The same old song and dance. That’s how each of the Browns head coaching tenures always seem to end, especially under ownership of the Haslam’s. This time, ownership thinks it is going to end differently and so do we — but will it?
As the Cleveland Browns coaching search comes to a close today with the last of eight head coaching interviews set for Josh McDaniels, it is another chance for the organization to step up to the plate, swing, and get it right. Notice that I do not say it has to be a home run, they just have to get it right. And that’s where today brings us with the evaluation of where the Browns should go this time around.
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wraps up the 2020 Cleveland Browns coaching carousel and history shows, he could be the most likely to have the job offered to him. Except, he has to take it.
Under the ownership of Jimmy Haslam, the Browns have never been known to get the best candidate from those available. In fact, for every Browns hire under the Haslam’s ownership, they supposedly hired a candidate from the second tier of available coaches. The only time the Browns had their first choice, it resulted in the worst one yet: Hue Jackson. Freddie Kitchens is an outlier because he was promoted within the organization. However, if you turn back at the other two hires, the Browns were left with Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine as the last men standing. The ironic part of those two leaders, if placed in the right situation and shown commitment, they both have an argument to make that they had the best shot of turning the Browns into a consistent playoff contender.
This time around, the Browns will have their pick of the litter. The Dallas Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy, who stood a fighting chance to be the head coach moving of the Browns, but once John Dorsey bolted at Haslam’s request, McCarthy was off to greener pastures. Meanwhile, the New York Giants tabbed the other Patriots coaching candidate, Joe Judge. The Panthers wound up with former Baylor head coach Matt Ruhle — who wouldn’t even give the Browns the courtesy of an interview.
Cleveland has interviewed Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
McDaniels has the final crack at it today. Credit to The Athletic Cleveland to pointing this out on the Civilized Barking podcast, the Browns looking in the direction of Schwartz late in the process likely means Roman, Saleh, Bieniemy, and Daboll are on now on the outside looking in and are likely a year out from taking the reins of an NFL franchise.
The final two interviews the Browns tabbed seem to be set up strategically, as Stefanski and McDaniels have been publicly noted as the likely top two choices for the position. Stefanski, who has spent the entirety of his 14-year coaching career with the Minnesota Vikings, was renowned as chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta’s first choice last cycle. According to various reports, McDaniels is the preferred choice of ownership.
Stefanski and McDaniels both have two things in common when it comes to the Browns head coaching vacancy: They have both interviewed with the Browns before. Stefanski was named a finalist last year as DePodesta touted him to last year’s coaching search committee and he even received two interviews during last year’s circuit. McDaniels, interviewed with owner Jimmy Haslam and former executive Joe Banner for the head coaching vacancy in 2014, before withdrawing his name for the position.
This time around, it seems to be down to Stefanski and McDaniels — with Saleh and Bieniemy still in contention for the opening according to NBC Sports’ Peter King.
Although it has been regarded that Stefanski and McDaniels are the two finalists, it is worth noting that both candidates each have a reason to pass the Browns up this time around. Stefanski has spent his entire coaching career with the Vikings and could still have a sour taste in his mouth after being passed over for the abysmal Kitchens. On the other spectrum, McDaniels knows he is on his last head coaching opportunity and there is real skepticism on why he’d place his final chance at being a head coach in the hands of the Haslam’s.
After outlining all the factors of where this year’s search stands for a head coach, one thing remains the same — no matter the candidate, the Browns have to get it right and have to get it right now.
As the Browns are in an uphill climb to cement themselves as one of the top teams in the AFC, other teams in the conference are positioned to remain in the competition for a Super Bowl title within the next five years. The Chiefs and MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the Ravens and likely MVP Lamar Jackson, and the Texans and DeShaun Watson are all well placed to have the road to the Super Bowl run through their stadiums year after year. Additionally, the Patriots have ruled the AFC, the Steelers are getting Ben Roethlisberger back, and the Bills, Jets, Colts, Titans, Raiders, and Chargers all have reason to believe that they are closer to competing for a championship than the Browns.
According to Over The Cap, the Browns are 15th in the NFL in effective cap space heading into 2020 free agency with just over $51 million over to spend. Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Joel Bitonio, and J.C. Tretter are all on the books from their lofty contract extensions through the 2022 season — right when the Browns window should realistically “peak.” On that same token, Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb are going to pound the table for an extension next offseason and Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Larry Ogunjobi will want their paydays as well.
The Browns are on the brink of another organizational reset and that potential full forced blow up either begins or ends with the next head coach. Furthermore, the success or failure of Baker Mayfield relies on whether or not the franchise flourishes with their No. 1 overall quarterback. Mayfield is much of the reason why the Browns are likely to turn their sights towards an offensive-minded coach.
Under Stefanski’s direction, the Vikings finished with a top 10 scoring offense, and quarterback Kirk Cousins finished fourth among starters in passer rating and completion percentage. Additionally, Cousins was seventh in yards per attempt (8.1) and eighth in touchdowns (26); He only threw just six interceptions. Lastly, the Vikings finished seventh in offensive DVOA.
McDaniels has, of course, won six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots. Despite what was widely renowned as an off-year for the Patriots offense, they finished third in the NFL in offensive DVOA and seventh in points per game.
The Browns looking to move forward with Mayfield is also another reason why Bieniemy could wind up being the surprise choice because of his work with Mahomes.
No matter the choice, it all comes back to the Browns getting it right. Whoever rises to the top of the totem pole for this year’s opening, one thing is for sure — they will want security in their contract. Ron Rivera received five years from Washington and Ruhle squeezed seven from the Panthers. Yes, Haslam has shown he can be short-fused and will gladly pay coaches not to coach his Browns. However, the more commitment in the contract, the more likely the Browns are to stay the course.
Staying the course is what the route the Browns need to go no matter the candidate, especially considering they will also play a hand in choosing the general manager as well. The fuse is already sparking but it has not been a full blow up quite yet. The next head coach of the Cleveland Browns will play a major role on if this team can compete for a championship or if the franchise is truly doomed.