Another Sunday has come and gone. Another Sunday where Browns fans watch a contender arrive in First Energy Stadium and thoroughly dispose of their home town team. The story gets written several times a year. The Browns organization continues to test its fan base. There’s little to no reason to recall the messy specifics of all the failures we have seen since 1999, but the amount of “start-overs” are beginning to take their toll.
The fanbase was sold on another rebuild after 2015. Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, and Mike Pettine had come and gone. The leadership from the likes of Mike Lombardi, Joe Banner, and Ray Farmer had also come and gone with them. The Browns turned the franchise over to young Shashi Brown and his pairing in head coach Hue Jackson. We all sat through it. The fire sale, the teardown, the McCarron debacle, Sashi’s firing, and now Hue’s firing. In that time we have seen three wins. Three total football wins in two and a half years of football. A large contingent of the fanbase understands this product is growing, but there are many won’t don’t and won’t much longer.
Sure, the Brown earned a moral victory Sunday in playing with one of the AFC’s best team for three quarters. After a tumultuous week in Berea, the likes of which only Browns fans find relatively normal, the odds were always insurmountable. The game, although within striking distance at times, never felt close. The offense was better under first time play-caller Freddie Kitchens, but it wasn’t good enough. The defense is just mangled by injuries as Denzel Ward, E.J. Gaines and Christian Kirksey left with injuries. The team played hard. Another moral victory in what is becoming two decades worth of moral victories.
The silver lining is the general manager the Browns hired in late 2017. The Chiefs brought to Cleveland on Sunday a version of what the Browns eventually hope to be. An air raid based offense with a gunslinger quarterback who is surrounded by weapons. The Chiefs have given young Patrick Mahomes the likes of Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins. They have two solid talents at the tackle position in former Brown Mitchell Schwartz, and Eric Fisher. The defense plays a decent enough “bend but don’t break” approach. Dorsey was an integral part in nearly all of those acquisitions and the Browns should aim to bring that version of a team to their NFL field someday. The hope is there, the architect is in house. The problem is finding someone who can lead the team the way the Chiefs have found success under Andy Reid.
A wise friend of mine, Stephen Thomas, who runs @BrownsDailyMock on Twitter (a good follow for those of you who use the medium), shared this anecdote with me about a week ago and it’s resonating. “When I was growing up, you never – and I mean never – saw Steelers flags (or any other team, really) around Columbus. Every time I go back I see more and more. Large chunks of the younger fan base have been lost over the past two decades. I fear that if this hire is bungled, and Baker/Myles and all the rest of the young talent is gone to begin another rebuild in 2 years, it could be the death knell for this franchise. At the absolute minimum, another large swath of younger fans may be lost forever, and I wouldn’t put it past some of the older crew to hang it up as well. I know it’s become a cliche to say “most important hire in Browns history,” but this might just be Haslam’s last chance to salvage any credibility for himself and the franchise. This coaching search is absolutely huge, and simply cannot be a miss. It just can’t.”
The Browns are at a crossroads with a young roster again. They can hit this hire out of the park and take the team to levels we haven’t seen since the late 1980’s or they can be right back to another reset in four years. The Browns, and Jimmy Haslam, are running out of resets. They’re losing fans by the day. Sure, the stadium is packed for now, but the incompetence toll will continue to be felt more and more over time. Money won’t be the issue, the NFL makes too much of it, but the morale will always be the issue. Good players come to Cleveland and find ways to lose. It’s time to look in the mirror and figure out who is at the crux of that issue.