'I believe' in Cleveland, Browns GM Kokinis says

The Baltimore Sun

The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived in Florida for their seventh Super Bowl. The Cleveland Browns have never played in one. They welcomed a new general manager yesterday.

George Kokinis has a lot of work to do.

The Ravens' pro personnel director for the past six seasons, Kokinis, who began his professional career in Cleveland's operations department nearly 20 years ago, was introduced yesterday by the perpetually rebuilding Browns. Kokinis, 41, was given an enthusiastic recommendation to Browns owner Randy Lerner by new coach Eric Mangini, a friend of Kokinis' since their early days with the old Browns, who are now the Ravens.

"Why am I here?" the affable Kokinis said. "I'm here because I believe in this owner. I believe in this head coach. And I believe in the fans of Cleveland."

Kokinis, named the Ravens' director of pro personnel in 2003, will have ultimate say over the Browns' 53-man roster, but he insists he won't make any decisions without input from Mangini and others.

"When you talk to me, you're probably going to hear me say that more often than not, 'What is best for the Cleveland Browns?' " he said. "That is what's important."

Kokinis was reluctant to offer an evaluation of Cleveland's current players, perhaps because he already knows a number of them might not be around once he and Mangini finish analyzing the roster. One of Kokinis' main duties with the Ravens was to dissect opposing teams, so he has a broad knowledge of the Browns' talent.

Yet the Browns face internal upheaval, even after Kokinis' hiring. Yesterday, vice chairman Bob Kain abruptly left the team. The team also announced the resignation of T.J. McCreight, their director of player personnel who had interviewed with Lerner for Cleveland's GM opening.

Jurisprudence:: The widow of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer reached a settlement with the NFL over his heatstroke death during training camp in 2001.

Under an agreement with Kelci Stringer, the NFL will support her efforts to create a heat illness prevention program. No other terms of the settlement announced by a family spokesman were released.

Kelci Stringer had filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the league.

Chargers:: The back-and-forth bickering between star running back LaDainian Tomlinson and general manager A.J. Smith needs to end, linebacker Shawne Merriman (Maryland) told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

"That [stuff] doesn't help bring a Super Bowl to San Diego," Merriman said. "And that [stuff] needs to stop, period. It needs to stop now."

More jurisprudence: : Former Vikings great Carl Eller was convicted in Minneapolis of assaulting a police officer who tried to arrest him after he swerved and nearly struck a squad car in April.

Hennepin County District Judge Dan Mabley ruled Eller was guilty of fourth-degree assault of an officer and second-degree refusing to submit to a field sobriety test.

Eller, 67, faces up to a year on each count when he is sentenced Feb. 23, but it's likely that any jail sentence would be served in a workhouse, not a prison.

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