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!”

Attention: Sports Lobotomy Needed!

Well, another Sunday, another loss for the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns never charge out of the gate to start the season, they just slowly deflate their diehard fans by finding a way to lose every stinking game.  They’re now 0-3, and the season is effectively over.

The sad sack Browns can never quite make the big play.  They don’t know how to win.  Today’s game is a good example.  The Browns look like crap to begin the game as the Bills roll to a 14-0 lead.  The Browns fight back and get the ball in the second half with a chance to take the lead, and they produce . . . nothing.  Buffalo gets the ball and takes it in for a score, and the Browns’ rookie quarterback throws two picks to end the game on an even more sour note.

I’m sure Pat Shurmur is a nice man, but what signs have we seen that he can be a successful NFL coach?  The Browns are loaded with rookies and young players and are outmatched, from a talent standpoint, against virtually every opponent.  How about trying a trick play, or going for it on fourth down, or doing something, anything, to show your team and your fans that you are trying to win games?  Instead, Patient Pat just stands on the sidelines, with a quizzical, resigned look on his face, as the Browns throw a three-yard pass when six yards is needed, don’t get the crucial first down, and then go down to another frustrating, painful defeat.

The Browns have the scent of death about them.  The gnawing feeling of permanent futility is more than any sports fan should be asked to bear — and yet I am called back to the TV set, weekend after weekend, to absorb another defeat and another lost season.  Is there a doctor somewhere who can perform a very targeted lobotomy directed at the sports fan lobes of the brain?

The Browns Suck . . . Again

Here are some words that describe the Cleveland Browns franchise:  Suck.  Blow.  Dismal.  Putrid.  Woeful.  Hopeless.  Unrelentingly, inevitably awful.  Hey, does anyone have a thesaurus handy?

We are at the end of the NFL season.  The Browns are long since out of the running, while the other teams in their division — the mighty Steelers, the hated Ravens, even the usually laughable Bengals — are fighting for playoff spots and home field advantage.  It’s as predictable as the crowds of shoppers returning unwanted Christmas presents they received from Aunt Mildred.

Every year, there is supposed to be a new savior for this cursed franchise.  Once it was Tim Couch, or Butch Davis, or Phil Savage, or Braylon Edwards, or Romeo Crennel, or Eric Mangini.  Lately it is supposed to be Mike Holmgren, Pat Shurmur, Colt McCoy, or Peyton Hillis.  Of course, the Browns are never saved — they might bob up to a level of mediocrity every third season or so, but then they sink back down to their accustomed record of disaster and futility.  This year they are 4-11 and are ready to get waxed, again, by the Steelers in their last game.

The worldwide Browns Backers are among the most faithful fans in the world, but they also have a ridiculous capacity for self-delusion.  Right now they’re talking about maximizing the Browns’ draft position, like it is some great positive.  It isn’t.  The Browns have frittered away countless high draft choices before, and they’ll do it again.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  I repeat:  Suck.  Blow.

It’s Time For The Browns To Win Their Season Opener

Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, their record in the first game of the season has been stunningly awful.

In 12 years, the Browns have won their season opener precisely once — beating Baltimore 20-3 in 2004.  In the other years, they’ve lost in every conceivable way.  They’ve lost to good teams and bad teams.  They’ve gotten creamed and they’ve lost 9-6 defensive battles.  They even lost when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for removing his helmet on the last play of the game.  With astonishing, soul-deadening consistency, the old Browns and new Browns have produced the same result.  The season starts with a dispiriting 0-1 record, the team is in a hole, and they never seem to be able to fully claw their way out of it.  It’s no wonder the team has made the playoffs only once in those 12 years.

This year, the Browns need to find a way to somehow win their first game, against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Beating the Bengals is not an impossible dream.  In fact, if the Browns really are heading in the right direction, the game against the Bengals is a game that they should — really, they must — win.

With Mike Holmgren fully  at the helm of the franchise, a new head coach in Pat Shurmur and a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, exciting players like Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, and Josh Cribbs, and a roster stocked with younger players, it is time for the Browns to start slaying the ghosts and demons that have tormented this star-crossed franchise since its return to the league.  It can be done.  For years, the Browns could not win at Three Rivers Stadium — until suddenly, under Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar, they could.  On Sunday, it is time for this Browns team, too, to start turning things around.

Time To End The Brownian Motion

“Brownian motion” is a familiar concept for physics students.  It refers to a random movement of microscopic particles suspended in liquids or gases resulting from the impact of molecules of the liquids or gases.

Of course, “Brownian motion” could also describe the sad performance of the Cleveland Browns since they returned to the NFL.  For more than a decade, the team has lurched about with spastic grace and has only rarely approached competitiveness.  Offensively, the team has played pass-oriented schemes, power running schemes, mobile quarterback schemes, pocket-passing schemes, and virtually every other hot offensive approach this side of the single wing.  The defensive game plans have been similarly varied, with the only constant being the Browns’ inability to put consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.

So, I was glad to read that new head coach Pat Shurmur has a “clear vision” of the direction in which this battered franchise should move.  He says the Browns should (1) try to win the AFC North and then (2) compete in and win the Super Bowl.  He says there should be “new excitement” because it’s “a new direction with systems and plans that have won multiple Super Bowls.”

I groan when I read this kind of pointless coach-speak.  I’m quite sure that I could look through the news archives and find similarly meaningless comments from prior Browns’ head coaches.  Of course they are trying to win the AFC North and make the Super Bowl.  What other goals would a Browns’ coach have?

