Like most Americans, I’ve taken my fair share of tests and exams, written plenty of papers and blue books essays, and delivered several presentations to my peers and instructors over the course of my academic career. Their results have ranged from meaningless—lab quizzes and blog posts with little more purpose than to take attendance—to life-changing, in the case of some standardized tests. During parts of grad school, I had weekly tests that each decided 7% of the total grade, and in this program, consistently achieving high scores was absolutely vital for success. Every Monday, the 30 or so of us in the program, each sleep-deprived from obsessing over every detail from the 16 hours of lecture from the week prior, would congregate outside of the computer room, a literal and figurative bundle of nerves. Eventually, we’d be summoned into the room, take our assigned seats, and complete an online, multiple-choice exam. Despite the fact that I usually did well on the exams, the high levels of anxiety consistently wreaked havoc on my body, to the extent that when reflecting upon it even now, familiar stomach pangs resurface. But, there was one silver lining to this system: as terrible as the lead-up to those tests was, the follow-up was completely painless. This was because we got to see the comprehensive results of our tests literal minutes after completing. The stress surrounding all these tiny facts was completely flushed away over the course of just a couple of hours. By midday, our group was usually on our second round of mimosa pitchers.
For most, this is an atypical testing situation (although one I imagine is becoming more and more common). The more common set-up is what I, and many, many others, faced when taking the medical college admission test, or MCAT. Prospective medical school students study their asses over the course of months in order to get a broad, shallow understanding of a potpourri of scientific, psychological, and English-language topics. By test day, my experience included a strong feeling of resignation, that I’d studied as hard as I could, and whatever would be, would be. Finishing such a behemoth of an exam—it’s 6.25 hours, 230 questions, 50 or so passages—creates some relief, but it quickly morphs into dread as you await your results for the longest six weeks of your life.
In the first paradigm, anxiety over the unknown morphs into satisfaction as the results are instantly known; in the second paradigm, resignation turns to dread as the results take eons to arrive. The Browns hiring process for a new head coach, for much of the fanbase, is a test, and as such, it has adopted similar negative feelings surrounding it. The problem is, the search has somehow created the worst possible combination of the two paradigms: a pre-hire/test anxiety, and a post-hire/test dread.
It’s unhealthy to compare oneself to others when preparing for an exam, and yet it’s nearly impossible not to. People have different study habits and processes in order to be ready—if I study more efficiently than someone else, I may need less time to be equally prepared. Additionally, there’s a difference between actual preparedness and a feeling of preparedness. Someone who’s aced the previous three exams in the class might feel ready earlier than someone who’s bombed the last three.
It’s easy to see how this relates to both the extensive coaching search and the fanbase’s reaction to it. The Browns were one of five teams to part ways with their head coach, along with the Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, and Panthers. On December 30, the Redskins were the first to fill their vacancy by hiring Ron Rivera; Browns fans wept. A few days later, America’s Former Team hired Mike McCarthy; the Cleveland media bristled. By January 8th, the Giants had hired Joe Judge and the Panthers did the same with Matt Rhule. Over the next four days, several Browns’ “think”pieces emerged about how the Browns had approached the search ineffectively, or as cynics may put it, they “Browns’d it up.” Sure, if the Browns’ top four choices were Ron Rivera, Mike McCarthy, Matt Rhule, and Joe Judge, and they missed out on all of them, perhaps they went about this poorly. Of course, that situation is highly unlikely, given that they cast a net that enveloped the entire football universe. The reality is that comparing the coaching searches for each team doesn’t provide anything more than anxiety-producing empty content. Who cares if Joe Judge was hired before Kevin Stefanski?
From the Browns’ perspective, it’s hard not to see why they conducted their search so methodically. They’re the students that bombed the last three tests. Hell, they’re the students that bombed all the tests. Why would they unnecessarily leave a stone unturned? Consider the Redskins, who’ve been curiously and universally lauded for their hiring of Ron Rivera specifically and their general quickness. Why has the football world decided their choice was decisive and efficient, not impulsive and lacking careful consideration? The point is, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about hiring a coaching candidate four days after everyone else. The most important thing is that they were meticulous and used a logically-sound approach in order to feel prepared to hire someone. Nobody knows if they actually conducted themselves in this manner, but a quick hire would have indicated the contrary.
You’re going to read a lot of words about the Browns hire, hopefully from this very website. The best of which will carefully and logically review his experience and his key attributes before ultimately providing a “take.” The worst articles will forego the first two steps and just provide said “take.” People like offering takes, and they like reading takes. I apparently enjoy saying “take.”
I think I know why this is, and I’m going to tell you now: we, as human beings, crave closure and understanding. Now, we will get said closure, but it’s going to happen in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the free agency period, and, most importantly, during Weeks 1 through 17 of the 2020 NFL Season. However, elsewhere in society, this thing called the internet came along and decided to shorten the news cycle, and our attention spans, considerably. It’s why the four days during which the Browns were the only coachless team felt like an eternity. Now, it’s not enough to provide much-needed background and context surrounding this hire if there’s no value judgment following it. This despite the fact that, let’s be honest, nobody knows if Kevin Stefanski is going to work out. Bill Barnwell doesn’t, Robert Mays doesn’t, and I sure as hell don’t. The reality is that we assign value judgments to Kevin Stefanski’s hiring because the alternative to closure is uncertainty, and we dread uncertainty. The only part of test-taking worse than the moment before you take the test is the moment before you get the results. In this case, the moment before the results is six months long.
I like Kevin Stefanski. I think he’s had a lot of success despite middling quarterback play, which is extremely difficult in today’s NFL. He’s probably a good coach. That doesn’t mean he’s going to work out in Cleveland, but I urge you not to make up your mind before you have to. The Browns haven’t passed or failed their test yet; it’s merely just begun.