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.

New Depths Of Embarrassment

There’s just something impossibly bizarre about the Cleveland Browns franchise since it returned to the NFL 20 years ago.  Even in victory, over a long-time rival in an important game, it somehow manages to find a way to embarrass its city and its fans.

hi-res-a781c941b1771e4c6158fa6ea697b4f1_crop_northLast night’s win over Pittsburgh, and the dangerous brawl and helmet-swinging episode that occurred as the game ended, reaches a new low for the Browns.  If the incident weren’t so thuggish and savage and physically hazardous, it would almost be comical — the perfect demonstration of how the Browns inevitably snatch utter humiliation from the jaws of victory.

I have no desire to pile on Myles Garrett, the player who swung the helmet at the opposing quarterback’s head.  Garrett has apologized, and I have no doubt that his apology is heartfelt.  But there’s a big difference between losing your cool and doing something that could have caused catastrophic injury.  Somehow, for some reason, this year’s version of the Browns lacks the discipline to restrain on-the-field behavior and keep it in the proper channels.  There have been lots of penalties, and personal fouls, and then last night’s assault reaches new depths of egregious misconduct.

What’s wrong with this team?  Is it coaching?  Is it lack of leadership, or players who will set the right tone?  Whatever it is, something really needs to change.  The Browns have more than a week before they play their next game.  I hope everyone involved in the organization, from players to top management, are doing some soul-searching today, and giving some serious through to how they can fundamentally, and permanently, change the culture of this team and this franchise.  If they don’t, the ranks of Browns Backers are going to grow a lot smaller, and quickly.

Suckiness Serenity

After last week’s sorry and embarrassing pigskin display I vowed not to watch another Cleveland Browns game, and instead to spend my remaining fall Sundays in some kind of productive, less angst-inducing pursuit.

5628315-dmnadpvs-6However, my lovely and wise wife has encouraged me that I should take another course.  Simple avoidance, she counsels, is not a viable long-term strategy.  The better course, she advises, is acceptance.  In short, she submits, I need to embrace the Browns’ intrinsic suckiness and strive to achieve a state of Frank Costanza-like serenity about the team’s sorry state.  Only then can I hope to be freed from the devilish demons of Cleveland sports fandom and be able to go forward with a cheerful and positive attitude about the franchise and its beleaguered supporters.

I’m not sure this is possible, frankly.  In fact, I think even the most enlightened Buddhist zen-master would struggle to watch a Cleveland Browns game with a calm sense of mental tranquility.  But Kish has convinced me — I’m going to try.

Yeah . . . good luck with that!

Overhyped And Underperforming

Against my better judgment I watched the Cleveland Browns football game yesterday.  I’ve watched a few of their games this year, hoping that we would see a change for the better.

1believelandLast year the Browns won a few games at the end of the season, and during the off-season the team made some personnel moves that made it look like this might just be the year when the Browns were respectable.  Indeed, at least one analyst on one of the network NFL shows picked the Browns to make it to the Super Bowl, for the first time in the team’s history.

I should have known it was all part of the devious plan to elevate the hopes of Browns Backers everywhere.  After years of sad, crushing failure, Browns fans had become almost immune to the inevitable losses — and the evil forces that control the fates of professional football, focused as they are upon inflicting as much pain as possible on the hardy fans of this ill-fated franchise, couldn’t have that.  The hype was all a ruse to get us to start caring and hoping again — because hopes can only be dashed when they are raised in the first place.

So yesterday I found myself yelling at the TV as the Browns lost again, to the mighty New England Patriots, to fall to 2-5 on the season.  Losing to the Patriots isn’t an embarrassment in itself — pretty much everyone loses to the Patriots — but it’s the dismal, humiliating, frustrating way in which the Browns lose.  Turnovers on three straight plays.  A terrific long run ending in a fumble in the red zone.  Countless penalties (some of which seemed pretty iffy, by the way) killing good plays or putting the Browns in too deep a hole.  And so, for all of their talent, the Browns are once more on the outside looking in and heading for another awful year.

Well, at least my Sundays are now clear for more positive and productive activities.

The Eternal Question

Well, it’s Super Sunday again.  That means it’s time for the New England Patriots to play for the pro football championship . . . again.  It’s the third straight year the Patriots have kicked the ass of the rest of the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl.  Overall, it’s the eleventh Super Bowl for the Patriots, the most for any team.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on that inglorious goose egg.  Which raises, as it does every time a Super Bowl is played, the seemingly eternal question for we Browns fans:  will the Browns ever play in a Super Bowl — much less win one — in my lifetime?

