Cleaning Out The Kitchens

The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens yesterday, after the Browns dropped a game to the woeful Cincinnati Bengals and finished the year with a 6-10 record.  It was another dismal showing for the Browns and capped off a farcical year — a year which began, amazingly, with at least one pundit picking the Browns to go to the Super Bowl.  Instead, they chalked up another losing season.

freddie-kitchens-browns-head-coachKitchens had to go, really.  He was picked to be head coach because he was supposed to be some kind of offensive mastermind who would be able to fit together all of the offensive talent on the roster into a point-scoring powerhouse — but the Browns ended up decidedly mediocre on the offensive side of the ball, finishing 22nd in the NFL in points and yards per game.  The red zone offense was terrible, the team’s performance was wracked with crucial penalties and turnovers, and Kitchens’ game management decisions were consistently wrong-headed, causing the Browns to give away games they could easily have won.  Add in a total lack of discipline on the team — highlighted by an embarrassing brawl against the Pittsburgh Steelers that cost the team its best defensive lineman — and you’ve got a simple story of a rumpled guy who was overwhelmed by a job that clearly was far beyond his capabilities.

The best argument for keeping Kitchens is that the Browns coaching carousel has to stop if the team is ever going to succeed, so . . . why not keep Kitchens and see if he can learn on the job?  It’s not much of an argument for a coach, but it has a kernel of reality to it.  Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 — only 20 years ago — they’ve had 11 head coaches, including Kitchens.  There is no hope for long-term success if a team needs to constantly deal with new coaches and coaching staffs, learn new offensive and defensive schemes, and adjust to new playbooks and play-calling.  From a continuity standpoint, the Browns are like a pee-wee football team compared to perennial contenders like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, now the Browns look for another new savior to come in and turn a disastrous franchise around.  Already people are speculating about the recently fired NFL head coaches, hot NFL assistant coaches, and college head coaches who might be candidates — including former Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.  Since 1999, the Browns have tried hiring head coaches from each of those categories, and they’ve all been canned after short periods.  Maybe this time the Browns will make the right decision and find a coach who can meld the team into a disciplined unit that plays smart, tough football and can figure out how to win big games.  I’m confident Urban Meyer, who has a clear coaching philosophy and proven track record in many different programs, could do that — but would he want to coach for a franchise that has been so dysfunctional?

Given the Browns’ track record, good things probably aren’t going to happen — but if you’re a Browns fan, hope springs eternal.  In fact, hope is just about all the Browns Backers have.

The Losers’ Parade

Yesterday about three thousand people attended a parade in Cleveland on one of the coldest days of the year.  The parade was to commemorate the Cleveland Browns’ 0-16 season — only the second time in NFL history that a team has accomplished that dubious record.

The Browns’ players and, no doubt, the team’s inept management were embarrassed by the parade.  One player, Emmanuel Ogbah, tweeted:  “That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true browns fan if you go to that thing! Going 0-16 was embarrassing enough as a player. That is like adding fuel to the fire and it is completely wrong!”  Other players argued that the parade might discourage NFL free agents, or draftees, from wanting to play for the Browns, and that the team shouldn’t want to be known for going 1-31 over the past two seasons.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to play for a team that loses every game, and often found inventive and absurd ways to do so, so I’m sympathetic to the players.  But does having a tongue-in-cheek parade really send a bad message, and does it really discourage players who might be considering the Browns more than, say, the 0-16 season itself, and the obvious disarray in the front office and on the field, and the fact that the head coach for next year has to win 31 consecutive games to even reach a .500 record with the team?  Or does the parade, instead, send the message that notwithstanding years of futility and a horrible product on the field, there is still a solid core of Cleveland Browns backers who will freeze their butts off to try to send a demonstrable message that they still support the team and hope that this awful season marks a turning point?

I’ll be honest — I’ve been a Browns fan for as long as I can remember, but the years of failure and egregious ineptitude have caused me first to lose passion, and then to lose interest.  I tip my cap to those rugged and dedicated fans who still care enough to make a public demonstration of their commitment to the team on a frigid day.  If NFL players won’t come to Cleveland because of a parade, I think that says something about the character of the players, not the quality of the dedicated fans.

 

MoneyBrowns

The Cleveland Browns seem to at least have a strategy for the upcoming NFL draft.  That’s a change from past years when the Browns clearly didn’t know what the hell they were doing and appeared to be just winging it on draft day.

