Browns mishandling media during coaching search

The Browns aren’t having the best couple days in their coaching search, at least from the perspective of rumor and anonymous sources. The team camped out in Arizona presumably to talk to Chip Kelly primarily. They’ve talked to some other candidates too, of course, but Kelly was obviously the candidate that required the most immediacy and urgency. Friday night, it was thought the Browns were “close.” Saturday night the Eagles were reportedly “close.” This morning the only thing apparently close to Chip Kelly is Chip Kelly.

Bad pun alert, but those chips will fall as they may. There’s nothing any of our worrying or hoping can do to change it. More distressing to me is that the Browns seem unaware or unwilling to change the negative perception of how this coaching search is going.

None of us really knows whether Chip Kelly is going to be a good coach in the NFL. We don’t know if he has the right temperament and ego or even if he has the desire to leave Oregon. Unless you are sitting in those interviews and truly know the candidates  intimately, you’re left trying to extrapolate unknowable things from disconnected realities, and from a big distance to boot. Ultimately, whether you’re picking from a pool of former NFL head coaches, NFL coordinators or college coaches, the failure rate is significant no matter what. If there was a magic formula that fans could see with the naked eye, then we wouldn’t see so many coaching vacancies appear  every year.

So, yes I think the process has been a bit discouraging so far. The Browns seem to be missing out on their target, which is bad, generically speaking. Without an ability to know just how good a candidate is going to be, you are left rooting for your team to achieve whatever it is they’re looking to achieve. Their actions lead you to believe that Chip Kelly was the first on their list, so naturally it seems like a failure if they don’t get him. I understand that completely.

Also, the Browns are allowing themselves to be victims of the national rumors. The Browns appear to insist on being tight-lipped, so instead of talking, they find themselves being talked about. Many, including ProFootballTalk, think at this point that Chip Kelly’s agent is feeding most of the rumor and speculation in order to work the Eagles and Browns against each other. That’s both typical and predictable, but it just helps fuel a nervous fanbase into thinking that the new guys are failing at the same proportion as the old guys.

What’s missing in this equation are some well-placed tidbits in the local media’s hands to project the confidence that Banner and Haslam presumably are operating with even in the face of Chip Kelly uncertainty. Instead of the local media being blacked out and being left to report the whims of Kelly’s agent via national people with unnamed sources, the Browns could own the news cycle locally. I’m not saying they need to take a Comic Sans page out of Dan Gilbert’s book, but trust me when I tell you there are at least five local beat reporters who can be trusted to remain honest and objective while also providing a venue for the team to present its case.

That’s what was so great about “Road Tested.” The Browns had a pitiful record with a questionable head coach amidst massive organizational change, but out of that was a very compelling team going through a compelling process. The national media tells one story of the Browns and how bad they are, and the Browns via reality TV were able to tell their own story with their own tone through their own prism. Maybe it was like a cloudy camera filter that Barbara Walters would use, but so what? How can the same organization that understands that so well on the Travel Channel, not figure it out in the midst of their coaching search?

Many Browns fans rightly say that the only thing that truly matters is winning. That’s absolutely correct and ideally that’s the number one way to fix any kind of public relations issue. Fact is that there are no games to play right now, so truly elite organizations must answer the bell in other areas when on-field wins aren’t available to buy them their fans’ good graces. The Browns aren’t answering that bell right now and it leaves their biggest customers with the most consternation.

I’m done trying to talk Browns fans out of that consternation too. I honestly don’t think the sky is falling with regard to this coaching search. I’ve stated multiple times that my search would start with Bruce Arians, so what do I know? Regardles, I am also willing to admit that missing out on Chip Kelly might be the best thing ever for the team if they were ever granted a hindsight view of him going to another team. It is a distinct risk and possibility with a dynamic and volatile personality like I view Kelly to be. But that message of optimism in the face of “failure” is mine because of who I am as a person. It might actually be a personality flaw, but that’s neither here nor there. If the Browns want that same optimism from all Browns fans they have to earn it by not only making good decisions that yield better on-field results, but also bringing people along for the ride.

That’s what’s gone wrong in the Browns’ search for a coach so far. Just as the Browns might have been left on the sideline by Chip Kelly and his agent, Browns fans have assuredly and absolutely been left on the sideline by Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner in the coaching search thus far. I don’t think it has to be this way.


(Sunday morning soundtrack for writing this post was “World Waits” by Jeremy Enigk)


  • Bryan

    You and Craig are CREATING the issue. 90% of the commenters here explicitly state that they personally saw NO issue with the process….. Wow.

  • Ill gladly take back the “vast majority” part, but refuse to believe that this weekend wasn’t a giant PR disaster that could have been avoided.

