June 24, 2016


Veil of secrecy looms in Berea

BEREA – Is there a new general manager? If so, who is it? Not saying. Not saying.


What’s the reason for the ouster of George Kokinis, your friend and handpicked choice to be general manager? Not at liberty to tell.


Did the role of Browns legend Bernie Kosar just increase? Classified.


Browns coach Eric Mangini acknowledged the dismissal of Kokinis in the opening statement of his Tuesday morning news conference —then wanted to be done with it. Who cares if it’s the biggest sports story in Northeast Ohio and across the NFL?


“George is a friend of mine and I respect him and I wish his family well,” he started. “I can tell you that for a variety of reasons things didn’t work out. You never go into a situation like this with the intention of it not working out.


“We felt that, organizationally, this was the best decision in order to move forward.”


That was all Mangini wanted to say on the matter. The thing is, he’s the only member of the front office who talks to the media and, in turn, the fans. Owner Randy Lerner met Tuesday morning for nearly two hours with two fans promoting a protest at Cleveland Browns Stadium, but declined multiple requests for a sit-down with reporters.


So Mangini was left to fend off multiple queries about the mysterious Kokinis departure.


Will a new GM be hired this season?


“In terms of this topic, there’s nothing else that I’m going to add,” he said.


Why won’t you talk about the GM situation?


“This is really, for a variety of reasons, all that I can say at this point,” he said.


Then who will address it?


“I understand and appreciate the questions that you guys have,” he said. “But I hope you can also respect that I’ve added all that I can add right now.”


Are there legal reasons you can’t talk about Kokinis?


“There’s really a variety of reasons, and I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.


ESPN.com reported Lerner pressed Kokinis to resign and he refused. Citing a team source, the report said Lerner is seeking a dismissal “for cause” so he won’t have to pay Kokinis the rest of his contract.


Kokinis’ contract gave him final say over the 53-man roster, but Mangini was hired two weeks earlier and always held the power. That may have caused the friction that led to Monday’s events. Kokinis rarely spoke to the media and didn’t look happy for months.


“He wasn’t around too much, and when he was he was pretty quiet,” left tackle Joe Thomas said.


Although Kokinis lacked the authority given to most other GMs, his departure leaves a significant hole in the structure of the front office that has yet to be filled.


“We have a strong structure in place on both the pro side and the college side and things will continue to operate effectively on a day-to-day basis,” Mangini said.


The first post-Kokinis roster moves were made Tuesday, as kicker Billy Cundiff and defensive back Anthony Madison were waived. ESPN.com reported vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte informed Cundiff.


Former Browns, Colts and Giants GM Ernie Accorsi was reportedly a candidate to replace Kokinis or mentor Kosar for that role, but told The Plain Dealer he is “happily retired.” Accorsi, who was GM of the Browns from 1985-92 when they lost three AFC championship games, is a friend of the family and advised Lerner on the hirings of Mangini and Kokinis.


“I am not taking any GM job anywhere. Period,” Accorsi told The Plain Dealer. “I am not taking any full-time job. I serve the league office as a consultant.”


Kosar’s role remains undefined. He has long had the ear of Lerner and recently took on a more formal consultant’s role. Kosar and Lerner were together inside team headquarters late Monday night and Kosar was back Tuesday afternoon, bypassing practice to walk into the building. He was wearing a sport coat, jeans and tennis shoes.


The bizarre breakup of Mangini and Kokinis — Kokinis’ father was Mangini’s wrestling coach in high school in Connecticut —is the latest example of the dysfunction of the franchise.


Former GM Phil Savage was nearly fired at the end of his first season in 2005 before fan reaction saved his job and led to the removal of president John Collins. Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were fired after last season, a year after receiving contract extensions. Charlie Frye was traded after Week 1 in 2007, the first time in NFL history a starting quarterback had been dealt so early in the year. Former first-round picks and Pro Bowlers Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards were traded in the last year.


And Monday at midnight, a giant Doberman pinscher —metal choke chain and all —stood behind the security desk at Browns headquarters.


“There’s been a lot of crazy things that have happened over the last couple years,” said Thomas, a captain. “I guess I’m a little surprised (about Kokinis), but obviously we don’t know the situation, so we’re just going with the flow.


“I think stability comes from being good. When you’re good, then you get that stability. When you’re not good, you’re not going to have stability. It’s the chicken and the egg thing.”


Chicken? Egg? No comment.


Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.