The Cleveland Browns have a bye week and then four more chances to keep from going winless on the season. You will read thousands of jokes about the Browns losing the bye week, and they will be more caustic than ever before. There’s always some truth in comedy — even the trite variety — and the Browns really must find a way to win their bye week if they want to win a game this year. They must find a way to find health and chemistry and maybe just the tiniest bit of luck to avoid going 0-16. The future of the team and its fanbase might be in the balance.
“I totally get where the fans are or what they are feeling,” Hue Jackson said following Sunday’s loss. “They deserve better and we get that. They deserve better, and I totally respect that. It is tough with the situation we are all in because everybody wants an answer.”
The plan wasn’t to win in 2016 and everyone knew it. The issue, however, arises from the notion that even a team that’s in it to be young and rebuilding doesn’t plan on going winless. Even by their own aggressive rebuilding standards, you have to think that Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta, and Hue Jackson have missed their modest goal. I would call it a test of faith, but to think anyone should conjure up faith in the architects of this season is unrealistic. They might pull it off, but to project a bright future with no evidence feels foolish at best.
There’s no other choice, however. Between the front office and coaching staff missing their mark, ownership has given the entire organization no alternative. The Browns’ leadership has their back against the wall, and they need to fight their way out because there’s nobody else to help. When you fire as many people as Jimmy Haslam has fired in just over four years, it’s impossible to fathom another shakeup and subsequent talent search. We used to argue about the concept that nobody wanted a job with the Cleveland Browns because NFL jobs are such a finite thing. With each Berea bust-up it becomes more and more difficult to make the case that someone wouldn’t just turn the Browns down and wait for something better.
If you think the Browns can look for more people, just read this list since Haslam bought the Browns.1
- Mike Holmgren
- Tom Heckert
- Pat Shurmur
- Mike Lombardi
- Joe Banner
- Rob Chudzinski
- Ray Farmer
- Alec Scheiner
- Mike Pettine
This list hits just the high-level folks. For each one of them, there are multiple people — assistant coaches, for example — who lost their jobs in the wake of Jimmy Haslam’s Tennessee Titanic of an organization.2
Cleveland Browns fans are the ones left holding the bag. For the benefit of subsidizing the suck, they have had their stadium taken over and lost any sense of identity that tied the team back to an era they liked. Browns fans have seen losing, but looking at FirstEnergy Stadium this year it’s hard to argue that this time the sense of apathy and quit are amplified to levels we’ve never seen before.
I was one of the people who said that uniforms didn’t matter that much, but I think I was wrong. More often than not I think the Browns look like a creamsicle or a bowl of sherbet. Imagery is powerful, and now that this team doesn’t visually approximate the team I grew up watching, I think it makes it easier to see how little any of this has to do with the history and tradition I revered as a kid. If it were a catchier name, I’d rename the team to the Cleveland Existential Crises because that’s what the team has done to all the fans I know.
I met a life-long Browns fan in Charleston, South Carolina over the Thanksgiving holiday who knew WFNY and pulled me aside for a Browns talk. He was hoping that I could give him some reason for hope or faith with what’s happening with the Browns. He’d given up on the Browns about a year ago, and his sole reason for giving up on the team was Jimmy Haslam and his habit of rash decision-making. I talked to him about some of the possibilities that could make you feel good about the future, but I felt like a dummy if I didn’t mute every bit of infinitesimal optimism that I invented as a possibility.
“When things do not go right, it is easy to point fingers at a lot of different people,” said Jackson. “The best place to point it is at me—I am the head of it. With our staff and even with them, the issues we have that anybody feels on offense, defense or special teams, that starts with me because I am responsible for it all. I am not one to pass the buck on anybody else. I am never going to do that. If anybody is looking for that, that is not going to happen. What I have to do is continue to coach this football team. We have to continue to get better. Next season or next year or this offseason, we will take care of ourselves about the things we need to do to continue to get better. We have what have right now, and we have to work through it that way and just keep going.”
That’s where we are as Browns fans. As fans of this team, we know their backs are against the wall. We know there’s no possibility of help arriving. We’ve fallen victim to the “savior complex” too many times before. We know they have no choice but to ride out at least three years with some combination of Sashi Brown, Hue Jackson, and staff.
Knowing this is far from comforting, however. Continuity is good, but not just for the sake of continuity. Continuity without results is akin to stupidity. The Browns have to prove something, and as of yet, they’ve failed to show anything positive. What we’ve seen this year is that even by their modest standards of rebuilding they miscalculated wildly unless you think they were considering losing all their games. And if potentially losing all 16 games was a possible part of the plan, then I don’t even know what to say.
Your NFL team isn’t supposed to leave you this speechless, but at least during the bye week it’s alright to not have anything to say. I’d also recommend holding your tongue before spouting off one of those “Browns lose the bye week” jokes that we all know are coming.