  • “They wanted Kelly. He didn’t want them. They’ve moved on.”

    Well, according to sources. 🙂

  • porckchopexpress

    You took the Bo Jackson right out of my mouth, great comparison with Martin. If I get 3 more years of unbelievable RG3 highlights followed by explaining to kids 15 years from now how amazing he was I’m good. I’m sure he’s not but I am.

  • We consolidate all the various reports in our headlines. If it seems newsworthy like an actual report, we put it up. Then through that info we inform our opinions as best as we can. We have little sources here and there of our own, but admittedly not a ton. That’s why we aren’t beat reporters for the Browns. Our access to the team is ultimately very limited as well. That’s not our choice. As a result we serve mostly as commentators when it comes to the Browns.

    Don’t pretend like we’re gatekeepers though. If we ignore all the “sources” and reports we wouldn’t be able to provide the filter that our readers have mostly come to read on our opinions. We can’t stop the flow of information, so please don’t think if we don’t write it in the headlines that it ceases to exist.

    And your thought that I could call a reporter to question the proximity of his source makes me scratch my head.

    I was very reasonable in this post. I merely suggested that the Browns could have a trusted reporter or two that they can “source” their own line to the fan base that ultimately buys information as a part of the product. I am not quite sure what is so controversial about what I wrote.

  • How do you define “giant PR disaster”? And what evidence do you have to support your belief? To me, a giant PR disaster would lead to a significant problem for a business and the product it sells. Have people canceled their season tickets because the Browns didn’t keep them informed during their coaching search? Has their lack of communication about Chip Kelly gave pause to those who may otherwise have purchased Browns merchandise this weekend?

    I spent more time than I would care to admit following this story on Twitter and other social media during the past 48 hours. And I will admit to feeling some excitement Friday night as well as trepidation as Saturday evening/night ran on. It’s not that I necessarily wanted Chip Kelly as coach – I just wanted the Browns to get who I perceived was their top choice. (I’m not sure how anyone who’s been a Browns fan since as recently as 1999 can get all that excited about any coaching hire.)

    But, honestly, it never once crossed my mind that the Browns owe me some sort of explanation. In fact, Haslam made it pretty clear in his press conference on Monday that they were keeping everything close to the vest and wouldn’t release the names of those they had interviewed. So, perhaps, I knew not to expect any information directly from the Browns.

    Which begs the question… Why are some people (Scott and Craig) getting so upset about this now when they knew no information would be coming out almost a week ago?

  • People who disagree have a tendency to have reason to comment. Those who agree tend not to. Counter-protests are outnumbered by protests at least 2 to 1.

    Based on my feedback on Facebook, Twitter, etc, I’d say it’s more like 50/50.

    Brian Spaeth disagreed with me or at least wanted to challenge me on it. We just recorded a podcast. I’ve been known to admit when I’m wrong. I still don’t think I am. I’m more than happy to defend the point.

  • Garry_Owen

    Totally unfair and inaccurate. The fan base does not “largely congregate” on twitter and Facebook. Only those fans that congregate on Facebook and twitter congregate on Facebook and twitter. The vast rest of us do not, and could not care any less that the Browns aren’t Facebook twits.

  • Garry_Owen

    You really should.

  • Philly has been commenting each step along the way. Most recently we found out that they asked permission to speak to Jay Gruden from Cincy but have not yet been granted permission. That’s not an accident that that info is out there.

  • Garry_Owen

    Who numbered them?

  • Garry_Owen

    Work of art.

  • ClemJax

    I’m not sure if this is completely a PR issue or what, but anyone that wants to pretend that something here doesn’t smell is just not in touch with reality. SOMETHING here has been mishandled, and it is absolutely brutal to watch.

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but almost all of the coverage surrounding the search has been perceived as “Chip Kelly or Bust.” Sure, there have been some other “big” names through out (Saban), but you’re kidding yourself if this hasn’t been Kelly all the time. As such, there are only a few possibilities:
    – The team fed the “Chip Kelly or Bust” fire (through whatever media connection they pick), meaning that any perception of mismanagement (at worst) or PR failure (at best) is 100% fair.
    – They really were exclusively focused on Kelly, with no plan B and other interviews just formalities. If that’s the case, this isn’t a PR failure, but a utter management failure and speaks volumes about where this is headed. I have a tough time believing this scenario is the case, but its not beyond the realm of possibility, which goes to the point that Scott makes that the well is so poisoned that nobody trusts Berea for anything.
    – It hasn’t been “Kelly or Bust” all along, but they have done nothing to control that perception. These people aren’t stupid, they have to know that the ENTIRE conversation is focusing on Kelly. Sure, they’ve thrown a few names out there, but the story has pretty much “hey, they talked to this person too,” and that’s it, so either 1) the media isn’t taking any of these other names seriously (again, not trusting anything from Berea) or 2) these aren’t names to be taken seriously anyways. Not only that, but not hearing about any other serious candidates until Kelly stiffed the team makes the situation almost impossible for whoever does come on board. Fair or not, the perception will be “we didn’t get the guy we wanted, so everyone else is just leftovers,” meaning at least half the fanbase is going to be upset with nothing less than a Super Bowl win this year.

