Category Archives: Browns

The Draft, Love, Jinxes, and Cleveland’s Curse of Hope

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of men.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

A lot can happen in 50 years. 

I could go on and make a long list of amazing accomplishments or advancements in society like the rotary phone morphing into the iPhone and the price of gas and all of that stuff you see all the time. But there has been one thing that has certainly not happened in the last 50 years…

Cleveland has not won.

I cannot lay claim to having suffered as much as most Cleveland fans. My fandom extends only back as far as 1995 when my family moved from Connecticut to the suburbs on the east side of Cleveland. But my indoctrination into Cleveland’s sports futility did not take long to manifest. Within one month of my family taking up residence in the state of Ohio the Indians lost the World Series and the Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore. It was a weird thing for a ten-year-old kid who loved sports to get dropped into.

I don’t remember a specific instance, but someone back then probably (or at least should have) warned me about getting involved in this whole “being a Cleveland sports fan” thing. Because being a Cleveland fan is not for the weak of heart.

It’s a crazy thing sports. All we have as fans in the end is hope. Only one team can win any given sport championship each year. Odds are that it won’t be our team this year. But we can always hope that maybe “next year” will be the year. But for the Cleveland fan that hope is eternally unfounded. 

Hope must be built and founded upon something of substance. To do otherwise is just plain stupidity. And that’s what is most maddening about being a Cleveland sports fan…we tend to put our hope on something of substance only for it crumble into utter demise.

That feeling of hope is probably never more real and prescient than at the NFL Draft…which just so happens to start today.

Drafts are glorious things. We spend months upon months pouring over mock drafts, scouting reports, YouTube highlights, and every other bit of information we can get our hands on to inform ourselves about who our team should or should not take. And while there are certainly exceptions to the rule and it’s obviously important for every team to do their due dilligence, drafts often wind up being wild crap-shoots. First round picks flop and third-day selections become cogs of Super Bowl winning teams with regularity.

And yet that won’t stop us from plopping down on our couches and losing our minds over this stuff for the next three days. Because that’s what hope does to us when it’s all we have. We cling to it like a drowning man on a life preserver. 

And it certainly never hurts to inject this steaming bowl of hope with some added spices like “the Browns are going to package their two first round picks and trade up for the next savior quarterback.” Nothing gins up more hope than a quarterback, especially since we haven’t had one in decades.

Marcus Mariota might be a great NFL quarterback. He also might not. And while it would certainly be exciting to get a guy of his stature and accomplishments, we’re only a year removed from losing our minds over drafting Johnny Manziel. Which was only a year after everyone went nuts over hometown heart-throb Brian Hoyer. Which was only a year removed from drafting Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. Which was only a year after we thought Colt McCoy was the answer after he looked great in preseason. You see how this goes? Do you see what hope does to us? We’re looking at a solid five straight years of believing the “new” guy is going to be “the” guy. But that’s hope for you. It’s delusional.

Granted, the people who are delusional enough to think that trading two first round picks (and maybe more) for a QB who clearly needs time to develop and dropping him onto a team that will probably start him on day one but is starved for talent and could really stand to benefit from using those two first rounders on several other spots of need are no more delusional than I am for thinking that Johnny Football can still be a star in the NFL and lead the Browns to a Super Bowl. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.

Misplaced hope can also be spurred on by other things than media-driven hype. It can also come from a major sports magazine placing outsized expectations of winning the World Series on the local baseball team. Which, now that I think about it, is really just another form of media-driven hype.

We are exactly one month removed from Sports Illustrated declaring that the Indians would win the Fall Classic this season…a declaration that, at least to me, was utterly shocking considering that the team didn’t even make the postseason last year, only made the Wild Card game the year before, and hasn’t really added much besides another year’s experience. And yet, all it took was that cover of a jovial Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley to suck me and get me excited about the Tribe again! It gave me hope.

And as I sit here today the Indians sit in last place in the division with only the second fewest wins in all of baseball. It’s still early, is what everyone likes to say and it’s a long season, yada yada yada. Well even though it’s “still early” it won’t be very long before it’s not early anymore and it certainly doesn’t help things to already be back seven games in division this “early” in the season. It also doesn’t help when you don’t have a single qualified hitter with an average above .300 and only have one guy with an on base percentage above that number. And while the pitching hasn’t been terrible, it hasn’t exactly been lights out either.

The reality is that we never should have gotten our hopes up in the first place. This was a team that hadn’t accomplished anything of real value yet. Maybe we should have waited to see them win a postseason game first before planning a parade. But that’s what hope does to you, especially when you’re starved. It doesn’t matter if it seems too good to be true. I might as well dive in head first because if it is true then it’s gonna be awesome and don’t bother me with the details about what might happen if it’s not.

