A Dan Coughlin guest post: Browns Still Hunting for a QB

It is our pleasure to introduce a guest post today by Cleveland’s own Dan Coughlin. Enjoy!

I fell in love with Brandon Weeden late last season when I saw him against Baylor and later in the bowl game against Stanford. I wasn’t overly enamored with Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Everyone in the world was raving about Luck, but I preferred Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Weeden, the old minor league baseball player from Oklahoma State. The Browns should make every effort to get one of them in the draft, I said to myself.

I must apologize for reiterating old news to readers of this blog in order to establish my point.

I’m worried.

Historically, every time the Browns have set out to get a quarterback in the draft it has backfired. I mean it. Every time except once. The Browns got most of their starting quarterbacks through trades or blind luck.

The exception was Bernie Kosar in 1985, but in that case the Browns didn’t mastermind the coup that acquired Kosar. Bernie’s father did. Browns general manager Bill Davis and Bernie’s father were guests at a wedding reception in Boardman in late winter of that year. They talked and Mr. Kosar walked Davis through the procedure for acquiring Bernie in a special supplemental draft. Mr. Kosar had done his homework. Bernie would graduate in June from the University of Miami after only three years, but not in time to qualify for the 1985 draft. At that time undergraduates were not eligible for the draft.

Mr. Kosar pointed out, however, that when Bernie graduated in June he could apply for a special supplemental draft — Bernie’s personal draft — which he did. Buffalo, however, owned the first pick in any such supplemental draft and the Bills extracted a high price for that pick. Based purely on the expectation that Bernie would be available by summer, the Browns traded their first round picks in the 1985 and ’86 regular drafts along with two lower picks to the Bills. The “Bernie Draft” was held in June, 1985, and he signed with the Browns on July 2. Three months later he was the Browns’ starting quarterback.

As I said, that was the exception. Left to their own devices, the Browns usually screwed up when drafting quarterbacks.

In 1954 the Browns had the very first pick in the draft. That in itself requires an explanation. For twelve years in the 1940s and ’50s the NFL held an annual lottery for the first pick in the draft. It was a bonus pick at the top of the draft. Every team had a turn, regardless of their rank in the regular draft. In 1954 it was the Browns’ turn. Looking for Otto Graham’s replacement at quarterback, Brown selected Stanford all-American Bobby Garrett. Scouting was not as thorough as it is today. When Garrett arrived at training camp at Hiram College, it was discovered that Garrett had a speech impediment so severe he could not talk in the huddle. That was no problem at Stanford, but it was not acceptable to Brown. Garrett was soon released. He never played a down for the Browns. The first pick in the entire draft was wasted.

Two years later Brown was still looking for Graham’s replacement and he was out of time. Graham retired after the 1956 season and Brown had two quarterbacks in mind — Lenny Dawson from Purdue and Paul Hornung, the Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame. The draft was held in December that year because of competition from the Canadian Football League. The season was not over and the Browns were tied in the standings with Pittsburgh and Green Bay for the first draft choice. To break the tie a coin flip was held at NFL headquarters in Philadelphia. Brown sent equipment man Morrie Kono to Philadelphia for the coin flip. Kono lost two straight coin flips and the Browns finished third. Paul Brown was not happy. Pittsburgh chose Dawson, whom they later cut, and Green Bay chose Hornung, whom they converted to halfback. Stuck with the sixth pick in the draft, the Browns chose Syracuse running back Jim Brown.

In the second round of that draft, the Browns chose Penn State quarterback Milt Plum, who was ordinary but he started for four years until he was traded to Detroit for Jim Ninowski in 1962. The Browns actually traded for two quarterbacks in 1962. Besides Ninowski, the Browns acquired Frank Ryan from the Los Angeles Rams. Ninowski started the first half of the 1962 season when Ryan took over and the Browns won the 1964 championship with Ryan at quarterback.

Ryan hurt his shoulder in the 1967 Pro Bowl which shortened his career. Bill Nelsen took over after the third game of the 1968 season and took the Browns to NFC championship games in 1968 and ’69. Was Nelsen the product of draft day brilliance? He was not. Nelsen came to Cleveland from Pittsburgh in a trade of backup quarterbacks. The Browns sent second string quarterback Dick Shiner to the Steelers. Was it a stroke of brilliance? It was not. It was blind luck.

By 1970 the Browns were desperate for a quarterback once again and Art Modell targeted Purdue Mike Phipps. Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech was headed for Pittsbursgh. The Steelers owned the first pick in the draft. The Browns needed the second pick in order to get Phipps, which led to the worst trade in their history. The Browns traded Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami for the pick which they used to get Phipps.

“I was against the trade,” Blanton Collier told me. “I was the only one who stood up in a meeting and said we shouldn’t do it.”

