BEREA, Ohio — Jake Mangini posed as tough a question to his dad as any faced all season by Cleveland’s embattled coach.
And Eric Mangini was stumped.
“He asked if we were moving,” Mangini said Friday, referring to his 6-year-old son. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Jake. We’ll figure it out.’”
Mangini’s fate will be known soon.
He expects to meet with team president Mike Holmgren on Monday, one day after the Browns (5-10) conclude another disappointing season. They host the Pittsburgh Steelers, who with a win will clinch the AFC North, the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye.
For the Browns, it’s just another bad ending.
Mangini will take a 10-21 record into the season finale. His second year in Cleveland will be remembered for costly injuries — he lost all three quarterbacks to high ankle sprains — and close games. The Browns are just 3-9 in games decided by 10 points or less, and they’ve not built on a midseason surge when they upset New Orleans and New England in consecutive weeks.
What could come back to haunt Mangini is that the Browns have collapsed down the stretch. They’re just 2-5 since stunning the Patriots on Nov. 7.
Still, Mangini, who has two years remaining on his contract, believes the Browns have made significant strides and have become a more consistent team.
“I feel good about a lot of things that we’ve done here,” he said before what may have been his final practice. “I believe in it. I think this organization and this team have a tremendous future, a really bright future and I’m excited about being a part of that.”
Holmgren, who brought Mangini back for a second season despite a 5-11 record in 2009, has left open the possibility that he’ll return to coaching. The Super Bowl-winning coach was hired by owner Randy Lerner to restore a franchise that has had just two winning seasons since its expansion rebirth in 1999.
Despite the uncertainty, Mangini said the Browns have had a solid week of practice as they get ready to play their bitter Pennsylvania rival.
“The guys have responded exactly the way that I’ve asked them to, which is to be consistent in their preparation, in the meetings, at practice and all of those things,” he said. “You want the guys to also enjoy the week and appreciate the week for a variety of reasons. There’s so much change that happens at the end of the season anyways, whether it’s free agency or retirement.
“You want them to appreciate the week because it’s the Steelers, it’s the rivalry and all of those things.”
Earlier this week, cornerback Sheldon Brown and fullback Lawrence Vickers offered their public support for Mangini, who was criticized by some Browns last season for excessively long practices and assessing fines to players who broke his rules.
Safety Abram Elam, who played for Mangini with the New York Jets, hopes the coach gets a chance to keep building the Browns.
“I would love to see coach Mangini back,” he said. “I’d love to be a part of a team with him here.”
Brown, acquired in a trade from Philadelphia, feels Holmgren, who joined Cleveland last December, has brought needed stability.
“I wasn’t here last year, but I heard of chaos that was here,” he said. “This is, I couldn’t ask for a better situation, a better group of guys, the right attitude, work environment, respectful of one another. Obviously something has changed.”
And, it could change again.
If Mangini is fired, his successor will be Cleveland’s fifth coach in 12 years.
Mangini said it can be difficult to maintain focus amid rampant speculation about what could happen next.
“It is and it isn’t,” he said. “There are so many things that you have to do during the course of a week to prepare for a game, it’s not like it’s a tremendous amount of time to reflect. I really am proud of the way that the guys have responded. If I was any different in my approach and the coaches were any different in their approach, then it’s hard to ask a group of men to be consistent.
“The future will come quick enough.”