It looks like Coach Shurmur will have his chance to pursue this “new direction” soon enough; reports are that a deal has been struck between the owners and the players and the NFL lockout is ending.  As a long-suffering Browns fan, I’ll be rooting for the Browns to get on track and build on the positives from last season.  I ask only that Coach Shurmur keep the insulting coach-speak to a minimum, and let the team’s performance do the talking.

 

The New Browns Coaching Staff Rounds Out

The Browns continue to hire coaches to fill out the staff of new head coach Pat Shurmur.

Dick Jauron will be the Browns’ new defensive coordinator.  Jauron is a two-time former NFL head coach as well as a two-time defensive coordinator, so he will bring a lot of experience to the table.  Unfortunately, Jauron’s status as a two-time ex-head coach means he was fired twice — from Buffalo and Detroit.  Jauron may be one of those coaches, like Dick LeBeau, who is just better suited to being a coordinator rather than a head coach.  He has coached some good defenses in his career, but his style is to play a more conservative 4-3 defense, which will be a significant change from the gambling, blitzing 3-4 approach used by former Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  Jauron will be joined on the defensive staff by Dwaine Board, as defensive line coach, and Bill Davis, as linebackers coach.  Both also have plenty of NFL coaching experience, and Davis is a former defensive coordinator with the Cardinals.

Shurmur, who was offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams before being tabbed by the Browns, says he will call the plays on offense.  I am not especially encouraged by that decision, which I think may show a lack of appreciation for the many competing demands of the head coaching position.  A successful head coach is supposed to have a broader perspective.  Still, some successful head coaches have called plays, and perhaps Shurmur can pull it off.  The fact that he will be paying special attention to the offense at least may reflect the understanding that the Browns really need to focus on getting points on the board.  He will be joined in coaching the offense by Mark Whipple as quarterbacks coach and Mike Wilson as wide receivers coach.  Both will have big jobs this coming season.  Colt McCoy is still raw, and Wilson will be challenged to produce a true, NFL-caliber receiver from the choices on the Browns roster.

It is looking more and more like the Browns will have to retool and realign their roster to play the new styles favored by their new coaches.  I hope I’m wrong, but that probably means another “rebuilding year” — i.e., another year of missing the playoffs.  So what else is new?  The more the coaches and players change, the more the Browns’ mediocrity stays the same.

Questions Of Fit And Fitness

The Browns have hired a new head coach, the 13th full-time head coach in the team’s history.  His name is Pat Shurmur.  Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams for the last two seasons, and before that he was the tight ends, offensive line, and quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.  So, the Browns have gone with someone whose coaching background is exclusively on the offensive side of the ball.

No one who watched the Browns struggle offensively at the end of the season will question the need to focus on scoring points.  That said, Shurmur’s resume is somewhat thin.  Philadelphia was one of the best teams in the NFL when he was an assistant there, but it is hard to say how much of the Eagles’ offensive success was attributable to Shurmur as opposed to the head coach, the offensive coordinator, and the Eagles’ talented players.  In evaluating Shurmur’s record, therefore, the focus should be on St. Louis, where Shurmur was the offensive coordinator for only two years.  This past year, the Rams finished 7-9 and were not exactly an offensive juggernaut.  The team ranked 21st in the NFL in passing yards and 25th in the league in rushing yards, and failed to score at least 20 points nine times.  The main point on Shurmur’s resume may be that he coached a new quarterback, Sam Bradford, who had a good year for a rookie.

This is one of those situations where the fans simply have to trust the evaluation and judgment of team management on the fitness of the new head coach.  There is nothing in Shurmur’s resume to indicate that he is an offensive wizard who can turn the Browns into a point-producing machine, but he may well have the qualities that are needed to make him a good NFL head coach.  Shurmur was the pick of Mike Holmgren, who knows Shurmur and who was himself a successful head coach.  We can reasonably expect that Holmgren considered whether Shurmur has the attributes that are crucial to head coaching success — such as the willingness to work incredibly hard, the ability to recruit and shape a team of assistant coaches who are themselves excellent coaches, the skill to spot talent that is available through free agency and the draft and to identify players who can positively fill gaps in the current team roster, the organizational savvy to structure a training camp that gets the team ready for the season, and the football knowledge to spot and then exploit weaknesses in opponents.  The reality is that you cannot tell whether a coach will succeed in a particular time and place until they actually get that opportunity.  No one who watched Bill Belichick coach the Browns in the early ’90s would have guessed that Belichick would later turn the New England Patriots into a mini-dynasty.

So, the question of Shurmur’s fitness must await the test of actual games.  The question of his “fit” with the Browns’ players also will remain unanswered until then.  The Browns’ best offensive players this year were a big running back, Peyton Hillis, and tight end Ben Watson.  Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy showed some promise but stumbled at the end of the season, the offensive line was average, and the receiving corps aside from Watson was not NFL-caliber.  Does Shurmur’s offensive scheme “fit” with Hillis and Watson, and if not does he have the flexibility to modify his scheme to accommodate their considerable talents?  Or, will the Browns need to rebuild, again? The fact that Shurmur successfully coached a big back in the Rams’ Steven Jackson and that the Rams made significant use of a platoon of tight ends gives some cause for hope.

Browns fans can only pray that Shurmur has the attributes needed to turn around the sagging Browns franchise.  The Cleveland Browns have been wandering aimlessly in the wilderness since their return to the NFL.  During that period the team has often been an embarrassment to devoted Browns Backers.  We can only hope that Holmgren and his hand-picked coach can lead the team to the promised land of the NFL playoffs and back to the record of consistent excellence that characterized the Cleveland Browns for decades.