Collier was entering his final year as head coach. He visited Purdue and talked to the Boilermakers’ coaches about Phipps. Collier did not like what he heard.

Furthermore, Modell’s front office advisers did not realize Warfield’s importance to the running game. The famous “Browns Sweep” came to a halt. Later Collier told me the absence of Warfield was the reason. Warfield had a crucial block on the cornerback and he never missed his block. The Miami Dolphins won two Super Bowls with Warfield.

Phipps never was satisfactory and he eventually lost his job in 1977 to Brian Sipe, who became one of Cleveland’s all time favorites. It must have been the organization’s latent draft day genius that resulted in Brian Sipe, right? Wrong again.

Sipe was a 13th round draft pick out of San Diego State in 1972. It was a throw-away choice. He was on the taxi squad for two years and then he was the backup to Phipps for two years. Chuck Heaton, who covered the Browns for The Plain Dealer at that time, would tell me about this kid on the taxi squad who was the best quarterback in camp. Sipe got to play only because Phipps was injured in 1976 and he opened a few eyes. Once again, they discovered Sipe by accident. The Browns’ ace in the hole always was blind luck.

Paul McDonald, a fourth-round pick from Southern Cal, was handed the quarterback job for one year in 1984, bridging the gap between the Sipe and Kosar regimes.

After the turmoil of Vinnie Testaverde and Mark Rypien at the end of the Bill Belichick era, the expansion Browns resumed where the old Browns left off. In 1999 Tim Couch was the first pick in the entire draft. You know that sad story. In 2008 Brady Quinn was the Browns first round pick. You can finish that story. Throw in Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy and the endless absurdity of the expansion years.

We now have another anointed leader, Brandon Weeden. Why not? We’ve never had a quarterback from Oklahoma State before. Let me be the first to say, “Welcome to the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Dan Coughlin has covered the Cleveland sports scene for 45 years, as a sportswriter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer (1964-1982) and on WJW-TV 8 (since 1983). He was twice named Ohio sportswriter of the year and was honored with a television Emmy. Dan has written two books: Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It and Pass the Nuts. He blogs at Coughlin Forever.

  • Ctowndawgpound

    I was pissed to hear about us loosing out on Hornung and Dawson until I got to the part about being forced to take JIM BROWN! I also remember hearing a story about how we almost ended up with Johnny Unitas. Paul Brown called on him,at the time he was playing in a semi pro league, Paul asked him if he was interested in playing for the Browns and he agreed. We were looking for Grahams replacement,long story short Otto wanted to play one more year and we didn’t need Unitas.If’s and buts!!!!!!!

  • great read. thank you dan.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Churn and burn that’s the Cleveland Browns motto when it comes to QBs these days.  Hopefully Weeden isn’t just this year’s flavor!

  • saggy

    absolutely awesome article.


    Good read Dan!  Recently read Pass the Nuts on a cruise….your stories are all pretty amazing.

  • Shane6929

    Very interesting read, tho unsure why drafts decades ago would make you worried about Weeden. At what point do Browns fans/media admit they have a self fulfilling prophecy when it comes to CLE sports demise. I understand they are not directly involved with the teams, but to constantly assume failure has a trickle down affect republicans would cream their pants over

  • Steve

    The thing that I enjoyed the most is that Danny boy finally figured out this new-fangled internet thing. I remember getting to hear him speak (within the last few years) and he had a bunch of great stories, then out of nowhere he started screaming (literally) about how terrible the internet is and “don’t ask me how to use that email thingy”.

  • mgbode

    Great historical recap. 

    Just for completion’s sake, here is what we gave up for Bernie:

    11yr LT starter for the GB Packers (they acquired from Bills)

    11yr RB (3rd down specialist + KR)

    you might remember Harmon as they guy that dropped the possible GW TD pass from Jim Kelly at the end of the ’89 playoff game against us 🙂

    backup LBer Hal Garner

    WR Curt Pardridge – 8 career receptions

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That’s easy, when they finally win something again.

  • Redd3k

    So because we failed so many times in the past, we should live in fear that it might happen again and never take chances.  We should keep drafting those 3rd Round QBs and hope one pans out rather than take the chance on a high-profile guy.  At least then, if it fails, we won’t have invested as much.  Great philosophy!  I respect Mr. Coughlin and the work he’s done over the years in the Cleveland sports scene, but it is this achaic, golden age way of thinking that is the reason we will never compete with the go-getters in today’s sports markets.  We’re too afraid to make mistakes because we’ve seen so many made in the past.  And that past has become the albatross around our collective necks.  I’m glad Heckert and Co made the big, bold moves in the draft this year to get the players they wanted.  Go big or go home… and watch the playoffs on TV like everyone else. 

  • Mike Bogucci

    I thought this was a fun read.

    Some people are taking it a little too seriously though.  “so, we’re not supposed to draft a QB because of Mike Phipps”??


