- Seth Wickersham, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
NO PICTURES HANG on the walls of Eric Mangini's office. This is certainly not due to lack of space: It's the size of an apartment, with a lobby, a bathroom, a dressing room, a large round table, two leather recliners, two huge flat-screen TVs and a kitchen heavy on fruit-flavored Dasani, the coach's favorite. A window occupies most of the back wall, overlooking the Browns' two full-size football fields, glistening on this June morning. Two other walls have built-in bookshelves, which offer only a few small pictures of Mangini's wife, Julie, and their three sons, plus three boxing gloves, one signed by Muhammad Ali, and a Darth Vader helmet, part of an old Halloween costume. Such wasted space is typical around the NFL: Most coaches don't fill their offices, lest it take more than a few minutes to pack.
A lawn mower hums in the background. Mangini sits behind his desk, which is L-shape and as vast as Idaho. He is tanned and annoyed, his lip pregnant with a wad of Kodiak Wintergreen dipping tobacco, a habit he started 10 years ago as a Patriots assistant, when coffee and soda ceased being reliable means of keeping him alert. The Browns are holding Organized Team Activities, and Mangini is watching video of yesterday's practice on one of the flat screens. Clicker in hand, he pauses and rewinds, inhaling loudly through his nose as his team botches a basic exercise, the angle-tackling drill. A ballcarrier and a defender stand about 15 yards apart. At the whistle, they dart toward each other, but because this is a noncontact practice, they only pretend to tackle. It's more like tag, and the Browns aren't tagging well. Mangini, who is entering his second and possibly last season as Cleveland's coach, says that he can predict how practice will go based on these few simple drills. If the players are sloppy now, they'll be sloppy later. And sure enough, yesterday's workout, dedicated to two-minute situations, was filled with screwups. Most egregiously, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace completed a boneheaded 2-yard completion that wasted 16 seconds, killing a drive.
Mangini spits into a Styrofoam cup, sighs and types a few notes into an Excel file labeled "6/1/10 Squad." A few minutes later, he's off to address the players at their daily team meeting, grabbing another can of dip on his way out. At exactly 9 a.m., he enters the auditorium and settles behind a white podium with a Browns helmet emblem on the front. The room instantly quiets.
"Morning, guys," the coach says.
"Morning," his audience replies.
Mag writer Seth Wickersham got unprecented, exclusive access to Browns coach Eric Mangini and found a man few fans would recognize, who is in the process of reinventing his coaching style to be more of himself and less of Bill Belichick.