I think the perception of me is that I’ve become a Browns “hater.” I think I now get lumped into the crowd of negative people who I used to debate when it came time to try and make sense of this Cleveland franchise. When fans and commentators were seeking immediate results from Eric Mangini, I said it would be impossible to rebuild the team over night. Then when Mike Holmgren came in, I said the same thing. Eric Mangini was fired and Pat Shurmur was hired. I was confused too, but I said, “Hey, it isn’t like Mike Holmgren would be trying to lose. You’ve got to give it some time to see if it’s a good hire.” Of course, I also warded off what I thought was reflexive negativity involving Bob LaMonte and his influence in all the hiring decisions. All that patience and benefit of the doubt was rewarded with the worst coach in the NFL and a five-win 2012 season when those guys had their last chance to prove they weren’t garbage to be put on the curb by the impending Joe Banner-led crew. That being my immediate experience, I admit that my default position is no longer as forgiving as it once was.
It’s not totally fair. I know in my head and in my heart that this is the most competently built Cleveland Browns organization we’ve seen since 1999. Like him or not, Joe Banner is absolutely qualified for his position as CEO of the Browns. Rob Chudzinski was an undoubtedly qualified candidate to be an NFL head coach and he brought with him the coordinators to garner patience and credibility. Even as it’s easy to crack jokes about an invisible Michael Lombardi, he’s qualified for the role he’s in. They doubled down on the position when given the chance by grabbing Ray Farmer as Assistant GM. Add in the superstar business folks that the Browns have added, and it even makes me wonder what the hell my problem is at times.
One of the biggest takeaways that I had from the Sloan Sports Analytics conference last year was about not being obsessed with short-term results. This applies to both positive and negative results. The idea is that you need a culture and business plan in place that keeps you focused on an ultimate direction or goal while not making missteps chasing fool’s gold.
Comparatively, one of the biggest criticisms of large publicly traded corporations is that they obsess about hitting quarterly targets in order to keep their analysts and stockholders happy with consistent and decent news. This news, in turn, keeps the stock from taking huge negative hits or being overly volatile. It seems like a decent enough goal, but with some companies it feels like they make bad choices for the long-term health of their organizations by being obsessed with those quarterly deadlines. Many critics are left wondering what heights companies and stocks could reach with a directive aimed much further into the future than the next quarterly earnings conference call.
So that works against my criticisms too, right? Should I really be concerned with the Browns winning in 2013 at all? I certainly think so.
The other night at the Happy Dog, a diamond of an establishment on Cleveland’s near west side, I spoke with Esquire’s Scott Raab and FOX Sports Ohio’s Zac Jackson on a sports panel and asked the two if there was ever a justification for losing in the NFL. The question came from a place of me thinking that this Browns regime hasn’t paid nearly enough attention to winning today as they put more and more emphasis on the 2014 draft. Jackson said unequivocally that yes, sometimes losing games is smart. He cited a pretty specific example of the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars beating the Colts on the final game of the season. The Jags “improved” to 5-11 having beaten division rival Indianapolis twice that year. Changing the outcome of just those two games would have given the Jags three wins and the Colts four. There are too many moving pieces to play it all out again, but the point remains that sometimes being a little too good can keep a team away from a player like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.
I can’t disagree with that assessment, of course. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that’s the exception that proves the rule. Back to the Wall Street example: Sometimes companies choose to lose money for a quarter. Maybe they’re investing in research and development or enhancing physical assets like buildings or equipment. Is that similar to losing in a season in order to get a higher draft pick and make the future even better? Maybe. Maybe not. At some point though, if a company keeps losing money quarter after quarter, the stock continues to drop and shareholders disappear. Of course, it is not a good idea for anyone to lose all the time. Wouldn’t it make sense for the guys coming in to do the turnaround to stop the bleeding first? I think so.
They’ve set things up better than anyone else with people that make some sense in their various positions. It still seems important to keep the pressure on though. They’ve got a lot riding on the 2014 draft and if they don’t hit home runs, we very well might find ourselves reliving the continually miserable, non-playoff football seasons that have plagued Cleveland since 1999. And despite what the Colts achieved with the Andrew Luck draft pick, winning is always preferable to losing. They lost at the perfect time and basically just for one single season. If losing was a formula for eventually winning, the Browns would have had a few spectacular seasons instead of just a couple better-than-average ones.
I just think it’s important for people to know where I’m coming from. I really do think—despite some concerns—that this is the best group to inhabit Berea since 1999. If it was a different time and place, I’d be writing about how 2013 doesn’t even matter. It’s not this group’s fault, but I just don’t have that in me anymore. I’m getting more selfish and greedy as we go on, and I’m definitely not going to apologize for it.