Of course, when it comes to placing hope in something Sports Illustrated has espoused only to have it bashed you can always blame “the Jinx” (or jixes).

But when it comes to placing your hope in a juggernaut of a basketball team that has been rolling everything in their way since the middle of January only to have one of their stars get his arm ripped off…who do we blame then?

This year’s Cavaliers team is almost certainly the solidest foundation that hope has been built on in this town in a long time. While they didn’t win as many games in the regular season as they did back in 2009 and 2010, this team was certainly built to do bigger and better things in the Playoffs. Cleveland fans had every reason in the world to believe that this team would win a championship. It wasn’t delusional at all.

And then that long haired dope on Boston had to “accidently” get his arm “tangled up” with Kevin Love while going for a lose ball and now the Cavs are without an integral cog of thier offensive attack and maybe more importantly their rotation for the rest of this postseason. And that’s the problem as always I think for Cleveland sports fans. We hope without ever considering that something could go wrong. (It’s not like it’s ever gone wrong before, right?)

The saying is “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” But we never seem to do that, though, do we?

And that goes back to the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of this piece. Hope, in reality, is just a dream. It isn’t a reality at all. And maybe that does make hope “the greatest evil of all” because it only furthers and deepens our pain when hope proves unfounded. Maybe we should accept that nothing good is ever going to work out for Cleveland sports. Maybe, as Bill Simmons likes to joke, God really does hate Cleveland. Maybe we should give up hope altogether.

This brings me back to Johnny Manziel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I don’t think there’s a player in Cleveland sports outside of LeBron James who has stirred more hope in me than Johnny Manziel. I watched almost every game of Manziel’s college career. The kid was electric on the field, and passionate on the sidelines. He played with a flare and enthusiasm that I hadn’t ever seen in a football player, particularly a QB. He was magic. He was the antithesis of everything that I had seen from the Browns since they came back in 1999. I wanted that fire on the Browns more than anything.

And then it happened. It was like a wonderful dream. I’ll never forget the buzz of that night from the disappointment of trading down and then taking a defensive back, only to trading back up to grab the Texas A&M quarterback. It was amazing and exhilerating. And in a world where LeBron was still in Miami and the Cavs were still in the lottery this was better than anything I could imagine.

Then it all cratered. And as seemingly everyone was jumping off the bandwagon in droves I was hanging in there…still hoping…still believing.

I refuse to give up on the belief that the amazing things that Johnny Football did in the vaunted SEC can be done in the NFL. I refuse to accept that a game and a half is enough to know what we have in a player. I refuse to accept that a 22-year-old kid can’t grow up. I refuse to accept that I got my hopes up for nothing.

And you know why? Because I don’t know if I can handle putting my hope in another college phenom quarterback to be the great savior of the Cleveland Browns. I don’t know if I can handle another dream being crushed. I don’t know if I can kling to another visage of hope. Because no matter how much I enoyed watching Marcus Mariota in college and no matter how much intellectually I understant what makes him a viable QB, he’ll never give me the hope that Manziel did.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes

Until the day that Johnny Manziel is either cut from the Browns or he raises the Lombardi Trophy wearing “CLEVELAND” in big, bold, gaudy lettering accross his chest, I will continue to hold onto this dream. I will continue to hope.

I choose to believe that Johnny Football can reclaim that magic in Cleveland.

I choose to believe that despite losing Kevin Love, having LeBron and Kyrie is still good enough to win a title.

I choose to believe that it is still early in the season for the Tribe…for just a little while longer.

I choose to believe that Cleveland will win a championship, and that that day isn’t far away.

You can mock me all you want. Call me delusional. Call me a dreamer.

It’s not gonna bother me at all. Without hopes and dreams we’ll never fly.

We don’t call it Believeland for nothing.

A Mostly Factual Retrospective on the Reign of Joe Banner with the Cleveland Browns

I never really held a high opinion of Joe Banner as far as an NFL decision maker is concerned. Anyone who read me throughout the football season will understand that. To me he was always someone who was more bluster and posturing than substance. He promised a lot and delivered basically nothing. Ultimately he wasn’t qualified to hold the position that he maintained with the Browns as I wrote in more detail a few weeks ago upon the canning of Banner and Mike Lombardi.

The Browns front office structure had not been “normal” under Banner, who held way more power and personnel control than a typical CEO who doesn’t have a football background would and should have. However, according to CBSSports’ Pat Kirwan, things were way more unnatural than any of us could have possibly imagined. According to Kirwan’s sources the new Browns coordinators were supposed to report directly to Banner—not head coach Mike Pettine. This is about as far from “normal” as you can get. If this is what Banner thinks makes for a successful process in running an NFL team then it’s not surprising why things didn’t work for his first head coaching hire Rob Chudzinski. Calling Banner “a bit of a control freak” seems pretty light given what we know now.