The Browns had the number 2 pick in this year’s draft — no surprise there; given their record of failure, the Browns always have a pick in the top ten — but they traded down with the Eagles to try to accumulate picks.  That took the Browns out of contention for the two hot quarterbacks in the draft, but it left them with the eighth pick and gave them 12 picks overall and six in the first 100, in a draft that’s supposed to be a deep one.  That’s a smart play in my book, because the Browns’ roster is starved of talent.  In fact, it’s so bad that Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have the Browns as underdogs in every game of the 2016 season.  0-16, here we come!

ce14af7ff29fdc84I’m leery of drafting a QB in the first round, too.  First-round quarterbacks often are busts.  That’s been true for the Browns, starting with Tim Couch and including Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.  All were dismal failures.  And you can’t blame the quarterbacks exclusively for the failures, either, if there’s no offensive line or surrounding talent.  Rather than spend a high pick on the quarterback of the moment, I’d rather build the talent level.  The best picks the Browns made after coming back into the NFL — Joe Thomas and Joe Haden — were bread-and-butter players you could build a team around.  Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t have the eye for talent that let them complete the team-building process.  That doesn’t mean the model is wrong, it just means that the Browns need somebody who can distinguish a stud from a dud.

This year, the Browns have a new team of people to try to accomplish that.  They have a new head coach, a new front office and a new approach:  analytics, a la Moneyball.  The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets and put him in place as Chief Strategy Officer.  It’s weird to think that an NFL team needs somebody to set a “strategy” — how about, “Just win, baby!” — but maybe a clearly delineated strategy will help the rudderless Browns.  I’m hesitant to buy into generic “analytics” as a panacea, too, but I think taking a more structured approach to evaluating players is bound to help.  No one using analytics would have drafted Johnny Manziel.  (Of course, the Browns being the Browns, some fans of analytics in the NFL are afraid that having Cleveland lead the way inevitably means that analytics in the NFL are doomed, and one commented that they thought DePodesta was a genius until he decided to work for the Browns.)

So we’ve got a new set of decision-makers, and a new strategy and approach.  Now comes the hard part — actually picking players, both in the draft and via free agency.  Browns Backers the world over are holding their breath, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this group will actually show that it knows what it’s doing.  Why not?  We’ve been holding our breath for so long it’s become second nature.

Another Loss To Start The Season In Browns Town

Today the Cleveland Browns started off another season with an opening game loss.

What’s that, you say?  The game hasn’t been played yet?

So what?  The Browns losing their opening game is more predictable than the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  Since coming back to the NFL, they have lost their first game with brutal, shocking consistency.

IMG_5527_2Does anyone really doubt that it will happen again this year?  After all, the Browns will be starting a quarterback who apparently was born during the Eisenhower Administration and who has played for a number of teams without any distinction.  Their back-up is a rag-armed ex-Heisman Trophy winner who is in the process of proving that the Heisman Jinx is alive and well.  Their exciting offensive players have turned out to be either head cases or juvenile delinquents — or both — and now they’re heading into the season without any significant offensive threats.  While I expect the defense to be reasonably stout, they inevitably will get worn down from being on the field constantly as individual games, and ultimately the long NFL season, progress to another bitter losing campaign for the Orange and Brown.

I try to be positive about the Browns, but this year it’s hard to be anything but harshly and protectively pessimistic.  The NFL is a quarterback’s league, and the Browns really don’t have one.  What has Josh McCown ever done to make the loyal Browns Backers think he will be anything other than the latest entry in the Browns’ revolving door list of QBs?

The only good thing about the inevitable loss today is that it is an away game, so at least the Browns won’t start the season with their perennial home opener loss.

Another Browns National TV Debacle

The Cleveland Browns were on national TV last night, taking on the Washington Redskins on ESPN.  Why not check out my team?  After all, they’ve got a new coach (an annual occurrence), lots of new players (ditto), there’s a quarterback controversy (ditto ditto), and there’s hope for the future (the horrible, crippling curse of all deluded Cleveland sports fans).  Russell and I had our cell phones handy, ready to text our thoughts on the game and share some positive vibes.

Alas — as is always the case with Cleveland sports — it was not to be.  The Browns defense, at least, looked like an NFL-quality team.  Other than the fact that they were mysteriously penalized on every play, the D got decent pressure on the quarterback, forced some turnovers, and had a nice little goal-line stand.  There seems to be some depth there, too.  When the regular season arrives and the refs swallow their whistles a bit, the defense might even be good.

