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.

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.

Sunday Centennial

The NFL is making a big deal this year about celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Given the momentous occasion, it’s worth pointing out that Columbus played a significant role in the early days of The League.

The NFL started out as the American Professional Football Association, in Canton.  In 1922 it changed its name to the National Football League and moved its headquarters to Columbus.  After several years of the league offices being housed in Columbus homes, the NFL and its Commissioner, the legendary Joe Carr, moved to a proper office building in downtown Columbus, at 18 East Broad Street — an office building I pass by regularly.  In fact, the building is being refurbished, and one of the placeholder signs on the front the building, pictured with this post, commemorates its role in the NFL’s history.  During that Jim Thorpe and Red Grange era, the League struggled financially, with franchises starting up and folding regularly, but it always had a strong Ohio connection.  In 1927, there were NFL teams in Cleveland (the Bulldogs, not the Browns) and Dayton (the Triangles) and other small towns, like Duluth, Frankford, and Pottsville, so having the headquarters in Columbus made sense.  The headquarters remained here until 1941, when they were moved to Chicago.

I suppose if you get to 100 you’ve got to celebrate the occasion, but as I watch some of the promotional materials the NFL has produced I wonder:  is the League going to be around for another 100 years?  With the players growing bigger and faster all the time, and serious injuries becoming more and more the norm — so much so that every year the League rolls out new rules and penalties to try to stem the tide of crippling concussions and devastating hits — how long can the NFL last?  In years to come, a radically different NFL might look back very fondly on its innocent early years, when it found its home in Columbus.

 

Going Pro

Yesterday Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins announced that he will leave college to participate in the 2019 NFL draft.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore, which means he will be giving up two years of college football eligibility in order to turn pro.

web1_Haskins_MVP-1The decision surprised exactly no one.  Haskins was the Ohio State starter for only one season, but in that season he shredded the record books, setting new single-season Ohio State marks for attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns and single-season Big Ten records for passing yards and touchdowns.  He’s easily the best pure passer and pro-style quarterback the Buckeyes have ever had.

He had a remarkable year, and the experts have graded him accordingly.  The NFL Draft Advisory Board, which exists to give college players who are considering leaving school early a sense of where they might go if they stand for the NFL draft, gave Haskins a first-round grade, and he is widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect in the draft and a likely top ten pick.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who follows football.  So why am I writing about Dwayne Haskins going to the NFL?  Because while his decision was predictable, what’s changed has been the reaction to it.  In the past, college football fans used to hold a grudge against players who left early, viewing them as betraying their alma maters to chase the almighty dollar.  Now, there may be some people out there who still hold to that view, but the majority have shifted to a different position.

We see how much money professional athletes can make, we know how that kind of money can be life-changing for the athletes and their families, and we also know that, in a sport as violent as football, you never know whether the next play might inflict a gruesome, career-ending injury.  As a result, for the most part, fans have come to view decisions to turn pro by high-caliber players like Haskins as a rational, reasonable judgments — even though we’d love to see them continue to perform for our favorite college teams.  We get why they don’t want to take a huge risk that they might end up regretting forever.  In short, we’ve reached the last stage of the seven stages of grief and have accepted the way the world now works.

So Godspeed, Dwayne Haskins!  It was fun watching you play football for the Men of the Scarlet and Gray . . . while it lasted.

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!

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.