I was a rosy-cheeked lad of 9 when the first Super Bowl was played, 52 years ago, after the end of the 1966 season.  At that time, the Browns were a very good team.  They’d won the league championship only two years before, at the tail end of the pre-Super Bowl days, and had lost in the championship game the next year.  If you’d asked people then whether the Browns would ever play in a Super Bowl, they might have viewed it as a trick question, because there was a legitimate question of whether the Super Bowl was just a kind of exhibition game or a permanent fixture on the pro football scene.  But if you’d said the Super Bowl would be played 53 times and asked how many times, the Browns would play, no one — absolutely no one — would have guessed that zero would be the right answer.

Yet, here were are.  I’m in my 60s, and the Browns haven’t made it.  They’ve come close — the last time, incidentally, was 30 years ago — but they’ve nevertheless been shut out.  And while this past season was a ray of sunshine after three of the worst seasons in Browns’ history, the goal of a Super Bowl still seems very far away.

So, will the Browns ever make it to a Super Bowl in my lifetime?  I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I’m steadily getting older.

 

Toodaloo, Hue

The Browns fired their head coach Hue Jackson today.  Jackson had an abysmal record as the Browns’ head coach, but he actually lasted for more than two seasons before getting canned. That makes him one of the Browns’ longest-tenured head coaches since their return to the NFL — which is pretty pathetic.

nfl-head-coach-hot-seats-2018-1532975615I watched the Browns game against the Steelers yesterday, and the experience was like getting a tooth drilled without any novocaine while simultaneously receiving a colonoscopy.  The Browns’ defense looks like it belongs in the NFL — or could belong in the NFL, if the offense could actually get a first down or two and let the defense get some rest now and then — but the offense is beyond putrid.  When the Browns offense was on the field it was horribly overmatched, and a lot of the problem seemed to be the product of a bad scheme that allowed Steelers to rush the quarterback unblocked on virtually every snap.  It’s like the Browns weren’t even being coached on the offensive side of the ball.

So so long, Hue, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  I’ve got no high hopes on who the Browns might hire, but the person literally can’t be any worse that Hue Jackson, who won all of three games in two and a half years and “led” the Browns to a winless season last year.  I just hope that the front office finds somebody who actually can coach and figure out how to score touchdowns, like every other NFL team does.

At The Bar For The Browns

God help me — I think I’m catching Browns Fever! Because the local TV station has chosen to broadcast the Bengals-Steelers game, I’ve gone to a local bar to watch the Browns play the Chargers.

That means I’ve changed my schedule and activities specifically to watch the Browns. That means — gulp! — I’ve effectively declared that I’ve once again been sucked in.

Oh well! Go Browns! Feel free to crush my spirits again!

Testing The Outer Bounds Of Improbability

gettyimages-1036976804The Cleveland Browns won a football game on Thursday night.  Seriously!  An actual, regular season NFL football game.  And they even came from behind to do it.  The result was so wildly unexpected it’s taken me more than a day to fully process it.

And I’ve also been considering the profound implications of a Browns victory.  It makes me wonder:  if the Browns can somehow be victorious on the gridiron, it basically means that nothing is impossible.  And we all need to brace ourselves, because who knows what might happen next!  In the interests of enhancing public preparedness, I came up with a list of some of the other events that would rank right up there with the Browns winning a football game on the improbability scale:

  •  President Trump is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his Twitter feed
  •  The French Minister of Culture admits that Americanized words like le supermarket are perfectly OK
  •  A scientific study shows that Facebook political postings actually cause people of opposing political views to change their minds
  •  Yankees fans concede the singing Sweet Caroline during the 8th inning of baseball games really is a pretty cool tradition
  •  Kim Jong Un decides to grow his hair out and go with a ponytail
  •  The Grand High Council of Vegans announces that eating an occasional cheeseburger is acceptable and tastes awfully darned good, too
  • The Ohio State Marching Band misspells Ohio during the performance of Script Ohio

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea.  Be wary, folks!  If the Browns can win a football game, all bets are off!

Cheer Up! You Could Be Hue Jackson

Are you having a bad day?  For that matter, are you having a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, even a bad two years?

hue-jackson-brownsHere’s a thought that should make you feel much, much better — you could be Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson.

Hue’s a guy who came to Cleveland with a pretty good reputation.  Since he’s started coaching the Browns, however, the team has gone 1-32-1.  That’s not a misprint.  He’s won precisely one game, and lost dozens.  And yet, he keeps coaching, and losing.  And to make matters worse, every bad thing that could possibly happen has happened to the guy, and undoubtedly will happen again in the future.  That’s just the way it is.