    These guys have let the story get away from them – either intentionally or ineptly. Heck, it may not even be fair to think they could have controlled it, but if nature abhors a vacuum, that has to go doubly true for the media, who has just been completely running wild with the speculation. The speculation is going to happen no matter what – controlling the spin is what PR is all about.

    So yeah, I’m on board with the idea that they’ve completely mishandled the PR on this search. It doesn’t mean it won’t play out right, or that we won’t get a fantastic coach. This could turn out perfect, at which point nobody will be talking about the media relation bungles management has made so far. But here in the middle of it, it is entirely fair to call the team out.

  • saggy

    First let me start off by saying that i am cool with this article – dont necessarily agree, but I’m cool.

    @porkchop – this is an all-time response and should go down in the annals of this site as such. a kudos to you.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    ESPN made it official: Chip Kelly stays at Oregon. this helps the PR battle, it seems to me — this shows there was little that could’ve Ben one. Move on.

  • DylonW

    BREAKING: Half the fanbase is going to be upset with nothing less than a Super Bowl win this year.

  • Harv 21

    1) pork seems to have invented a 20-hour energy drink, with a side effect of making me want to lie down.

    2) you done good, kid.

  • Bryan

    This is a fair point Craig – commenters are indeed a select group of people who disagree. Interesting that FB is 50/50.

  • Careful, Clem. The dogs are out tonight.

  • thepaledragon

    I would rather Banslam spend their time picking the right head coach for the Browns instead of spending their time responding to every coaching rumor on Twitter just so us fans can feel better about ourselves.

    We can’t judge this coaching search until it is done. It’s only been a week. The panic is completely created by the deluge of rumors flying from every NFL reporter.

  • They’re not mutually exclusive. This is the old political trick where the President can’t possibly handle the economy and also pardon a Thanksgiving turkey simultaneously because there are more important things to do. I don’t buy it.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Standing Ovation. (or maybe a sitting one would be better, lest we be thrown out of the stadium)

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Let’s not forget that the Cards were either 3-1 or 4-1 (can’t remember) when Kolb went down. Who knows how many more games they win with him at QB? Not saying that Kolb is great, but he’s better than the other options. I’m guessing Wisenhunt was willing to give Kolb one more shot to win the job, then address the position this offseason if necessary.

  • Hopwin

    Thank God it was such a refreshingly “exhaustive” search! Imagine the egg on our faces if we had only limited ourselves to 1-2 serious candidates!

  • Leon II

    The only ones I see mishandling anything is the media itself. The Browns met with Chip Kelly for 7 hours. After he went on to interview with Buffalo (brief) and the Eagles (9 hours). Afterwards the Browns met with Doug Marrone for a second time and did not meet with Kelly again. Those are the only facts of the story. Everything else was media hype and speculation. With Bill O”Brien we know there were 1.3 million reasons he choose to return to Penn and not give the NFL a try. What was the incentive for Kelly to go back to Oregon when they are facing possible NCAA recruiting violations? Maybe Phil Knight gave him a secret deal but maybe its because both the Browns and Eagles rejected him.

  • Wheel

    Sorry guys. Mishandling the media is the least of the Browns problems right now.

  • Harv 21

    “Who’s the dog, Scott? Am I the dog, Scott?”

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I really want to read all of these comments, but they’re too long and there’s too many of them. Can someone sum up for me?

  • Do the Browns actually have a PR/Media dept? Do other teams? Granted, the people covering them are barely employable (other than Jim Donovan) ownership needs to recognize this as part of the “situation” they’re in.

  • chillout

    Just because you have to report and inform your opinion does not mean you have to then keep building on that opinion… and then using that original opinion as a fact to make an argument for a another opinoion. This whole weekend was hearsay and rumor….. it doesn’t mean the browns did a bad job at anything. You can report a credible rumor from a credible national source and then giving your two cents on the matter without taking it for gospel or needing to reference it as anything more than it is. As a local media source who is passive aggressively complaining about not getting enough access, is the best way to obtain the trust of the men in Barea really bashing their policies at not commenting on something they didn’t need to comment on based on a tweet from a guy they didn’t talk to either?

  • The only comment i will make on this overly commented thread, is that with twitter, one guy made a call that the browns were close to chip kelley, then every other sourced “retweeted” the one bad piece of info. So several sources “corroborate” the story without actually checking anything, just retweeting one guy’s thoughts.

