year, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t learn from them and do better at them,” Mangini said.
This year, he didn’t make the mistake of loading up a bus and hauling his first-year players to Hartford, which shows that he’s capable of and willing to make changes. Whether more substantive changes will be made as to tactics that gave rise to complaints like practices that went on for too long and post-practice “opportunity periods” that resulted in at least one season-ending injury (to running back James Davis) remains to be seen.
The reality, in our view, is that Mangini’s methods come not from malice but from a genuine belief that his way will lead to winning. The problem is that the means won’t be accepted until justified by success of the kind that his mentor, Bill Belichick, has experienced.