Today the Browns outplayed the New Orleans Saints on the road, but they lost because their kicker missed two field goals and two extra points.  That’s right — he missed two extra points.  Some NFL kickers go their entire careers without missing two extra points, but the Browns’ kicker somehow found a way to miss two in one game.  It’s so absurd that even ardent Browns fans can only shake their heads in wonderment at the sheer folly and futility of it, and wonder what happened that caused the football gods to cruelly torment the Browns and their fans week after week.

But poor Hue Jackson can’t laugh it off.  He’s got to stand on the sidelines every week as his team finds new ways to lose winnable games, looking resolute in his headset, all the while knowing that when crunch time comes he’s going to get punched in the gut and kneed in the groin by the fates.  Deep down, is Hue Jackson hoping he’s get fired, just to end the onslaught and let him escape the nightmarish horror?

So if you’re feeling down because things are tough, cheer up!  You could be Hue Jackson, the most cursed coach of the NFL.

Not 0-1 — For Once

Yesterday, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a 21-21 tie.  It’s noteworthy, not because ties in the NFL are as rare as hen’s teeth, but because the Browns somehow didn’t find a way to lose.

20180909pdsteelers18-3-1536535019That means that, for the first time in 17 games stretching back to the 2016 season, the Browns didn’t end the game by chalking another one up in the loss column.  It also means that, for the first time in the collective memories of every member of Browns fandom, the Browns won’t be starting the season 0-1.  (For the record, the Browns had lost 13 straight season openers before yesterday.)  And, as anyone who watched the game yesterday saw, the TV commentators repeatedly listed, with an air of wondrous amazement, other ongoing records for futility that the Browns have been setting — like the fact that it has been more than 600 days since the Browns won on a Sunday.  Because we’re talking about a tie game, the non-winning streaks continue, but at least the losing streaks have been snapped.

It was a sloppy, poorly played game that occurred in a rainstorm.  The Browns had a game-winning field goal blocked, were repeatedly penalized at key moments, at times looked like they couldn’t block the Little Sisters of the Poor, and failed to take full advantage of six turnovers by the Steelers — and yet, still, they didn’t lose.  It’s not exactly progress, but at least it’s not more of the same steady diet of outright failure.

They say that a tie is like kissing your sister.  For Browns fans, a kiss — any kiss — is preferable to the normal punch to the face when autumn Sundays roll around.

Hard Knocks, Ho Hum

Russell and I have watched a few episodes of HBO’s Hard Knocks, which promises to be an insider’s look at pro football training camps, coaches, and players. Since this season is features the Cleveland Browns’ training camp, it’s a natural for us.

But after watching last night’s episode, I realized that the show is . . . well, boring. The fact that the exhibition game that was featured in the episode was a 5-0 snoozer didn’t help, but, really, watching a “reality” show about professional athletes isn’t any different from watching a reality show about real housewives or the Kardashians or ice-road truckers or any other group or occupation. After a while, you’ve seen everything, and it all seems pretty rote.

So assistant coaches in the NFL cuss a blue streak? Is anybody really surprised about that? Or about learning that pro athletes often act like adolescents or macho jerks? Or that head coaches are more like politicians than Xs and Os guys? And the “human interest” stories about guys who might not make the team and their families candidly just aren’t all that interesting.

Maybe the Browns are just intrinsically boring, as well as historically inept — or maybe the Hard Knocks concept has run it’s course. Whatever the reason, Hard Knocks is a big ho hum in my book.

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.

 

The Family Curse

The Cleveland Browns lost today . . . again.  The team is now 0-14.  Last year, the Browns were 1-15.  Can it get any worse?  I guess an 0-16 season is worse, so that’s what I’m expecting.

sadbrownsfansBut that’s not what really bothers me.  Frankly, the Browns have been so putrid for so long that it’s impossible for me to get emotionally invested in the efforts of this horribly mismanaged, poorly coached band of losers.  In fact, I don’t even watch the games any more.  When Sundays roll around, I just check my ESPN app to see whether the Browns have lost, and when I confirm that they have turned in another dismal performance, as they did today, I move on.

No, what really bothers me is that I have infected Russell with the scourge of Browns fandom.  Before today’s game, he texted me, with the eternal optimism of youth, that he “had a feeling” about the Browns’ chances against the Ravens.

Of course, he should have recognized the feeling as one of impending doom.

Russell, I am sorry that I infected you with the family curse!