ESPN photoThe offense was another story.  It started with a botched snap count, a blocking breakdown, and an uncontested sack on the first play, followed by a penalty on the second.  At that point, how many Browns fans thought:  “Uh oh, same old Browns”?  And they were right.  Words like putrid, awful, and embarrassing don’t begin to describe the futility the Browns starters showed in the first half last night.  Brian Hoyer, the quarterback who is coming back from surgery last year, was 2-6 for 16 yards, blew an easy TD throw, and was off on almost every pass.  Johnny Manziel was 7-16 for 65 yards, but even those lame stats were padded by a second-half series against second-teamers.  The Browns eked out a miserable 3 points after a turnover.

Fortunately for me, I decided not to watch the second half when the scrubs took over.  I therefore didn’t have to watch Manziel distinguish himself by flipping off the Redskins bench on national TV.  So, Johnny Football looked like Johnny Asshole.  Browns teammates say Manziel takes a terrible riding from opposing players and fans.  No surprise there!  Manziel is just a kid — people tend to forget that — but his antics on draft day, and his insistence on acting like a big shot when he hasn’t proven himself at the pro level, are bound to attract that kind of attention.  If he can’t keep his cool in a meaningless preseason game, how is he going to stay level-headed during a crucial play with an important game on the line?  Manziel’s stupid middle-finger salute tells us something about him, and it isn’t good news.

There’s some value in a game like this.  It was such a colossal failure that it’s bound to crush any lingering optimism that the Browns have turned a corner and smash the rose-colored glasses of the glass-half-full fans.  The rest of us Browns Backers will approach the start of the regular season with a wary attitude, like a cornered animal with its foot caught in a trap, and grimly determined to bear the impending pain for as long as we possibly can.

A Weirdly Desperate Ad Campaign

IMG_5926Yesterday I was minding my own business, driving north on Route 315, when I saw this billboard. It stopped my in my tracks, and reminded me — as if I or any Browns Backer needed reminding — of just how lost and pathetic the Cleveland Browns franchise seems to be right now.

What are the Browns trying to accomplish with this ad campaign? It’s February, months away from the start of NFL training camps. No one in Columbus knows Mike Pettine, so why would we trust any assurance he provided? It would be another thing if the Browns had decided to hire Jim Tressel and were running ads featuring him, and it might even be different if the Browns hadn’t changed head coaches as often as Miley Cyrus changes into another raunchy outfit. But neither of those things is true, and a picture of a random guy with a shaved head and beard looking like a hard ass isn’t going to change that.

I also don’t remember anyone questioning the Browns’ toughness. Instead, it was all about talent — which the Browns sorely lack. Get some good players in free agency, have a high-quality draft, and tell me I won’t ever again have to watch Brandon Weedon on a football field wearing a Browns uniform, and maybe I’ll pay attention.

I’m guessing that the Browns are worried that their frustrated and embarrassed fans won’t renew their season tickets, and they are trying to build a little positive momentum. They’re as a needy and desperate as a high school geek searching desperately for someone, anyone, who will go to the prom with him.

Theodoric Of Cleveland (Cont.)

Today Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam announced that President Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi are leaving the team. The decision to sweep the front office clean, Haslam said, will allow the organization to become more “streamlined.” Ray Farmer will become the team’s new general manager.

Just when you think the Browns can’t become more of an object of ridicule, something like this happens. Of course, the Browns’ front office, with Banner and Lombardi apparently involved, hired a new head coach just a few weeks ago. If you were going to axe your front office, why wouldn’t you do so before you hired a new head coach and let Farmer take the lead role in deciding who he wants in that crucial position?

I’m not defending Banner and Lombardi. I saw nothing from them that suggested the capability to lead the Browns back to respectability — much less contention for that elusive spot in a Super Bowl. In fact, I saw nothing from them that suggested basic competence. I can’t imagine that Farmer could possibly be any more inept than Banner and Lombardi were, and the fact that two failures have been pitched from the front office can’t hurt. But this latest housecleaning just reaffirms the prevailing view that the Browns are the worst managed, most bumbling franchise in the NFL — which is not exactly the reputation you want when you are looking to recruit free agents, encourage fans to shell our their hard-earned dollars for season tickets, and retain the handful of truly talented players that are currently on the Browns roster.

I’ll always be a Browns fan; it’s my cross to bear, one that also is borne by Browns Backers around the globe. I’m not expecting a winner. I just wish this once-proud, well-run team would stop being a laughingstock.