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)