Brown Thoughts After Another Brown Year

Today the Cleveland Browns lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It’s a dog bites man story, a result that follows the chalk.  The Browns ended the year 3-13, which is their worst record in a while, and I didn’t watch a game after about week six.  I doubt that I’m alone.

So now we’ll go through what has become an almost annual Browns rite.  Where other teams focus on the playoffs, the Browns undoubtedly will be cleaning house, canning their head coach and probably their GM, too.  I’m sorry Mike Pettine was a bust, but I have to laugh when I remember owner Jimmy Haslam saying how the Browns were “thrilled” to have Pettine when they hired him only two years ago.

1557-mNo doubt the Browns were “thrilled” to hire anyone, because no rational person who wants a future in the NFL would want to be head coach of the Browns.  It’s a death wish writ large, because the Browns have had almost as many head coaches as they have had starting quarterbacks.  Does anybody remember Pat Shurmur?

So the Browns probably will once again hire a nobody, and they’ll get a new GM who will want to remake the team in his own image, and they’ll squander another high draft pick.  We’ll have a wholesale turnover of players, and the new guy will promise that we’ll be “exciting” or “tough” or play nails defense.  It never happens.  The franchise is cursed — cursed with stupidity.  A revolving door of coaches and front-office personnel, an owner who doesn’t know what he is doing and won’t hire somebody who does, and a list of failed first-round draft picks that were complete busts are a recipe for failure for any franchise.  The Browns have made that recipe into an art form.

This year there will be a bunch of really good Ohio State players in the draft.  Joey Bosa.  Ezekiel Elliott.  Normally I’d want them to play for my team — but now when my team is the Browns, because that inevitably means they will be injured or put into a scheme that fails to take advantage of their talents or otherwise converted into marginal players.

What should the Browns do?  I say clean house, top to bottom, and hire Jim Tressel to run the organization.  Why not?  We know he’s competent, he can recognize talent, he’s won at every level he’s tried, and his offensive scheme is pretty close to what the NFL does, anyway.  He knows the Browns tradition of success — unfortunately, only older guys know that anymore — and he resurrected the Buckeye program after the Cooper era.  Browns fans would give him a nice long honeymoon, which means he might actually last longer than the last few Browns coaches, who’ve been there for no more than a cup of coffee.  Maybe he’s not the answer — but does anybody trust this Browns organization to actually find somebody who is?

I say hire Jim Tressel.

Edited to add:  The Browns have, in fact, fired head coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer.  According to ESPN, they are interviewing former Buffalo coach Doug Marrone and Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase.  Romeo Crennel, anyone?

Theodoric of Cleveland

Today the Cleveland Browns announced that they were hiring Mike Pettine to be their new head coach. He’ll be their third head coach in three years, and his resume sounds a lot like the resumes of their last two coaches. He’s a guy who has had decent experience as an NFL assistant coach but has never been the head guy — just like Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski. Shurmur was overwhelmed by the job and got fired after two uninspired seasons and Chud got the boot, unfairly, in my view, after only one season at the helm.

Who’s Pettine? He’s been an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, and the Buffalo Bills. These aren’t exactly the elite franchises in the NFL — Buffalo won just six games this past season. Pettine is a defensive guy, which could be a good fit because the Browns have some defensive talent. But who knows? He’s got a limited track record and limited experience.

I listened to some of the press conference for Pettine today and had to laugh when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said the Browns were “thrilled” to have Pettine, who would be “tough, aggressive and innovative” and bring “a blue-collar, team-first mentality.” Who does Haslam think he’s kidding? Cleveland Browns fans may be ridiculously devoted, but we’re not blithering idiots. The Browns clearly hired Pettine because their coaching search had become an embarrassment. Cleveland was jilted and rebuffed by all of the hot coaches, who no doubt wanted to avoid a franchise that looks more like a clown show with each passing season. The Browns’ decision to can Chudzinski after only one season in which the Browns played without an NFL-caliber quarterback obviously limited the pool of people who would even consider a job.

I don’t wish Pettine ill. I hope that, against all odds and notwithstanding the obvious incompetence of the Browns organization, they found a diamond in the rough who succeeds famously. But the Browns have no credibility with me any more. Their front office is like a collective Theodoric of York, the medieval barber played by Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live in the ’70s. After Theodoric would kill or maim his patients with his quackery, Jane Curtin would confront him and say: “Why don’t you just admit it! You don’t know what you’re doing!” At the Browns’ press conference today, I was hoping Jane would make an appearance.

