I feel like I write this piece once a year.
Its 2011 and it might as well be 1999. Nothing has changed other than the faces in the front office and on the sidelines. The one constant is losing and boring football, save for the mirage of 2007. And even that season did more harm than good.
The Carmen Policy/Dwight Clark regime was a disaster. The Butch Davis: Man In Charge regime produced one winning season and the only playoff appearance “The New Browns” have produced. And even that season ended in classic Cleveland fashion with the infamous prevent defense fourth quarter collapse/Dennis Northcutt drop loss to the Steelers in the 2003 AFC Wild Card game. Butch got too big for his britches and was run out of town. In came first time GM Phil Savage riding his White Horse, wearing his ball-cap, looking like Ron Howard, and the reputation as the “college scouting guru.” We all would learn soon what Savage didn’t realize when he took the job; General Manager is a lot more than just flying around week to week watching College Football games.
So absentee owner Randy Lerner decided to get involved for the first time, and came to the conclusion that Eric Mangini, recently fired as coach of the New York Jets, was the guy to not only be his head coach, but the ultimate decision maker in the organization. Then in a completely backwards move, Mangini and Lerner hired a GM, George Kokinis, another Baltimore player personnel guy. That marriage barely lasted a half season, with the Cleveland media wondering what Kokinis even did when he was here. Mangini was clearly the face of the franchise. What a great idea that was.
That arrangement essentially last less than a year. That’s because Lerner decided that he needed a real “Football Czar” running the franchise. He found his man in Mike Holmgren, a Super Bowl winning head coach who would now try his hand at running things. Holmgren’s hire coupled with the hiring of GM Tom Heckert spelled doom for Mangini, considering Holmgren believes in the West Coast offense (Mangini didn’t) and the 4-3 defense (Mangini is 3-4 guy to his core). Mangini managed to stave off a firing when his team won four straight to finish the 2009 season 5-11. But a second straight 5-11 season in 2010 sent him out the door. But you knew it would. Holmgren seemed to want one of two things, either hiring his own hand-picked guy, or to coach the Browns himself. That is what the 2010 season was about – deciding if he still had the itch to still coach. Holmgren didn’t, and instead hired unproven, first time Head Coach Pat Shurmur to lead his team.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Shurmur experience is five games in and thus far the circus hasn’t left town. The Browns have looked disorganized both on and off the field. The Peyton Hillis contract situation has been a botch job from the jump. Holmgren made the mistake of going on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning show and spilling the beans that the team was working on a contract extension with their feature back before the opener. Going public with this put undo pressure on Hillis and when he struggled early, everyone blamed the contract talks. Then the strep throat debacle arrived with both Hillis and his agent taking turns putting their feet in their mouths with the media. While this was all going on, it was Shurmur who was out front answering the questions. This is a guy who clearly is showing how green he is in dealing with the local scribes and talking heads. He kept going to the “I was told” card in terms of Hillis’ sickness. He couldn’t be less definitive and opened the door for the media to scrutinize the situation even more.
Shurmur’s move to defuse the situation and prove it had blown over, was to make it a point to tell everyone listening that his starting Running Back who get “20-25 touches “ against the Raiders on Sunday and that we could bank on that happening. Meanwhile, Hillis never got going, carrying the ball six times in first half. As the second half in Oakland began, Hillis was sending on the sidelines while Montario Hardesty was toting the rock. Later we would learn that the big dog from Arkansas had a hamstring injury. If that is indeed the case, then why did Hillis return in the fourth quarter for a few plays, essentially as a decoy?
After the game, another loss where the team looked completely disorganized offensively in particular, Shurmur once again made the mistake of saying “I was told he had a hamstring issue.” Someone clearly got to him about his choice of words, because in yesterday’s media session, the Browns Head Coach said not once but twice “I can assure you Hillis has a hamstring problem.”
Throughout this whole bad start to the season which has watched the Browns lose the home opener to the Bengals and their rookie QB Andy Dalton, beat the now 0-6 Indianapolis Colts, sans Peyton Manning, get smoked by both the Tennessee Titans and Raiders (sorry, that score was not indicative of the game), and need a last minute TD to beat another winless team, the Miami Dolphins at home, Holmgren has been nowhere to be found.
I know he wants to sit back and let his coaches coach and his players play, but with the way things are going, shouldn’t the Football Czar be saying something to ease the fans pain? As my good friend Les Levine said to me yesterday “say what you want about Mark Shapiro, but he would be out there front and center right now.”
Apathy is here. The fans are used to the losing. That is not a good thing.
I’ve been a Browns fans my entire life. When the NFL and Art Modell took our team away from us, things changed for me. “The New Browns” have never really been the same to me, but I have continued to support the team. They will always be my team, but I am as close to completely not caring as I have ever been. I never thought I would get to this level.
This new era of Browns football has been disgraceful. Every NFL team seems to turn things around in a relatively short period of time. The Browns have been through one regime change after another and have had two winning seasons in 13 years, one of those was a gift 9-7.
Cleveland fans are amazing. We deserve better than this. The Browns are still selling tickets at an incredible rate, the local TV ratings are consistently high, yet year after year, the product on the field is subpar. We supposedly now have this big, important, well respected, “Football Czar” running things and a solid GM picking the players, yet once again, the team looks to be bottom of the barrel and amateurish. Where is Mike Holmgren to tell us to stay the course and tell us things are moving in the right direction? It’s time for him to get out in front of all of this b.s.
Again, I ask you, how much more of this as fans are we supposed to take?