Better late than never, but never late is better.
Drake’s words couldn’t be more correct with the events that have taken place on the shores of Lake Erie over the last 48 hours. In 24 hours between Sunday morning and Monday morning, two of Cleveland’s three major sports teams fired their head coach. One was a bit of a surprise; the other seemingly left more questions than answers. While there were different questions that were between the two different circumstances, there were also a handful of similar ones that could have been asked as well. The most glaring: Why did you wait to do this?
The firing of Tyronn Lue six games into the season
Coaching LeBron James is tough. That’s not a knock on the King, it’s just that there’s plenty of pressure that comes with coaching No. 23. Not only do you need to be successful, but you need to keep the best player in the world happy as well, all while not being too nice and making sure you criticize him when it’s needed, allowing him to realize that you’re a coach and not just a friend. David Blatt learned that the hard way. But for Tyronn Lue, the former NBA player seemed to get it. Whether it was understanding how it is to be an NBA player or just knew the type of player-coach relationship he needed to have with James and the rest of the Cavs roster as the head coach over the past two-and-a-half seasons, Lue seemed like a perfect fit for a LeBron-led team in Cleveland. Considering he led them to three straight Finals appearances and brought helped bring Cleveland its first major sports championship since 1964, I’d say that was the case.
He may not have been the best coach in terms of strategies, gameplans, and lineup rotations, per se, but he had that it factor that was needed to coach James and company. Then when LeBron left for Los Angeles this past summer, it left plenty more questions than answers in terms of the immediate future of the Cavs. Would Lue be let go prior to the season in place of a coach that has experience developing young players? Would he be given the chance to do so, much like he said that he wanted to in the latter part of the offseason? Is Lue a good coach or did LeBron just make him look better than he actually is? Those are just some of the questions that were being asked.
Then the season started and Lue was still manning the head coaching gig for the wine and gold. It seemed as though the front office was going to give him a chance to prove that he can develop young players while keeping the veterans happy, all while trying to win some games. Yet, following a 0-6 start, Lue was let go, and now the Cavs seem to be in the middle of an even bigger mess and they only have themselves to blame. While their struggles aren’t necessarily a surprise, the fact that they are winless and have been embarrassed in many of their games is. Add in that Lue continued to play the vets while the front office wanted the younger guys to receive the majority of the playing time and the 2018-19 season has been quite a mess since the moment it tipped.
The Cavs wanted the fans to believe that they could be a playoff team. It would have meant that they would lose their top-10 protected pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but it also would have proven that the wine and gold can still win even without No. 23. Not win as much as they did, but still at least make the postseason. That’s what Gilbert wanted all of us to believe. Then reality hit. Not only have they yet to even win a game, but the Cavs are having a tough time even competing in most of those six games, and to be blunt about it, they’re hard to watch. A team that was supposed to be fun even if it was in losses isn’t really that fun, to be quite honest. To make it worse, after signing a huge extension this past summer, Kevin Love, the new face of the franchise, could miss at least a month due to right big toe injury, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Adrian Wojnarowski.
Why did Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman wait to make this change? If Lue was on this short of a leash, why didn’t you just mutually agree to let him go during the offseason? The fanbase likely would have understood the reason. It would have been because you wanted a coach that has a proven track record of developing younger talent, all while getting some Ws as well. By firing him just six games into the season, you now have put off hiring a new head coach for an entire year.
To make matters worse, assistant coach Larry Drew, who was expected to be named the interim head coach, doesn’t seem to want that tag unless it comes with long-term security. With his contract expiring at season’s end, as of now, it seems as though Drew won’t be named the interim head coach unless the Cavs offer him an extension. They shouldn’t do that. They need to wait until next offseason so that they can interview a variety of candidates and find the one who’s best suited to lead this team. I mean, you can’t blame Drew for wanting that, but the Cavs will likely regret it if they do sign him to an extension, therefore essentially eliminating any chance of interviewing possibly head coaching candidates next summer.
Whether you agree or disagree with Lue being let go, I think we can all agree that the timing was very, very poor. There were so many ways the Cavs could have handled this and it looks as though they took the worst, most inefficient route to do so. Five months removed from their fourth-straight Finals appearance, the Cavs are not only winless but don’t even have an interim coach, let alone a head coach. Reality sucks.
The firing of Hue Jackson
Unlike Lue’s firing, Jackson’s seemed inevitable. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. That when came Monday morning, when Jackson became the sixth straight Browns head coach to be fired after the second game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The moment John Dorsey came to town and was named the general manager, many believed he would want to bring in his guy as the head coach. That, combined with the fact that Jackson was just 1-31 in his two previous seasons, made it seem as though it would be an easy decision to let go of Jackson this past offseason. Yet, the Browns kept him around. Now, eight games into the season, Cleveland has shown plenty of promise, but, led by a rookie quarterback, they are now without a head coach and Baker Mayfield will essentially have to start over this upcoming offseason when a new head coach brings in a brand new system and a new staff. We can hope (and wish) that Lincoln Riley will leave the Oklahoma Sooners and re-join his former quarterback in Cleveland, but unless that happens, Mayfield will have to learn his second offense in as many seasons. It’s not just Mayfield either. The Browns are the youngest team in the NFL. They need all the (good) coaching they can get in order to speed up the development process.
If the Browns did something that seemed obvious to many, which was to let go of Jackson this past offseason, they wouldn’t have needed to delay Mayfield’s development and basically waste his rookie season. He can still develop himself, especially while watching film and working on his mechanics, but considering no one knows who his head coach and offensive coordinator will be in 2019, his development will absolutely take a hit because of it. Add in most likely needing to learn a brand-new offense in 2019 and that further delays his development.
It was absolutely time for Jackson to go, especially since the team has regressed as the season has progressed, but many of us saw this coming. The question is: Why wasn’t he let go this offseason, not eight games into his third season with the Browns? The Browns like making things much tougher than they have to be, this seems to be yet another example of just that. While I have faith in the new front office, a move like this is just another reminder that the Browns seem to always shoot themselves in the foot, rather than get a step ahead. While other teams are playing chess, Cleveland still seems to be stuck on Checkers. Jimmy Haslam sure does seem to love his Checkers. The future looks bright and for the first time, it looks as though the Browns have a legitimate quarterback that could be a franchise-changer, but the Browns aren’t doing themselves any favors with their head-coaching decisions.
Both teams may have made the right move, but it’s not a matter of if they did, it’s why they waited so long to do so?