Will Chud Be A Stud?

The Browns have hired a new head coach.  His name is Rob Chudzinski, he’s 44 years old, and he’s been an assistant coach in the NFL for years, including two prior stints with the Browns.

Will Chud be a stud?  Who knows?  Most recently, he’s been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.  They didn’t make the playoffs this year, but their offense was better than the Browns.  Chudzinski’s supposed to be great at developing young quarterbacks — but then, so was Pat Shurmur, and we all saw how that Browns hire turned out.  So, we’ve got a young guy who’s never been a head coach in the NFL before, trying to turn around a franchise that has given its fans awful teams over the past few years.  It will be a big challenge for him, just as it was a big challenge for Shurmur, whose resume was just like Chudzinski’s.  I hope the Browns hired Chudzinski because they thought he would be a good head coach, and not for other reasons, like his being willing to agree to restrictions on his authority that other coaches wouldn’t accept.

Lots of people are ripping the Browns about the choice.  They may be right, or they may not.  Since their return to the league, the Browns have hired hot NFL assistants, hot college coaches, and former NFL head coaches.  They’ve all stunk up the joint.  I’m not sure there is anything magical, or predictable, about who will be successful as an NFL head coach.  It’s a weird job that requires a unique combination of football savvy, talent spotting and development ability, management skill, inspirational leadership, PR awareness, and a number of other characteristics.  I don’t think you know whether a candidate will succeed until you make them a head coach and see how they perform.  Chudzinski could bomb, or he could do well.  We won’t know for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll just content myself that the name “Chudzinski” fits well with an ethnic, blue-collar town like Cleveland.  And “Chud” allows for lots of good rhymes and puns, whether the team’s performance blows (dud, crud, mud, thud) or is unexpectedly good (stud, bud) or just funny (spud, tastebud, cud).  That will have to do for now.


A Brown New Year

Last year was an even year, so it was inevitable that the “new” Browns would fire their head coach.  After all, it happened in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2010.  And, sure enough, yesterday the Browns gave the boot to Perplexed Pat Shurmur as well as General Manager Tom Heckert.

I’m not defending Shurmur.  His record stank — 9-23 is putrid even by the awful standards the Browns have achieved since they returned to the league in 1999 — and I thought he was overmatched by head coaching duties.  Shurmur’s bad game management decisions, weird use of personnel, and other failings showed he just does not have the unique skill set that successful NFL head coaches possess.  This season’s end-of-the-year collapse sealed his fate.

I’m sorry to see Heckert go, however.  He seemed to have a good eye for spotting NFL-grade talent — and, as the Browns’ laughable draft performance since 1999 shows, that’s not a capability to be sniffed at.  Thanks to Heckert, the Browns are stocked with a number of young players who look like they have real potential.  The Browns obviously are missing a few pieces, but progress on the personnel front definitely was made.  I don’t think Heckert will be easy to replace.

Mostly, though, I greeted the story about the Browns’ housecleaning with a shrug.  It’s hard to care passionately about the Browns, with their consistently bad performance, perennial late-season stumbles, and constant coaching changes.  The Browns organization demands a lot from the team’s loyal fan base and never delivers any reward.  It’s exhausting and deeply frustrating to be a Browns Backer, and it’s hard to maintain the necessary level of commitment.

Every few years the Browns franchise brings in a new regime, promises dramatic improvement, and then repeats its past failures.  The Browns’ new owner, Jimmy Haslam, promises a careful search for a new coach and GM who will establish stability and bring long-term success.  I’m not going to get too excited about it.  I’m tired of new hires that are oversold as saviors; I just want some competent hard-working people who will stop my team from being viewed as the punch line to a league-wide joke.

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

Under what circumstances — if any — should Pat Shurmur return to coach the Browns in 2013?

This question was not being asked three weeks ago.  In fact, if you had posed that question three weeks ago in a Cleveland-area bar, you would have been laughed out of the joint and perhaps punched in the face, too, on general principles.  Browns fans, myself included, were ready to see Perplexed Pat hit the road and have the team start over  with a new regime picked by the new owner.

