BEREA - Coach Eric Mangini referenced "The Brady Bunch" on Friday to describe the merger between his staff and the front office headed by first-year president Mike Holmgren. Two different families united under one roof.
Mike and Carol Brady lived happily ever after, but the current marriage at Browns headquarters could end in a quick divorce. The franchise gets Alice in the settlement.
Mangini praised his time with Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert and reiterated his belief that the team has gotten better under his watch and will continue to improve. But he acknowledged that a coach can get fired regardless of progress, especially if the philosophies don't mesh.
"Sometimes that happens, where it's not necessarily right or wrong, it's just different," said Mangini, who was fired by the Jets after going 9-7 in 2008. "The great thing about this situation is that the end goal with Mike, Tom and myself is exactly the same. It's to win, it's to build an organization that's special, to build an organization that Cleveland deserves and has been waiting for.
"That's the goal and how you get to the goal, there are a lot of different paths. One thing that I've really enjoyed about this season is when you have guys like Mike and Tom who are very talented, very smart and have a lot of different experiences, you can get into some great discussions. You can get into some really good dialogue about what is the right decision."
Mangini is a disciple of Bill Belichick, who was a disciple of Bill Parcells. Holmgren is from the Bill Walsh tree and has sprouted his own branches. Their personalities are as disparate as their offensive styles.
"I've really been a part of one family tree for a long time, and it's kind of like when you get married," Mangini said. "You get exposed to all of your wife's customs, family and traditions and it's like, 'Oh, OK, I'll celebrate that holiday. That's cool.'
"This has been tremendous for me personally."
The conventional wisdom is that Mangini's fate will be determined by the outcome of the final three games against AFC North rivals Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. He saved his job last season with a finishing four-game winning streak to go 5-11. Holmgren assumed operation of the franchise at the end of the season and chose to retain Mangini.
At the bye week, Holmgren said he'd evaluate Mangini and his staff after the season. The Browns are 5-8 after a disappointing 13-6 loss to the Bills (3-10) on Sunday. Mangini said Holmgren hasn't given him a victory total needed to come back for a third season.
"We haven't talked like that at all," Mangini said. "I don't expect to have those conversations. It's not how we're going to operate as a staff or as a group."
Mangini also dismissed the notion that the final three games would determine his future.
"I think what's going to carry a lot of weight is the whole season, the progress the team's made, the performance in all three phases," he said. "I'd imagine it's not a short snapshot, it's a comprehensive look at where we are and what we've done and the areas that there's been progress in, the areas that there needs to be more progress in."
Not only have the Browns matched the 2009 win total with three games to play, they've improved statistically across the board. The growth is most noticeable in the impressive wins over New Orleans (10-3) and New England (11-2) and the series of close defeats compared to lopsided losses last year.
"I think this is a different team now from when we first got here, there weren't a whole lot of believers other than me and a couple other guys probably," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "I think it's obvious, our team is a good football team. Last week (ticks) me off because we should have beat that team.
"We've got to get through those days of, 'Oh, we should have won.' Those days suck. We just need to kick the door in and win those games."
Mangini has never deviated from his belief that turning a loser into a winner is a process that takes time. He was asked if there's been enough improvement to return.
"I haven't done that kind of math because, to me, I feel good about the things that we've done and the direction of the team," he said. "There are steps that you go through in any growth process and we've taken a lot of those steps, but we need to continue to take that next step, which is winning consistently.
"You'd love to be able to accelerate that as quickly as possible, but when you are trying to do it and build it for the long term, you have to do it the right way and it has to grow and be strong on all levels in order for it to be sustainable over time. I think we've made a lot of good strides there."
Peyton Hillis, a 1,000-yard rusher acquired in an offseason trade, wants Mangini to return.
"I love Coach Mangini," he said. "He made me the player I am, and he brought me here. I respect him. I think he's a great head coach, a terrific defensive coordinator and I want him to stay."
Despite a series of questions about his future, Mangini retained his sense of humor. Using his Brady Bunch analogy, at first he didn't know where Ryan fits in the Tic-Tac-Toe board that accompanied the sitcom's theme song.
"He's Sam the butcher, that's perfect," he said after a suggestion.
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• WHO: Cleveland at Cincinnati
• WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM