After years of mediocrity, it finally looks like (knock on wood) Cleveland Browns fans have a team they can be thankful for and proud of this year. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the team is currently 7-4 and right in the thick of the playoff hunt. All of this got some of the Browns writers here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland thinking, what should the Cleveland Browns be thankful for this year? Here is what we came up with.
-For starters, the Browns as an organization should still be thankful for the Indianapolis Colts. While the current administration had nothing to do with executing the Trent Richardson deal, they certainly did benefit from it. It’s far too early to determine whether the trade ultimately worked out in their favor, but the added first round pick allowed the Browns flexibility to move around in that round and do what they wanted.
-To piggyback off of that, Ray Farmer and company should propose a Thanksgiving toast to Joe Banner. Banner wasn’t perfect, but he did have the foresight to stockpile draft picks for the 2014 NFL Draft (much to the detriment of the 2013 draft), one that he predicted (so far, correctly) would have much more talent. He also left the new regime in a very good position financially.
-We found out the hard way that everyone should be thankful for center Alex Mack. The offensive line as a whole took a noticeable step back in the couple games following his injury. This was no doubt partly due to chemistry, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that was it. Joe Thomas is probably the better lineman at a more integral position, but Mack was the general and possibly the best run blocker out of the bunch. Missing him shows that Mack is worth every penny of his $42 million contract.
First and foremost, the Browns should be thankful for the defensive secondary unit. If it hadn’t been for their stellar play all season, the Browns record would be much different. The secondary has collected 13 total interceptions this season, led by Tashaun Gipson with six of them. Joe Haden has played lights out this season and is earning that big contract. While he had early struggles, Justin Gilbert has shown tremendous progress the last few games and made a huge pass defense against the Falcons in a tight game. It is because of the secondary unit that Brian Hoyer has had extra opportunities per game.
Second, the Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel *ducks*. Now, hear me out on this. When the Browns selected Johnny Manziel in the first round in the draft, the Browns suddenly became a relevant team in the NFL in the eyes of the national media. With that, Brian Hoyer knew he needed to work his butt off to be the starting QB of the Cleveland Browns. This is just speculation, but I assume Hoyer also brought his game up on the intangibles that rookies have a hard time with. Namely, leadership. There’s no doubt that Brian Hoyer is the leader of the offense. He has command of the huddle and the respect of his peers. Sometimes it is that confidence that boosts your game to another level. The Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel, it lit a fire under Brian Hoyer. I just hope his inconsistent passes don’t lock us out of the playoffs *ducks*.
Last, but certainly not least, the Browns should be thankful for Ray Farmer. More specifically, Ray Farmer and his scout team. Where older regimes refused to bring in free agents because “they’re free agents for a reason,” Ray Farmer brought in Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, Jim Dray, Ben Tate, Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. As for the draft, they snagged Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, Pierre Desir as well as gaining extra 2015 1st, 4th and a 6th round draft pics. For undrafted rookies, the Browns collected an impressive haul that are major contributors on both sides of the ball. Cleveland signed Ray Agnew, Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K’Waun Williams. Without the players Ray Farmer signed, this would be a very different looking team. So, not only the Browns, but I, too, am thankful for Ray Farmer and his scout team. They did a fantastic job in the first year and cannot wait to see what they can do in the years to come.
Local(ish) High Schools – With four players from the Youngstown and Cleveland areas, the Browns ought to be thankful for the local talent that has reached them. Brian Hoyer went to high school at local powerhouse St. Ignatius. After spending time working behind Tom Brady in New England, Hoyer has emerged in Cleveland to lead the team’s offense, racking up 2864 yards through the air on a 55.9% completion rate to go along with 11 touchdowns thus far this year. On defense, one of his counterparts is also a Cleveland native. Donte Whitner attended Glenville High School before heading to Ohio State. In his first year with the Browns, he has been instrumental so far, finding himself second on the team in tackles with 73. He also has an interception and a forced fumble to go along. Two Browns linemen hail from the Youngstown area: Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on defense, and John Greco on offense. Kitchen attended Cardinal Mooney High before pursuing a career in the NFL. After seeing little time on the field in September, Kitchen has stepped up to the tune of 23 tackles since Week 6 as injuries have slowly decimated the Browns’ defensive line. On the other hand, John Greco, who attended Boardman High in Youngstown, has started every game for the Browns this season, primarily at right guard.
A Kyle Shanahan Offense – Shanahan’s offense has created a functional unit for the Browns. Despite losing one of their best players in Alex Mack, Cleveland has still been able to produce at a greater rate than last year, often powered to victory on the backs of their duo of rookie running backs and Hoyer’s mistake-minimizing arm. However, I can’t say that this has been all good, as their have been a few games when the offense has just straight up failed. However, overall, Shanahan’s presence in Cleveland has been a blessing.
The Cincinnati Bengals – “Wait what?! The Bengals? That makes so much sense, being thankful for one of our rivals and the division leader. Except not!”…Well, if you really think about it, it does. The Browns have three big reasons to be thankful for the Bengals. First off, former Bengal Andrew Hawkins leads the team in receiving with 50 receptions for 694 yards and two touchdowns. Secondly, the Bengals were kind enough to drop a huge deuce on Thursday Night Football. And lastly, the Bengals were dumb enough to help make sure the Browns improved this year by signing Greg “Brickhand” Little, guaranteeing that Cleveland’s worst nightmare would never haunt the team again. As hard as it is to admit, the Browns owe the Bengals a polite nod at dinner this Thanksgiving.
Mike Pettine – I routinely make jokes about the corpses that have roamed the sidelines for the Cleveland Browns over the past two or so decades, but know that I make those jokes in the most masochistic way imaginable. It kills me every time that I do it, but I think we might just be able to move on from all of that. Granted, Mike Pettine has had a couple time management blunders during his rookie campaign, but I get the feeling that he is an actual NFL caliber head coach. It’s a relatively small sample size but I’m absolutely loving him at the helm of my team thus far.
Josh Gordon – Quite simply the most talented football player that I have ever seen play for the Browns during my lifetime. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Josh Gordon was the singular reason that I was able to watch and enjoy the second half of last season. He is that good. And the Browns were that bad. There were quite a few local media members who advocated for his release this offseason. You most likely won’t hear them address that, but you will hear me reaffirm my love of Josh Gordon and the fact that I wrote a series of articles championing the fact that releasing him would have been a disastrous mistake. Seeing number twelve out on the field in Brown and Orange might just be the best thing in my life right now. Please don’t tell my girlfriend.
Seven and four. Seven wins and four losses. Seven wins at Thanksgiving and a team that is squarely in the mix for a playoff spot. I’m sorry, but after the putrid and depressing football that I have been subjected to my entire life, that is definitely the thing that I am most thankful for. Again, please don’t let my girlfriend or loved ones read this. Or, actually, let them read this. They know I have an irrational love for this football team. They’ll understand. All of us understand. Or, at least, should. The Browns have a huge game against Buffalo on Sunday, and they are poised to enter the month of December fighting for the division and the playoffs. How can we not be thankful for that?
As you can see, the Browns organization has a lot to be thankful for. One consensus among all of the writers was that the Browns should be thankful for their fans. These are fans who have stuck it out through multiple two, three and four win seasons. Fans who have begged just to have a team with a .500 record. Fans who can boast that they are some of the best fans in the NFL, as well as the most numerous.
The staff at More Than A Fan: Cleveland would like to wish all of you, our readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving. Even if you’ve only read one post or disagree with everything we say on a regular basis, we are still thankful for taking the time to do so.
You know, I really feel for Mike Pettine right now. He had to know that he was coming into what was the NFL equivalent of a TV drama, but I don’t think he realized that this TV drama was a Mexican soap opera. I mean, honestly, the Browns’ past two months read like the script of Simplemente María, except with a few more unexpected twists and turns.
We all know how this story started, with the firing of Rob Chudzinski mere hours after the season finale loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After giving him less than a year as head coach. Needless to say, there was a fair amount of shock, disbelief, disappointment, and anger at the decision, both among fans and among players.
This was quickly followed up with the emergence of Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels as the leading candidates for the newly available job, but those doors quickly closed, as O’Brien agreed to coach the Houston Texans and McDaniels publicly withdrew his name from the list of options.
Potential candidates continued to come and go. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was briefly considered a leading candidate, but that dissipated when he inked a contract extension. Likewise, former Vanderbilt HC James Franklin was considered to be in the mix, but he went to coach the Nittany Lions over in College Town, Pennsylvania. Oklahoma HC Bob Stoops suddenly emerged as having the “inside track on the opening”, but that rumor left as quick as it came. Ohio State HC Jim Tressel emerged as a candidate for a good 20 minutes or so, but again that amounted to nothing.
As the search drew on, the situation became slightly clearer, although that really isn’t saying much. Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo came into the picture, as did Ken Whisenhunt. But Whisenhunt decided to head to Tennessee to lead the Titans, and McAdoo just sort of disappeared from the list. Mike Munchak and Arizona DC Todd Bowles both popped up into the list of names, and then, as if in one of those Whack-a-Mole games, popped back out. Dallas Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia also made a brief, under the radar appearance, but that passed so quickly that many fans didn’t even realize he had ever been considered a candidate.
Throughout this whole period, two candidates had really emerged as front runners for the Browns’ job. One was Seattle DC Dan Quinn, whom they interviewed near the beginning of the process. The other was Broncos OC Adam Gase, who was refusing to be interviewed until after the Broncos completed their season. Both of these guys looked like great options for the Browns, and honestly, during the whole search, I was hoping one of these guys would land the job. And for a day or two the waters calmed, and it appeared that the Browns had narrowed the search to just these two.
Well, it turns out we were just passing through the eye of the hurricane. In swoops Bills DC Mike Pettine, along with Falcons OC Dirk Koetter and former Bucs HC Greg Schiano, and out flies Gase. Schiano and Koetter are left behind, and suddenly the Browns are down to Pettine and Quinn, although there are rumors flying around that there is some “mystery candidate”. Another day goes by and it looks like Pettine is a lock.
And then Pettine gets hired. So…end of story, right? The search is over, the drama should be over, everything should be relatively smooth sailing…But nah, that would be no fun now would it?
Once Pettine was hired, the “mystery candidate” was quickly forgotten. What wasn’t overlooked, however, was that Pettine didn’t have the support of the Browns’ front office. Soon after hiring Pettine, former Browns CEO Joe Banner stated that passing over Quinn was “the toughest decision”. Not really the environment you want to be coming into as a brand new head coach.
But lucky for Pettine, and for fans, that problem wouldn’t last long. Just two-and-a-half weeks after Pettine was hired, both Banner and GM Mike Lombardi were headed out the door. It was something that I had been hoping for, but had really not expected at all. And at this point, I figured that the Browns ship had finally moved on into smoother waters. I mean what else could possibly emerge to rock this ship?
Re-enter the “mystery candidate”. Earlier this week, reports emerged that the Browns had made an outrageous trade attempt to try to bring 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland. 49ers CEO Jed York quickly issued a statement denying the reports and saying that they were untrue. Harbaugh echoed York, despite the reports saying that it was Harbaugh himself who ultimately shut the deal down because he wanted to stay in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Jimmy Haslam confirmed reports, telling USA Today that “there was an opportunity there and it didn’t materialize.”
Regardless of whether the reports are true or not (they probably are), they serve no useful purpose. Why go public with something like this when all it does is hurt both clubs? The 49ers are now on their heels denying the reports in order to save face, while the Browns are openly saying “yeah, we were real desperate. We tried everything.”
Now, I don’t have a problem with them testing all waters, but the fact that they allowed something like this to go public so far after the fact is just plain stupid. If I were Pettine, I would’ve just been starting to feel comfortable in my new job and wanted by my new club. And then that confidence would’ve just been completely shattered. To hear that my new team had so little trust in my ability that they would throw a Hail Mary to try to grab someone else instead of settling on me would kill me a bit inside.
So, as a fan, I really feel sorry for Mike Pettine. Personally, I think he will be great for this team. What he has had to go through the past month or so is quite terrible, yet he has stood strong and just kept doing his thing. So props to him. I cannot wait to see that calm and that determination in the face of adversity later on this season, because, with this team, more issues will surely arise.
A story came out this weekend alleging that the Browns, evidently through GM Mike Lombardi, made a last ditch effort to trade for San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh just prior to hiring Mike Pettine on January 23rd of this year. Rumors have it that Lombardi offered everything from this and next years’ first and second round picks to every pick in this year’s draft for the Niners coach. The same reports indicate that the Browns offer was never close to actually being accepted either by the Niners or by Harbaugh. Whatever actually happened is denouement; the point is that when owner Jimmy Haslam said he wanted a “proven winner” here he didn’t mean Mike Pettine — not least of all because Mike Pettine is not a proven winner. Haslam and Lombardi were willing to part with at least a significant portion of the Browns’ draft picks this May to get a coach who could hopefully win without having draft picks this May. This should bother Browns fans on a number of levels.
Initially, this means that Pettine was not Haslam’s druthers. I know Jimmy publicly backed Pettine and called him his guy, but he also said Pettine was merely the best coach that they “could get,” not the best coach in his ken or the coach he thought could make the Browns contenders. Regardless of what he says now, he actually wanted a proven winner; and when he couldn’t get a proven winner he went slumming for a guy who (1) no one else wanted; and (2) hadn’t told the Browns to go to hell. (See, Adam Gase.) Haslam can perform whatever damage control he wants now that he’s stuck with Pettine, but the fact is that his inconsistency is starting to be a problem: his first coach was gone after a year and replaced by a guy he didn’t want and who clearly doesn’t fit the mold of what he wanted. Does anyone think that if Pettine goes 3-13 this year and a playoff-caliber coach is available NEXT offseason Haslam won’t ditch Pettine to the trash heap in a heartbeat? He is starting to sound a little too much like Al Davis.
It also brings into question how things were working under Haslam when this debacle was initiated. Banner was in charge of all football operations yet it was his lieutenant Mike Lombardi who made the call to San Francisco, ostensibly because Lombardi and Harbaugh are friends. And from what has been reported, it was the disconnect between Banner and Lombardi, at least in part, that drove Haslam to fire both. Accordingly, the three stooges metaphor was never more apt. What the hell was going on in Berea that day? The GM proposed trading the entire 2014 draft for a coach while his boss was interviewing other coaching candidates? And then an exasperated Haslam came in ex machina and canned them both? Huh?
It is interesting to note that, even though the Forty-Niners and Harbaugh have a strained relationship, neither the team nor Harbaugh ever took the Browns offer seriously. “The Browns just called and guess what: they’ll give us all their draft picks for you Jim. What should I tell them?” If this doesn’t make the Browns look like modern-day Keystone Kops, I don’t know what does. Did they have Yakety Sax (the Benny Hill theme) playing in the background during the call? After they were rebuked, did Haslam and Lombardi yell “just kidding” and hang up real fast?
I know that Browns fans are so desperate for change that we welcomed Haslam with open arms and a short attention span. But, remember, we did the same thing with Mike Holmgren. I’m not about to say that Haslam is a bad owner: he is clearly vitally aware of fan unease and has made serious and meaningful attempts to change both fan experience and fan awareness. But sometimes things can be too transparent. Sometimes fans just want things to work. As they used to say about a certain Soviet ruler: he made the trains run on time; nobody chose to critique how he was making that happen. If Haslam can just win, nobody will care how he did it. Until then, we must question what the hell he’s doing.
I’ve been suffering from a pretty bad case of “foot in mouth” disease of late, or maybe it’s just bad timing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly okay if people want to think I’m a jerk for whatever reason, but I don’t actually want to antagonize. It’s too soon, or whatever, but I can’t be the one that throws that punchline out there. Too soon, that’s the perfect way to sum up so much of what is wrong with me.
It’s not too soon to wish my mother a Happy Birthday. She is all about opening presents on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve or whatever day the FedEx truck arrives. I never would have dared pretend it was my birthday on a day when it wasn’t my birthday, and as luck would have it, this will publish on her birthday; you can never celebrate 29 too often, I suppose.
Was it too soon in Berea? Was it too soon for Jimmy Haslam to clean house, or perhaps dissolve an arranged marriage? I don’t know. It’s arguable that everything about this chapter of the Browns, the reboot I dread referencing so regularly, happens too soon. It probably isn’t worth re-hashing all of the hope and hype that has built us up, only to destroy us when we find it wasn’t meant to be.
How about an awful situation that’s far more likely to end up on the front page than most of the day-to-day items you’ll see in the sports section. I wasn’t sure that I could write about it in decent taste, just to jump on the hot topic, though it wasn’t a natural fit for the demographic I was addressing at the time. Weak attempts to tie the important things in life, for the sake of a solid “blog-post”, are easily noticed and frowned upon, if offering my opinion.
Sometimes, what links the front page to the sports page is easily overlooked. What we tend to forget is this; whether we like the home team or not, these athletes wear the name of our city across their chest. There’s no question, these guys are ambassadors, for better or for worse. For one young Cavaliers fan, a photo op with Anderson Varejao was worth the wait, but she never thought the adoration would reciprocate.
Speaking of people to adore, does anyone have more public defenders in the court of public opinion than Derek Jeter. In the hours after he announced that the 2014 season would be his last, I watched sportswriter after sportswriter dare the mama’s basement bloggers to say a discouraging word about the Yankee shortstop. Look, I’ve seen a few people throw the “O” word around, and there are arguments to support that Mr. Jeter’s perceived rating does not match how he’s rated on paper; it would be less fun if we didn’t debate this stuff…maybe.
I don’t exactly love or hate the Yankees or Jeter, though both are extremely polarizing entities with Joe Q Public. He can be considered a prototype for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he meant a lot to his team and stayed for the long run, while putting up great tangible numbers. You could also consider how much mileage he got out of those pinstripes, his Manhattan lifestyle, and Mr. Steinbrenner’s deep pockets. I don’t see the same Derek Jeter if he’s the same baseball player in Milwaukee. What’s “too soon” about Jeter is the announcement of his retirement; do we really need to give every player in the game a farewell tour?
Two Ways to Look at the Browns
You could weigh how much time this organization had, or didn’t have, when the Cleveland Browns brand was recreated in 1999. You could look at a lost Chris Palmer, and unqualified Dwight Clark, and an unprotected Tim Couch. If you want to get more recent, you could sum up the Butch Davis Era with an 11 second clip of Dwayne Rudd in the 2002 season opener. There’s a photo-shopped Romeo Crennel picture that mocks the “I’m thinking Arby’s”; I’m not proud that it makes me chuckle, but it does.
It was all nothing but losing. Even the wins proved to be counterproductive. Whether it was winning right away with Butch Davis, while not really winning anything at all in consecutive seasons with single-digit losses, the bar ended up being set too high for Davis to mentally handle the letdown that was coming. Crennel was serving what appeared to be his term as the lame duck, when some schmuck, that Baltimore didn’t want, won 10 games. Coming off those seasons, there was a lot of hype, some would call it hope, but when we look back, we hoped people weren’t all-in on the hype.
It was too soon. Not everything is a precedent, but when you’re as tangled in this web of futility that Cleveland finds themselves in. Take anything positive, negative, or unimportant in the grand sheme, and we’ll spin it into an unpolished turd. If a Browns quarterback won the MVP, we’d worry about the Red Right 88 element of the otherwise good news. If Ryan Tannehill isn’t winning playoff games right now, no one from Texas A&M can ever play quarterback in the NFL. If the Browns play really well in a season, they will automatically regress; we believe this to be true, because they always have.
They can’t succeed with a defensive coordinator as the head coach, because Romeo Crennel didn’t work out. Offensive coordinators are also out, because Shurmur, and then because Chudzinski wasn’t the formula. How about prior NFL head coaching experience? No, Mangini ruined that route for everyone after him. Well, we all know the college coach doesn’t work for the Browns, so let’s ignore Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, even if the former joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer in being the only head coach with a Super Bowl and a College Football National Championship.
We need to stay in the past here, and take everything that frustrates us right now way to literally. There can only be two kinds of team presidents; the guy with real football experience that doesn’t do much beyond showing nepotism in constructing a “winner” and the one with the Napoleon complex. Any head coach that isn’t named Gruden or Cowher is automatically as uninspiring as anyone in Fritz Shurmur’s extended family. Let’s not forget about finding that guy that can catch the football.
Is that guy worth the trouble? Aren’t we counting on legal problems and tales of a New York essence, such an essence that was the moral fiber of being raised in Detroit? They guy can catch the ball and win his team football games, but do find that to be acceptable if the guy can’t even do a wheelie on his motorcycle. And, for the love of God, don’t let the guy near any other celebrities entourage, because I’m sure the results will be the same every time.
Yes, Brian Hoyer could be the next Kelly Holcomb. Mike Pettine can repeat the Browns’ 4 or 5 win cycle, until he’s given mercy in 1-3 years. Joe Thomas can suffer that LeCharles Bentley injury tomorrow and never play another down in Cleveland or anywhere else. It’s not likely, but Ray Farmer could be escorted out by security in Year 1, a la George Kokinis. Maybe TJ Ward will meet the unfortunate fate of Donnie Rogers, because they both play safety.
I’m guilty of this. Don’t trade up when you already have the 4th pick, only because Trent Richardson ended up labeled with a word that rhymes with rust. Don’t take a quarterback late in the first round, because they’ll all end up like Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden. Only draft players in the supplemental draft; those guys always end up being the most beloved guy in town.
Yes, of course I’m tired of waiting. I want to talk about all of the changes that can be made, while keeping the rose tinted glasses balanced on the bridge of my nose. For those who aren’t there yet, we’d just be guessing on their names and hoping they’d pour their heart out for the Dawg Pound, but the Browns had six pro-bowlers, and we might like to think they’ve got some of the major pieces in place.
Ray Farmer is in charge of personnel. People around the league seem to like him, and he’s got one really major thing going for him, he isn’t Mike Lombardi. Wow, people really found it easy to despise the former NFL Network Studio Analyst. Different is always better. Ray Farmer can be the next Ozzie Newsome, and that’s what he’s going to be in my mind until the results contradict that from being a true statement.
There’s nothing concrete to suggest Mike Pettine won’t be as bad as Rod Marinelli, but it might be okay when you understand there’s some frustration over his departure from Buffalo. Maybe you should read something into that, and take it as a positive sign. The idea of a defensive-minded head coach with a strong-willed offensive coordinator sounds like a good idea to me.
Let’s see how well Pettine is able to exploit his best two weapons, Josh Gordon and Joe Haden. Gordon really just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, but he needs to be doing those things before the games become meaningless. I believe Gordon is a winner, can be a leader, and quite assuredly wants better results for this team. Haden has that capability, though his talent and reputation for that talent dictate you see less on the stat sheet, speaking to the idea of relevance.
There will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next for the Browns, but it starts with the leadership of a handful of people. The first thing they need to do is put the losing behind them, or at least acknowledge that losing is bad, and someone at the top of the organization isn’t going to tolerate it. I’m not suggesting they live in fear, but I found what the players shared with Mike Silver in the wake of Chudzinski’s firing to be the venting of losers.
I don’t buy lost seasons or a season-pass that excuses a man from any level of accountability. There’s too much money at stake and too little time to mess around with to waste any season or excuse it as “lost”. Forward thinking involves believing that Farmer will give this organization the right talent to compete, given some stability in the coaching ranks from Pettine, who we all hope is a diamond in the rough. The better players have to be leaders, not just guys who whip around Cleveland in expensive European sportscars with custom paint-jobs.
One Brazilian on Twitter
This girl next to me is Gina DeJesus. For you that don't remember she was kidnaped in Cleveland (Ohio) for 10 years pic.twitter.com/oxstO23rxM
This kind of flips the script. In just pressing the send button a few times, Varejao acknowledged Gina’s strength and revealed how honored he was that she’d have her picture taken. Given all the garbage we’ve had to endure from the Cavaliers and stories related to them and our town, it’s nice to take a break from the dysfunction and bad basketball for a good story.
Of course, what makes this story so wonderful is what made it so horrific in the first place. Internally, it’s so difficult to process that, not as writers, but as human beings. I thought this news sent a message to all of us about hope, one that could translate to sports fans, but I’m not forcing the dots to connect in that context. After ten years of torture, the will to survive translates more to life’s important situations than anything related to watching a game. People hurt themselves and others over nonsense so much, but who had more reason to be hopeless than Amanda, Gina, and Michelle?
What I remember most about the day we learned of their escape was not Charles Ramsey. I saw mention of this miracle on Twitter, but it was a phone call from my father, which he delivered in that tone that only good news can be. Now, I spent much of 2003 on a barstool in Arizona, so the names didn’t exactly roll off the tongue for me, but based on how the story was reported, both locally in Cleveland and nationally, the victims’ names rang a bell for most in Northeast Ohio, even a decade later.
It wasn’t until the details started coming out, the house on Seymour and the 110 block of Lorain Road, that the story started hitting close to home for me, even though my current home in over 2,500 miles away. Every day, my commute to school would have taken me past Seymour and West 25th; based on reports of how long Ariel Castro occupied that place, the timelines may overlap, which is neither here nor there I suppose.
As my friend Frank and I exited I-90 and headed towards our school’s west-side campus, we talked about many things, but never about the prospect of a serial rapist dwelling just off the path from our neighborhood to our place of learning. We spoke of football a lot, the rest was girls and music. On Mondays, WMMS would play the Boomtown Rats jam “I Don’t Like Mondays”, and we’d laugh about the crazy lady shooting at kids because she didn’t like Mondays. This was before Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown, so I guess it okay to tackle that ugly subject in jest, at least in our adolescent minds back then.
I have to go off on a quick tangent on this subject, because Friday was February 14th. And, I know what you’re all thinking; it’s the 102nd anniversary of Arizona becoming a state, right? So, maybe that’s just me. Of course, most people recognize the day for the Hallmark holiday that it is, but it doesn’t play for my wife and I. Again, this is something that’s probably just us, but 2/14 is more about remembering what happened in Dekalb in 2008 than flowers or chocolates. The topic of “too soon” came up in 2012, when we returned to Northern Illinois for Homecoming and caught a cover band at one of the campus bars. Is it okay to play “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, in wake of a tragedy of the sort featured in the song, or has that wake died enough in 4 and a half years?
That situation hit close to home because she used to work a campus job with the shooter, and that’s real life. What hits me close to home is based on geography, not an actual personal connection, but it felt personal. I remembered all of those times I walked to the Finast (Topps), Gepettos, and Blockbuster Video in that West Town Square Plaza on 110th & Lorain, in the vicinity of where Castro canvased the area for his victims. It sent a chill down the spine, a chill I last felt in 2006, when my wife and I stared at that barn in Kirtland where Jeffrey, Alice, and Damon Lundgren terrorized members of their cult a few decades ago.
The thing is, I’m not even there; I can’t lay any claim to the pain that is felt through the community in a situation like that. Anderson Varejao is there and, like it or not, he serves as an ambassador. While we get upset with poor play, injury, and the business side of these professional athletes, Varejao revealed some things we often forget while being critical. First, these guys are part of the community; when tragedy strikes their community, it hits them in the same way it does the guy who works at Central Brass or General Motors. Second, somehow it’s forgotten that they don’t stop human beings when they become skilled at basketball.
I’m not sure what to make of any of this, but I’m glad when an athlete leaves behind a legacy that doesn’t involve torching jerseys. I’m grateful that Varejao would elevate Gina to the status that she deserves, herself now being a symbol of hope. There’s more to life than championship trophies; “Sideshow Bob” knows that, and the story of Amanda, Gina, and Michelle should make that clear to even the biggest of sports junkies.
Six to Start a 6-4-3 in Cleveland
Derek Jeter is leaving the game, so let’s brace ourselves for another Yankees farewell tour. Whether we need it or not, Jeter had a career that was worth talking about. We consider the Indians of the Jacobs Field era to be the best in the 100+ year history of the organization, but every year they’ve made the playoffs since 1954, with the exception of last season, Derek Jeter has been there with the Yankees at the same time.
Jeter has hit .338 against the Tribe thus far in his career, his personal-best versus any American League team. His first full season began in 1996 with a home run at Progressive Field, and he’s been New York’s regular shortstop ever since. Fortunately, the Indians haven’t been as unfortunate with stability between second and third base as the Browns have at the quarterback, if that’s even an apples-to-apples comparison. Today, we’ll look at three obvious choices for the best Tribe shortstops of Jeter’s career, then a few far less obvious names.
Acquired via trade before the 1994 season, Omar Vizquel is probably your favorite Indians shortstop, if you’re between the ages of 30 and 50. He was a different type of player than Jeter, but flashed enough leather to keep Jeter’s Gold Glove count at 5. Vizquel won 9 with the Indians in the American League, then another 2 in the National League with San Francisco. Of course, Jeter has Omar by about 10 on the All-Star appearances. Neither has won an MVP, but Jeter has finished in the Top 10 ten times and Vizquel has never been voted higher than 16th.
Vizquel had his ups and downs against the Yankees, but had his best year at the plate against them in 2004, his final season with the Tribe. Of course, Jeter hit .381 against the Tribe over that same six game stretch. The Yankees took the season series, four games to two. As far as team accolades are concerned, it’s a slaughter in favor of Jeter on the strength of four World Series wins alone, but during Vizquel’s time in Cleveland, the Indians and Yankees met twice with each team winning a series.
I hope Ja-Honny gets a Ja-Hit; remember that?
After Omar Vizquel, the defensive woes at the position that began when Peralta assumed the everyday shortstop duties in 2005. It was argued whether Peralta was just a disaster on the whole or simply had terrible range. I got a chuckle out of those who defended his ineptitude on the infield, because you may have heard, nobody in baseball is better than fielding ground balls hit right to him than Jhonny Peralta.
Peralta hit well against the Yankees during his first three years in the league, getting on base and legging out extra-base-hits, but there was that 2007 season, the only season that mattered during his time in Cleveland, before being traded in the middle of 2010, he struggled. He was 1-for-22 in a six-game season-sweep by the Yankees. That Jeter guy hit .400 against the Tribe in New York’s endless string of regular season wins. However, Peralta hit .467 in a four-game ALDS series win over the Yankees and Jeter, who hit .176 in that series. Isn’t that where it mattered more?
Has there been a Cleveland Indian in the last 30 years that’s frustrated us more than Asdrubal Cabrera? Great glove, even if it isn’t reflected by UZR, and he can rake, but only when he wants to. He’s a career .246 hitter against the Yankees, and a .273 career batter against all of baseball.
Cabrera appeared in that Division Series against the Yankees in 2007, but primarily as a second baseman. He did pretty well against the Bronx Bombers in 2009, hitting .321 against them, but Jeter hit .355 against the Indians, the Yankees took 5-of-8 in the season series, and won the World Series to boot. In the present tense, you might appreciate that Cabrera is 28 years young, 11 younger than Jeter, but he’s been a far cry from what #2 in New York means to his team and his city.
Here’s an Indians utility guy that doesn’t completely poo the bed against the Yankees. The problem with poring through Indians versus Yankees game-logs is that I have to endure of a lot ass-kickings on paper, where it’s the Tribe’s ass and the Yankees foot. John McDonald only appeared three times against the Yankees as a shortstop for the Indians. There were a couple of games in September of 2000, both double-digit wins, where Johnny Mac came on as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement and the Yankees had no answer for him; he went 3-for-3, but I’m not prepared to split hairs about the sample size.
Jeter went 1-for-4 in those games, and did not score a run or register an RBI. Small victories, I suppose.
The Brothers Cabrera
Though he wasn’t around for much more than a cup of coffee, I’m surprised a bigger deal wasn’t made of Orlando Cabrera being kin to former Indian Jolbert Cabrera. They each had their moments against the Yankees in Tribe uniforms. Jolbert’s first was brief, a zero plate appearance contribution as a defensive replacement at shortstop in a 12-5 loss, but he did not commit an error. Jeter went 3-for-4 at the plate, with two runs, two RBI, a walk, and a double. In another Jolbert Cabrera shortstop cameo later in 2001, the elder Cabrera went hitless again, while Jeter was 3-for-5 in a 15-5 Yankees rout.
Orlando only spent 91 games with the Indians in 2011, and found his way to the shortstop position once in (SURPRISE!) another Yankees blowout win. O-Cab did manage to get on base, going 1-for-4, but Jeter was 2-for-6 at the plate in a 9-2 win.
The Utility Guys You Remember
Enrique Wilson hit .340 against the Yankees in parts of four seasons with the Indians between 1997 and 2000. Alvaro Espinoza hit .277 against the Yankees in 1995 and 1996, when he played some shortstop sparingly. Mike Aviles was disqualified from the discussion because he’s never played shortstop as an Indian in a game where Jeter was his opposite number, due to Jeter’s injury.
The funny thing is, Wilson is the only Yankee I can remember playing short when Jeter wasn’t before his injury in 2013 led to the flavor of the week at the position. Speaking of the flavor of the week, since the Yankees haven’t won much of anything lately, who is the new team for the bandwagon fans in Major League Baseball? My first instinct is to say Boston or St. Louis, but I’d almost have to insist on the Dodgers at this point, because life nothing, if not an open checkbook, in Los Angeles.
That’s all I have this week. Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.
On Tuesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam unexpectedly fired his President, Joe Banner, and his General Manager, Mike Lombardi. No one saw this coming.
I should qualify that: some saw Lombardi’s removal when Ray Farmer (Lombardi’s assistant GM who has since been named GM) opted against leaving to fill Miami’s GM job. But the general consensus was that should Farmer be promoted to GM, Lombardi would stay and be named to another position, VP, consultant or some such thing.
But NO ONE saw both he and Banner being fired so suddenly and at such an odd time.
Banner just hired a new head coach. From what I’ve read, Farmer had little to no input on bringing Mike Pettine in to coach the team. That means Farmer has no connection with Pettine, has made no promises to Pettine, and has no obligation to keep Pettine. So unless Pettine can demonstrate an overwhelming reason why he deserves to stay after this year (read: 7+ wins) he will be gone and we’ll be looking at the fifth (!) head coach in six (!) years when Farmer brings in his own guy next off-season. Unless Pettine can do what only two coaches have done in the past fifteen years — improve the team a net plus three from last year — there will be another new coach again next season. And if you thought the job was toxic this year, wait until the fans, players and media have to go through this circus again next year. It will be interesting to see how the players react to what is effectively a lame duck coaching year. Why buy into a guy and his system when every indication is there will be a new guy and a new system a year from now? How many different schemes can these guys take before their heads explode?
What did Joe Banner do (or not do) to get fired so unceremoniously? Rumor has it that Haslam didn’t think Joe was at his best should we say during the coaching interviews. From what I’ve seen and read, Banner mucked things up pretty thoroughly during Ken Wisenhunt’s second interview in as many years. Evidently, Banner came across as arrogant and aloof which resulted in Wisenhunt taking the Tennessee Titans job in a huff after becoming irritated by Banner’s insipid questioning. Additionally, the hiring and firing of Chud within an eleven month period fell clearly on his shoulders and was exacerbated by the fact that Haslam liked and was committed to Chud.
Additionally, Mary Kay Cabot today reported that Josh McDaniels, who everyone believed to be off the Browns radar having allegedly taken himself out of consideration, tried to get back in the running and said he’d take the job if offered. And this was alleged to have been BEFORE Pettine was hired. Indeed, Bill Belichek himself came down from on high and backed McDaniels for the job, but to no avail. Instead, the Browns passed them all up for Mike Pettine. Nobody knows what impact or contribution Ray Farmer made to any of these decisions.
So the Chud firing, the screw-up in the Wisenhunt interview and the last minute bungling of the McDaniel candidacy spelled doom for Banner. He had simply made too many mistakes in too short a time. Plus, the way he was behaving seemingly went against Haslam’s “new direction” attitude. When a head coaching job becomes “toxic” there are only so many people you can blame; the guy who does the hiring and firing of coaches being being the most prominent. And when Banner was fired, there was no place for Lombardi, he was Banner’s guy. Evidently, Lombardi was already packed and gone by the time Banner was officially canned. (Insert crocodile tears here.)
So where does that leave us as Browns fans now? It’s impossible to say whether this is a good or bad thing as we don’t know Ray Farmer or anything he has done well enough to judge him on experience. What we do know is that he was wanted for the Miami GM job and turned it down. I suppose that says something about his reputation outside of Cleveland but that’s about it. He was Kansas a City’s Director of Player Personnel for seven years and a scout before that so he’s got a good background in judging talent. That being said, he has NO experience in actual player and team management as far as we know. He has never made a trade, conducted a draft, gone through the ins and out of player contracts or any of the things a GM is expected to do. Basically, we are taking Farmer on blind faith. He has no track record that we can measure him against.
Finally, the management structure, now that it has been “streamlined,” has both Farmer and Pettine reporting directing to Haslam. Does anyone else think this is trouble? What has Haslam done to make us think he is competent enough to make serious and meaningful management decisions? He severely mucked up the Banner/Lombardi thing twice: once by hiring them, once by firing them at the wrong time, so why do we think he is going to make better decisions in the future? Additionally, this is assuming he isn’t indicted in the Pilot/Flying J rebate scandal. If so, and he has to give up ownership, he has indicated that the team will stay in the family. So who takes over then? His grandkids? Will it become a family tradition, sitting around the table deciding who to take in the draft by pulling straws? There is no end to the terrible outcomes this could have.
It’s funny how I keep thinking that things couldn’t get worse for the Browns, that we finally hit rock bottom, only to have something happen that creates a new rock bottom. The only thing the Browns ever consistently do is let down their fans. The only surprises they provide are in the new and unexpected ways they find to do it. I feel so sorry for this fan base.
And with several young Pro Bowlers, a lot of cap space and a lot of draft picks, the kitty is being handed over to a completely unknown Ray Farmer. If he fails, we are looking at an endless repetition of the last 15 years. If he succeeds? I’ll let you know when I see it.
Are you a fan of the classic HBO series “The Wire”? If so, you probably remember this scene. If you don’t feel like watching the video (and if you’re at work, I’d probably suggest you don’t), the character is lecturing his peers about a “40 degree day”. A 40 degree day is a day where pretty much nothing happens, and nobody really notices anything.
We need this.
Why do I think we need this? Well, I don’t know, because MY LAWDY THIS IS STRESSING EVERYBODY OUT! Last week, Cavs GM/wunderkid Chris Grant was fired after the Cavs lost to the Lakers who virtually had only four players that were even allowed to be playing in the game. Not to be outdone by the Cleveland Cavaliers, our beloved Cleveland Browns fired GM Michael Lombardi, and CEO Joe Banner is “stepping down” and will be in a transitional role for the next couple of months. Yeah, ok. I’m sure Mr. Banner thought that it was “best for the organization” that he not be part of it a week after he basically told the entire league that this team attracts the smartest minds out there.
But don’t worry you guys! The vacated general manager positions have been filled by “up and comers” in their respective leagues! David Griffin was Chris Grant’s right hand man, and was seen as a rising star when he came over from Phoenix after spending a significant amount of time there. On the Browns end, Ray Farmer was seen in the same light. There’s just one thing about both of those guys–they’ve never been general managers before. Of the two of them, Farmer came the closest, but turned down the job a few weeks ago in Miami. I’ve read tweets from a number of people, both locally and nationally, that Griffin was a guy that was TOTALLY ready to run an NBA franchise. If that’s truly the case, then why wasn’t he doing it already? Was he really just waiting for the right opportunity to come along? If so, do you believe that? It’s not like these jobs are easy to come by. Same goes for Ray Farmer. Come on, you can’t honestly believe that Farmer wasn’t told Lombardi was going to be fired in a couple weeks and the job was his as soon as it happened. At the very least Jimmy Haslam probably said something to the effect of “Hey Ray–you might want to stick around here a little bit. Go ahead and interview down in Miami, but I have a pretty good feeling there might be something significant here for you if you come back and say this is a great place to work and not a toxic wasteland….if you know what I mean…*wink wink* *elbow nudge*”.
I’m rambling, I know it, and I’m sorry. And this is the exact reason that we need a break! These are the weird thoughts that go through are heads that is the fault of the leadership of our beloved teams. Seriously, I just typed up a (probably) fake conversation between the Browns owner and their new general manager. I’m over here wondering why David Griffin hasn’t taken the career path that I think he should have followed, even though the guy is probably a hundred times smarter than me and has made more money than I ever will. I am not, by any means, qualified to analyze the decisions that have been made in Cleveland this week. But that doesn’t matter.
You know why?
Because we’re fans, and we care, because we’ve been programmed to care no matter how much we might not want to. Nobody wants to see anything or anybody they care about skewered nationally, as the Browns and the Cavs have been in the past week. It’s embarrassing. One day last year I was walking down State Street in Chicago and I was wearing a Browns shirt. A guy pulled me aside and apologized for how miserable I probably was. And he was right!
The notorious Stringer Bell once said that nobody gives a **** about a 40 degree day. That’s all I’m asking for. Sports Gods, please give me a week, maybe even a few days without one of my favorite teams being in the national spotlight for something they’ve done. Give me Kyrie Irving getting through the All-Star Break without any scandal. Give me Ray Farmer making some moves that make a lot of sense that nobody can make a joke of. Give me some good stories about the Indians in Goodyear.
I don’t think we’re asking much. Just a few 40 degree days. And if you Sports Gods can talk to the Weather Gods, we’ll take a few literal 40 degree days as well.
Well thank goodness that finally happened. It honestly knocked me off my feet a little bit when I first saw that both Browns’ CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi had been shown the door, but I am quite glad it happened. It was the last step that the Browns’ organization needed to take in order to start fresh.
On that note though, I am rather confused as to the timing. Browns fans were finally starting to settle down and look forward to the offseason after what had been a rather long coaching search. And then poof! The Front Office is shaken up and Banner and Lombardi are on their way out. Which for me begs the question if Banner and Lombardi were to ultimately be shown the door, why include them in the head-coaching job search? Why let them influence the decision if they aren’t going to be around for the start of the season?
In his press conference, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam sort of addressed these questions, and stories that have started coming out today may help to answer as well.
When asked about why he decided to make changes to the front office, Haslam stated that, “Joe and I began having conversations several weeks ago about potentially restructuring the organization. As Pett came on board and we evaluated where we are, we felt that it made the most sense.”
OK… Now I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but after hearing that, I’m just more confused. If Banner had a say in the conversation regarding restructuring, and if Banner is as good of a negotiator as Haslam claims he is, then how the hell did he end up on his way out? Just food for thought. Unfortunately, I don’t have any type of intimate relationship with Haslam, so I won’t really be able to get a straight answer to these questions. Oh well…
Anyway, returning to the timing issue. When asked specifically about it, Haslam avoided giving concrete reasons but instead blamed it on himself, saying that he realizes that there is a learning-curve for NFL owners and that he himself is, in fact, still learning the ropes of running an organization. To me, this implies that Banner was probably going to get the boot anyway, but that Haslam wasn’t quite sure of that decision yet.
What may be the most revealing evidence as to why Banner is out though is the NFL.com article that came out today. According to this, numerous potential candidates for the Browns head coaching job weren’t interested because of the presence of Banner, and that Banner’s behavior in interviews drove away and scared off some potential coaches. This led to a bit of a rift between Banner and Haslam; one which was perpetuated by Banner stating that he would have liked to wait and interview Seahawks DC Dan Quinn a second time after Coach Pettine had already been hired.
Overall though, it is a huge relief that Banner is out. Haslam talked about the need to streamline the front office structure, and now, instead of the muddled system where Banner has ultimate say, Pettine, new GM Ray Farmer, and President Alec Scheiner all report directly to Haslam. This will provide for more efficient managing of the team, as well as better decisions overall since each person will be in charge of what he is the most experienced in. On top of that, I am very excited to see Farmer start performing over the next couple of months. He is widely regarded as an up and comer across the NFL, and he is now going to be provided the chance to prove it. The Browns also brought in Farmer’s former boss at Kansas City, Bill Kuharich. Kuharich has an abundance of experience, having spent ten years with the Chiefs as well as fourteen with the Saints, and already has an intimate relationship with Farmer. His presence will give Farmer someone who he can trust and go to for help as he navigates his way through his first season as a GM in the NFL.
Anyway, now that the Browns couldn’t possibly make anymore major staff decisions for the rest of the offseason (fingers crossed), as fans, I think we can all finally settle down and breathe a sigh of relief. With a new set of hands running the ship that is the Cleveland Browns’ franchise, I think it is time to lay back and relax a tad. Definitely because the hands in charge are now finally capable pairs. It is finally time for all of us to raise a glass to what will hopefully be the solution to the Browns’ recent woes. Cheers.
We meet again…You are seriously encouraged to reply, respond, post, or just jump for joy! I really would like to know how you feel, and what you think about the latest moves by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. I mean where on this earth can you get a NBA major firing, and a NFL x2 major firing all in the same city. I will tell you where…ONLY IN CLEVELAND BABY!
Don’t take that the wrong way I am not making fun of us. In fact, I am overjoyed, giddy, an elated at this news. I believe that both organizations are trying to achieve some level of “sustainability” when it comes to the “hire-ups” and or front office personnel. There is early speculation as to what led to the release of Banner/Lombardi. From the Chud relationship, and his firing to the non-ability to deliver another coach before Pettine was hired for the job. NFL hearsay relates the message that Banner/Lombardi was not well liked in many circles, and that hindered the Browns process of hiring a new coach as some were warned to stay away from those two. This world of professional sports has a life unto its own , and I fully understand how easy it is to get caught up with all the “goings on”(things that happen). Doesn’t some of this seem scripted? It seems unreal and yet it happens before our eyes. I am still wondering how the plot will thicken concerning Mike Brown. Guess I will have to stay tuned in.
Change Is Coming
It does feel different I must admit. It feels like a new beginning is right there for the Browns. The organization actually mobilizing their forces, and resources to achieve a common goal. Generating a philosophy of team first. Growing a winning culture I dare say in a city that has not had one for so long. Farmer, Scheiner, Pettine, and Shanahanthis is the new regime.
Farmer brings the football entity to Cleveland that has not been represented at all. The Browns have chased big names…fail. The Browns have gone down the road less traveled…another fail. This time I think they got it right. A football guy for football players. A very astute evaluator of talent. Someone doing whats best for the organization and team. Scheiner has been perceived in a positive light, and I figure his hand is more to the business side of running things, you know “the numbers man”. Pettine being inherently from the defensive side of the ball appears to be hard-nosed and straight forward, another admirable quality that has not been in Cleveland. With the addition of Kyle Shananhan as the OC it does seem as if the backbone has snapped into place. The only qualm that could go on here is the GM and head coach not being on the same page. As in Pettine might not be Farmers’ guy. My fingers and toes are crossed that everybody will work accordingly to bring the Browns to where they need to be. Contract negotiations and re-signings are the first order of business. Then the important factor of “getting-it-right” placed on this years’ draft.
There appears to be something amiss with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I can’t quite put a finger on it, but something seems different. I actually saw a beautifully designed play by (ugh) Mike Brown during the Wizards game that didn’t lead to points, but rather serve the purpose it was supposed too. Towards the of the game with the Cavs allowing the Wiz back into the game. Mike Brown called time out with about 6-8 seconds on the clock and drew up a play of “keep away’ which had me laughing as the Wizards chased our players around until the clock almost expired. A couple free throws later equaled a win for the home team. In the game against Memphis the team shot and shared the ball well, eventually notching another win. I bring those points up to emphasize that the Cavs can more than compete with the other teams. I don’t know what the exact problem or problems were that led to the constant falling down and sliding backwards, but I do know these guys can play. As the trade deadline approaches there are a few possibilities that might have to be looked into?
Does a move of Luol Deng hurt now, but help the future?
Does Jeff Green have meaning to the Cavaliers?
Can David Griffin make any moves or deals?
Chime in let me know. Help me out. Or just speak your mind.
Much to the chagrin of local television news guys and t-shirt designers the three stooges are no more. Jimmy Haslam dropped a bombshell in Berea as he shuffled Larry and Curly out the door and introduced a new General Manager and team structure for our Cleveland Browns. No longer will we have the condescending tones of Joe Banner or the quarantined silence of Mike Lombardi to soothe our ruffled feathers. They are now following in the footsteps of the legends of Browns past. Names like Clark, Savage, Kokinis, and Holmgren. And like the past departures of those fine football executives, this newest upheaval in Berea is something that we should all celebrate.
There have been indications ever since Joe Banner rode into town on Haslam’s coattails that he was an impediment to the success of the franchise. The league wide negative perception of Joe Banner was something that clearly hurt the Browns. To what extent that perception affected the team can be debated, but there is no doubt that it existed. Quite honestly, the extent doesn’t really matter. If the mere reality of having a certain executive in place handicaps the franchise then that executive needs to be removed. That’s what was happening with Banner and that alone is reason to support his removal. Now, this is the part of the paragraph where I would like to add on to my previous sentiment and make a case as to why Mike Lombardi getting fired is also a good thing. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do this as I can’t confirm that Mike Lombardi has actually been in Cleveland this past year. I’ve heard tale that he does exist and has the ability to speak, but as a professional I can’t run with those facts until I can verify them with two separate sources. For now, we’ll just have to go on faith and be happy that Mike Lombardi is no longer doing whatever job he has allegedly been doing this past year.
Aside from Banner and Lombardi no longer running things, the most exciting thing to come out of this front office reshuffling is the new structure that has been put in place. No longer is there some convoluted decision-by-committee-but-Joe-Banner-actually-has-the-final-say dynamic being pushed in the front office. Ray Farmer will decide the 53 man roster. Mike Pettine will decide which 45 guys play on Sundays. Alec Scheiner will run the business side of things. And all will report to the owner. For a franchise that has tried every kind of dysfunctional power structure over the past 15 years, this new set up is a breath of fresh air. It probably seems like an obviously simple fix for pretty much every other fanbase and organization in the NFL, but I’m dead serious when I say that the Browns merely shifting to a conventional team structure is a monumental step forward. And that doesn’t even count what I see as noticeable upgrades at each of the three spots that atop the organizational depth chart. I obviously haven’t been able to write about Mike Pettine here yet as we just launched, but I genuinely like the hire and feel it’s the best move the Browns have made at Head Coach since Butch. Not that that is exactly the highest of praise considering the guys hired in between but I do really like what I’ve seen and heard. There’s also Ray Farmer who, by all accounts, is highly respected around the league and thought of as an up and comer. And he was reportedly at the Senior Bowl, which sadly already sets him apart from his two most recent predecessors. And we also have Alec Scheiner as President who, well, who runs the business side. And that’s it. He seems really bright, good at his job, and he won’t have anything to do with picking players. This also, sadly, is something that sets him apart from his two most recent predecessors. These three guys are reason to be excited. Reason to be optimistic for the Browns. There is, however, one thing that still makes me uneasy. The man that those three will be reporting to is still Jimmy Haslam.
As the weeks and months go on it will probably become more and more apparent how I feel about the current steward of the Cleveland Browns. For now, I will just say that I won’t be applying for President of the Jimmy Haslam fan club any time soon. However, I’ll give him credit for his removal of Banner and Lombardi just like I did for his firing of Chud a few weeks ago. In both cases he saw that something wasn’t working and instead of drawing it out and setting things back even more, he cut bait and went a different direction. It would be fair to point out that he decided to hire all those people only a year ago, but at least he was willing to make the tough decisions and admit he was wrong. Well, at least kind of. While his actions certainly seem to indicate significant errors on his part, you would be hard pressed to get him to actually admit it. Which brings me to the absurdity of the press conference introducing Ray Farmer as General Manager. Haslam time and again talked about how great of a football mind Mike Lombardi has, how Joe Banner agreed that it was time for him to leave, and he again blamed the media for the negative perception of the Browns. The fact that Haslam would think that any Browns fan would buy into any of those things is borderline insulting. And it’s just another example of why I have less and less faith in him every time I hear him talk. Not to mention that we are apparently never allowed to ask about the federal investigation that could potentially land the owner of our football team in federal prison.
Regardless of my natural predisposition to not like Jimmy Haslam or the ever present chance that the next time we see him he’ll be waddling down a hallway in an orange jumpsuit, the dismissals of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi are positive steps for the Browns. For one day the team undeniably improved and Haslam does deserves credit for that. Two of the stooges are gone. And if we’re going to be stuck with the third one, at least he wants to win.
I was planning on doing one of those ubiquitous mailbag/Twitter response columns until I realized that I didn’t have any mail or tweets to respond to. Despite that, I endeavored and will provide both the questions I would pose to myself and my responses thereto just for the hell of it.
Q. Who will be the Browns starting quarterback be on September 7th?
A. Brian Hoyer. First, I should disclose that I’m a Saint Ignatius graduate, the high school from which Brian Hoyer matriculated in 2004. That being said, Hoyer is a legitimate NFL QB. I’m not saying he’s going to take this (or any) team to the Super Bowl, but he is capable of winning games in the NFL. We know that. He looked great in the two games he started and won for the Browns. He showed great field recognition, quick release, accuracy and touch. He is the ONLY Browns QB since Bernie to show all of those talents. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but I will take the former skill set over the latter quality any day of the week. Brandon Weeden and Derek Anderson both have rifles for arms, but both are so intellectually inept and unable to adapt that as soon as opposing teams figured them out, they struggled to change their games and simply withered. Their arm strength is not useless, but seemingly hinders their ability to throw soft out and screen passes which were, at least on their Browns squads, absolutely integral and necessary to the offenses they ran.
My prediction holds even should the Browns draft a rookie and sign a veteran quarterback. Indeed, I am hoping for it. Jason Campbell doesn’t want to be a backup (even though he clearly is) and he doesn’t like the cold weather (wuss). Ideally, the Browns would sign a veteran who can bring stability and leadership to a team and can also come in and perform competently in case of an injury. The rookie (preferably a guy drafted outside the top ten) would be the last option to start games.
Q. Should the Browns draft a quarterback and, if so, who?
A. Yes, of course they should. I don’t know who it should be, but I know it should not be Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, or a Teddy Bridgewater at four.
Look, I know Browns fans are sick of trading down. We’ve seen it too many times and we’ve had to suffer with them passing up better players for guys who either didn’t work out or who ended up average or marginal. But just because former regimes messed them up doesn’t mean that this one will or that the idea itself is a bad one. The fact is that a quality quarterback can be found later in every draft and the Browns have a lot of other needs that can be filled in this year’s. We need to amass picks and use them wisely. If a quarterback on the Browns’ board is available when they have a later pick, take him. But if they can trade down, get more picks, AND still get a quarterback they like to back up both Manziel and veteran QB X, do it.
We need quality starters at literally every other position on the field. If they do their homework, make wise trades, and get legitimate starters, no one will care if they passed on Teddy Bridgewater/Blake Bortles at pick four. Especially if you expect (as I do) that there will be no franchise quarterbacks picked in the first round this year.
Q. Assuming the Browns don’t trade down, what should they do?
A. Draft up to 2 and take Jadaveon Clowney.
If you want me to justify this objectively and based on empirical evidence, I can’t. I just have a feeling that this guy is going to be a monster on defense. And I know the arguments against: our least weak position is D line; we just drafted an end last year; the Quiet Storm and Big Money. Yes, yes, I know. But remember that one game-changer on defense, especially someone who can cause mayhem at the line, can utterly change the face of an entire defense. Think Jared Allen or Julius Peppers. They not only create persistent trouble for opposing offenses, they open up opportunities for other rushers, which we have a plethora of. If the defensive line can, finally, pressure quarterbacks consistently, the entire defense benefits. If Clowney pans out, it could change the face of the team.
Plus, you know mike Pettine is just drooling thinking about coaching him.
(After the completion of this column it was announced that the Browns management structure had been shaken up. I will comment more extensively in Thursday’s column, but will say this now:)
Q. What is going on in Berea?
A. It appears as though Haslam had enough of his other two stooges. He canned them both and put Ray Farmer in to head all of the team’s football operations. Quite simply, he replaced two old, tired guys with one young up and comer.
I guess it’s good Ray Farmer didn’t take the Miami job. Clearly, Haslam was getting the feeling that Lombardi and Banner were mucking things up and he had had enough. My guess is that Haslam was starting to doubt Banner’s ability to be a football man instead of just a business man, which is what he was good at in Philly. The Chud firing certainly seemed desperate and inconsistent. How long do you trust a guy who is so flippant with big decisions? And once he made the decision to fire Banner, Lombardi was gone too. There was no place here for Lombardi without Banner, it was a twofer.
All in all, this was a good decision, which could look better if Farmer is the man. The only issue is why this took two years to figure out. Haslam said things wouldn’t be the same under him, but they have been. In two years as owner, he’s now fired two Presidents (Holmgren, Banner), two GMs (Heckert, Lombardi) and two coaches (Shurmur, Chud). Hopefully, this will be the end of the revolving doors.
Just like when, again and again.
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