But the last three weeks have produced three wins, including last weekend’s trouncing of the hapless Chiefs.  Now the Browns stand at 5-8, and actually have a very, very small chance of making the playoffs.  Of course, the Browns would have to win out against three good teams, and a lot of dominoes would need to fall their way — but still!  A chance to make the playoffs!  It’s almost like there’s a professional football team on the shores of Lake Erie.

I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid.  The Browns have beaten three pretty crummy teams in their winning streak, and their offense sputters something awful.  And yet . . . the young players (of whom there are many) look like they could actually be legitimate players in the NFL.  The defense plays a rugged game and doesn’t seem to get down when they give up a big play.  The offense has some reasonably good playmakers, all of whom (with the exception of thirty-something rookie QB Brandon Weedon) just started shaving last week.  It’s hard not to think that this team will only get better with age, experience, and a few wins under their collective belts.

I’m not convinced Shurmur has what it takes to be a successful NFL coach . . . but I also think NFL owners should think long and hard before they dump the old regime and bring in a new playbook, new approaches, and the disruption that is the inevitable result of such a change.  I want to see how the Browns look against the Redskins, who are battling for a playoff spot.  I want to see whether these young players maintain their focus and whether they come out and play hard now that their games are starting to mean something.  I want to see if Shurmur continues the interesting playcalling we saw in the Chiefs game.

There’s still plenty of time before this decision needs to be made.  Watching the Browns has suddenly become interesting again.

Trying To Play The Spoiler

One compelling measure of how far into the abyss the Cleveland Browns franchise has fallen:  fans were encouraged by last week’s 7-6 win at home over a reeling San Diego Chargers team.  An occasional win on a cold, wet field doesn’t really mean much, of course, unless it leads to something.  When a team is down and out at midseason, it must take small steps.  The first step is to play spoiler, and knock off a team that is fighting to stay on the Road to the Super Bowl.  Another step is to put together back-to-back wins.  Today the Browns try to take both of those steps when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Stadium.

The Ravens have beaten the Browns like a drum for years.  In fact, the Browns haven’t beaten Baltimore during the entirety of the Obama presidency — and I’m not making a subtle pitch for Mitt Romney in mentioning that embarrassing statistic.  It’s just a sign of how one-sided this series has been.  And, true to form, the Ravens beat the Browns earlier this year, 23-16.

Today the Browns will be looking for a better performance from their offense, which has shown some glimmers of hope.  Although banged up, Trent Richardson ran very hard against San Diego; his 122 yards in miserable conditions were the difference-maker in the Browns win.  Rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and is improving his decision-making; he’s also shown the big arm that caused the Browns to make him a first-round pick.  Neither Richardson nor Weedon played particularly well against the Ravens in the loss earlier this season, and if the Browns hope to win they simply have to make a difference this time around.

The Browns defense, on the other hand, has played better since getting sliced to ribbons by the Giants a month ago.  With tough starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor returning from injury, the Browns D is as close to healthy as they’ve been all season.  This game will provide a meaningful test of how good the Browns defense is when playing in good conditions against a quality NFL offense.

One final point:  if Pat Shurmur wants to keep his job, he’ll play this game to win.  If that means trying a fake punt, or going for it on 4th and 1 inside the Ravens’ 50-yard-line, now is the time to do it.  This teams needs to develop a winning attitude, and taking a few risks and showing confidence in your offensive line is part of that process.  It’s time for Pat Shurmur to let his inner riverboat gambler shine forth.

Things I Would Rather Do Than Watch The Browns Right Now

I’d hoped the karma would change.  Russell’s home for a reunion, and we went to Joe’s place with UJ to eat some pizza, drink some beer, and watch the Browns.  And, for a time, the wheel turned, and the Browns sprinted to a 14-0 lead.  But then the wheels came off, Cleveland collapsed, Perplexed Pat Shurmur absorbed it stoically, and the Browns fell to the Giants in embarrassing fashion, 41-27.

Next Sunday I won’t be able to watch the Browns.  Thank God!  I can’t bear the agony of watching the Browns fumble and stumble and bumble their way to another disaster.  In fact, here is a partial list of things I would rather do than watch the Browns right now:

*  Repeatedly Taser myself

*  Listen to the Cher recording of Half Breed play continuously for 18 days

*  Chew aluminum foil

*  Serve as the personal laundry attendant for long-term residents at the National Senior Citizen Incontinence Institute

*  Dip my face into a bowl full of glass shards

As Colonel Kurtz would say:  “The horror!”