  • Harv 21

    Great stuff, Dan. Never before heard about this conspiring between the elder Kosar and Bill Davis.  In interviews Ernie Accorsi always seemed to take full credit (or maybe never deflected credit?) for getting Bernie. You reminded me how Browns fans and columnists were more than ready for Paul McDonald to take over for the beaten up and washed up Sipe. And when he finally got his shot, lord was McDonald bad.

    Phipps was going to be our guy for years to come. Same with Sipe, and McDonald, Kosar, and Couch. Bernie survived the longest, but played really well for maybe 5 years tops. Vinnie played effectively for teams for maybe 5 years, but was terrible until he was almost 30. Which is why a 28 year old rookie isn’t optimal but doesn’t scare me so much. 

  •  I must have a little kid’s memory about Sipe. All I remember is that he left for the New Jersey Generals. I don’t remember people calling for McDonald over him.

  • Harv 21

    diminishing skills hastened by brutal hits and brutal drafting for offensive skill position players. Sipe looked old and no one found Coach Sam so charming any more. People were ready for a new act. That didn’t work and they canned both McDonald and Sam. Enter Marty and a new sense of order.

  • NoVA Buckeye

    is it too late to can shurmur and bring back marty?

  • Henry Brown

    We actually acquired Dawson in a trade from Pittsburgh, he was here for a cup of coffee before being traded to KC.

  • Keithclh

    I was in Baltimore in 1964 , I heard all about Frank Ryan not having blocking from the line I remember Paul Warfield , I was in the stands thast cold winter afternoon when Gary Collins let a pass go through his hands loosing to the Cowboys.I remember people like Linde Infaunty[sp] I saw the fumble, red right 88,the missed field goal , Mack , Byner , I saw Gary Danielson take a swing at Howie Long in a night game .  I have suffered in the move .Nothing has bothered as much as the way the management has handled Colt McCoy.True his dad is a dork , but missing the hit, there is no excuse and letting mcCoy hold the bag for a piss poor receiving core , no running game , droped passes , poor long snaping that lost 2 games. not to mention absolutely no blocking and a coach who has no business on a field who also thought he was a offensive god.It makes me sick, what makes me sicker is that I must choose another team to support. Pittsburg ? no freeking way, Baltimore ? Model can kiss my arse. That leaves Cinn. I guess , untill there is a management change I will follow the Bingals .God I hope Holmgren ,schumer , and Heckert leave soon , so I can go back to the dog pound.

  • tikihat

    Nothing has bothered you as much as the handling of McCoy? He was a third round draft pick who would never have gotten on the field had not our Right Tackle been busily redefining ineptitude 2 years ago. The plan was to sit him and see if he could do anything to impress in practices. Circumstance and blind luck got him on the field, nothing more. The only wins he garnered were the result of a really outside-the-box gameplan against the Saints and Peyton Hillis literally running over and through the Patriots at will.

    Even so, he was awarded the Starting Position last year. He was only promised a chance to compete for #2  in 2011 on being drafted. I would call that being treated pretty good. The Browns could have easily named Seneca the Starter last year. After all, he is well versed in Holmgren’s particular flavor of the West Coast Offense and has seen some success in it. This might have actually made it easier for the Team as a whole to learn the new system in the foreshortened preseason. Instead, the gave Colt the shot he earned.

    Of course, we all know it was a less than ideal situation. Still, if you and I can figure out that blocking and poor receiving were part of the issue, I’m pretty sure that folks who actually make a living at running a football franchise can figure out how to take that into account when judging McCoy. What we don’t know is how many times the film showed McCoy making the wrong reads for given situations, missing the correct primary receiver, or throwing late and/or innaccurately. You and I also don’t know how much or little he improved in these areas. These are the things Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur looked at when deciding to go for RG III and Weeden, not mythical bent feelings over what McCoy’s dad said.

    Greg Little, for example, was targetted over 120 times last year, caught 61 passes and dropped 11 of them. That leaves 48 out of 120 attempts that DIDN’T even get to his hands, and Colt must take a heap of that blame. It is also worth pointing out that career backup Wallace was able to take over after the concussion with no dropoff in performance(if we can truly call last year performance). In short, after a full year’s intensive effort Colt was playing no better than a journeyman second-stringer.

    Colt wasn’t drafted to be our savior. He was a low-risk project to see if he could eventually be developed into what Holmgren calls “The Man”. It is worth noting that the Browns haven’t cast him to the curb yet, either. They might very well be saying that he isn’t ready, yet. At McCoy’s age, he can still develop for several years behind Weeden and reclaim the top spot in the future. As long as he’s wearing the Brown and Orange, Colt still has that chance. And that, my friend, is all that he can reasonably expect in this cold cruel world.

  • Always enjoy your stories Dan. You forgot to mention Don Strock. (joking)

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