  • Bryan

    Craig and Scott – I know this issue has now been beaten to death, but I wanted to ask you guys one question: How did you feel about the MKC piece that came out last night? My view of that article was that someone inside the Browns fed MKC a bunch of info so that she could represent the Brown’s side of the Kelly situation to the media. That seemed to be the kind of thing you were looking for. Is that right?

    If so, I fail to see how such a piece adds value to my life as a fan. When I read that piece I knew immediately that MKC was regurgitating what the Browns source told her. There is nothing objective about it, and so I take it with a grain of salt. I know that the reality of the Kelly situation is likely somewhere in between – yes we ultimately did walk away from him after he flip flopped, but we also likely had him #1 on our list.

    More broadly speaking, this raises the issue of what we should expect from the media. The last thing I want the media to do is to regurgitate Browns company line without a critical lens. I want the media to be intelligent and as objective as possible, in order to help lead a dialogue amongst the fanbase that addresses actual performance issues of the team, and helps keep the organization on its toes. The Cleveland media, for YEARS, has failed to take on this role. And, IMO, I think it has fostered an environment in which the organization is forced to waste time and effort addressing issues that are silly, and, at its worst, has lead to witchhunt campaigns that hurt the franchise (see “the firing of Bill Belichick).

  • chillout

    I really gotta say this seems to more of problem for you than for your readers. And I wouldn’t call this anywhere near a crises. They’re in the middle of a hiring process, and that’s all we need to know. The rest will be chatter until an announcement is made (which may be good for sites like this, but if you want to obtain more access you may want to dial down the hyperbole). I don’t follow other teams as closely as the Cleveland teams (although I did some searching of Philly sites this weekend to gauge this reaction), but it doesn’t seem like their getting any great deal of information about their teams coaching search in the middle of the process.

    And to call this a culture issue – this “culture” isn’t formed yet. There is no player personnel director, there is no coach for which to address the media. There are a few high level hires in the past few weeks, but come on.

  • It does seem like that kind of information. In my defense it came out about five hours after I posted this. Not saying that anyone heard me. I’m not nearly that self-important. Generally speaking though, yes, that’s the kind of thing I think the Browns need to do assuming they did that.

  • MBMarc

    Speaking for myself, I pretty much ignore what the media reports. It seems that most writers simply google something, listen to rumors, talk to their sources, and then write a story without really getting the “facts”.

  • Tim

    Marty Shotenheimer is the man we need! Get him before he is in the nursing home …he will get us back to winning.

  • LOL. Yeah, no comment!

    Post is up, though. I guess you could say I’m sort of with Craig and Scott on this one.

  • Ronald E Campbell

    I believe in JJH II as a Excellent Businessman but I believe Banner was a big mistake and Philly wanted rid of him and then we got rid of what had been a good start in the draft and threw it out the window with the Banner Hire what an idiot. Banner is GM that means General Mistake!!!. So Here we go again. Hurry up big talk and more stupid mistakes.

  • tikihat

    Call me crazy, but I actually find the fact that Haslam and Banner are not trying to manage the story to be reassuring. After all, they told us that the Browns would have No Comment about the coach selection process until they actually hired one. I am heartened to see them keeping their word on this instead of leaking non-comment comments. Now I know that I can trust them to a degree when they tell me something.

  • Big Z

    Bruce Arians.

  • Yewey

    Sam – be rational please. The practicality of the matter is that stories ARE going to get out – and when you are saying NOTHING on the matter, you have NO CONTROL or even INPUT to what is said about you and your organization. Its ludicrous to think that ANY dirt dug up on the situation wont be published; in fact the less you say, the MORE DIRT GETS PUBLISHED! its even more ludicrous to think you can orchestrate a media blackout on the topic by ignoring it. No experience from Haslam – so the only thing we can blame him for is being arrogant thinking it takes some kinda brains to sell GASOLINE. Joe Banner probably just doesn’t even know what this interweb thingy is. Fools. Another fail.

  • Yewey

    And I should add that the browns front office owes the FANS EVERYTHING – this isnt about the media its about our raging desire to know! You and moohead are much more sensible than this, shame!

  • Bric

    Why do fans love an NFL team?
    Lots of reasons, but one of them is the fun of following front office moves.
    Fantasizing about future drafts and fee agent signings is fun.
    It stops being fun when the front office becomes paranoid.
    Football is an incredibly simple activity.
    A fan can become expert in philosophies, techniques, terminology.
    Foolish front office personnel read vicious comments and get upset.
    The vast majority of all fans are not vicious; perspective is needed.
    This article was a well-written plea to end the paranoia.