This recent news has reignited an idea in my mind that it would be fun to do a little retrospective on Joe Banner’s tenure in Cleveland—not solely based on actual facts alone but also including plenty of observation, conjecture, and general make-belief. So what follows is what I think happened during Banner’s reign in Berea, parts and all of which may or may not be completely true and/or completely made up…but I feel like I can’t be too far off.

October 17, 2012: Banner hired as CEO

After spending 18 years working in the front office with his childhood friend and owner of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, Banner left Philadelphia in search of a bigger role with an NFL team, something he readily admitted during his introductory press conference. Banner found that sucker willing partner in the new owner of the Browns Jimmy Haslam.

Haslam and Banner were not an arranged marriage necessarily so much as they were a couple that was forced together by their mutual friends and then got together because everyone around them said they should. Haslam claims to have done his due diligence prior to hiring Banner and that he received nothing but glowing remarks. It is probable that those glowing remarks came for two reasons: 1) Banner’s close friends in the business wanted to see him land a good gig and would obviously praise him; and 2) other NFL owners (particularly those within the AFC North) upon hearing that Haslam was considering a glorified accountant who used to sell suits as his football guy obviously responded “You can’t find a better man for the job!”

So that’s how Haslam became hoodwinked into bringing Banner to Cleveland and had him put in charge of all football decisions.

Banner’s introductory press conference held some foreshadowing of what would lie ahead for his reign in Berea…

On the topic of the GM and coaching staff (which were already in place with Heckert and Shurmur at the time, it being in the middle of the season), Banner said, “It really is just about really making sure you’ve got the best people working for you and you’ve got a common vision, everybody pulling in the same direction so that’s going to be our focus.” Little did we know at the time that that “common vision” was only viewed clearly through the lenses of Banner’s spectacles.

“I know these fans have been through a lot of hopeful starts” he said, “and I don’t want to sit up here and be the next promiser in their eyes.” Smart idea. These fans have been given enough vain assurances over the years.

But yet he went on… “We’re going to lay the foundation for things that are going to get put in place, done right and then last a long time.”—Whoops!

And then came the gold nugget paragraph that I and other Browns fans and bloggers will hold over Banner’s head till the end of time…

“If you ask me to really put a time frame on how quickly I think we’re going to win how many games. I really can’t do that. There are too many unknowns. I don’t think it should take very long before you’re all sitting here, and the fans watching the team are sitting there going, ‘You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.’ I think you’ll start to feel that reasonably quickly. I think you’ll feel like there’s a plan, this is well run, these guys know what they’re doing, their priorities are exactly what they said they were. Obviously, this season we’re observers. I don’t think it’ll take long before you start to feel like I’m starting to see some smart things happen, some decisions that make me feel like this team is on the right track and I think we’re going to end up in a good place.”

Banner was right in one sense…it didn’t take long for us as fans, sitting here, watching the team, to come to a conclusion about how smart Banner is. Unfortunately for Joe there isn’t a Browns fan in the world who ever uttered the words “You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.”

But we’re only getting started at this point.

December 31, 2012: Browns fire Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert

In full defense of Banner, Shurmur needed to be fired. He was in way over his head as a head coach. He got promoted one spot too high. That was totally legit.

Firing Heckert so he could replace him with his puppet Mike Lombardi, on the other hand??? Ehhhhhhh.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with Lombardi, though, (and we’ll get to that, don’t worry) the Browns decided that they would be hiring a head coach first before the new GM/player personnel guy. Banner said, “We think that the head coach is going to play even a bigger role in where we go from here. That will create a better situation for us to identify what role the GM, potentially director of player personnel, whichever it ends up being, exactly what qualities do we need in that person so when we fit everybody together we’ve got real strength in every area that we think we need to be strong in.”

And by “fit everybody together” he of course meant “make sure we have people who I can control.” But we didn’t know this just yet.

Banner would go on throughout the press conference to talk about why they would be hiring the coach first and how that would open them up to more possibilities should they hire a coach who expects/deserves/needs more control over the roster. This was all well and good and it certainly seemed to everyone at the time that they had their eyes set on a select group of candidates.

And we were right…mostly.

January 4, 2013: Dinner with Chip Kelly

All props in the world to Banner for identifying a top-notch head coaching candidate. Chip Kelly was everything the Browns could have hoped for in a head coach. They set their sights high.

Banner, in the first sign of his undying bravado, believed that he could land the big Duck. How could he possibly lose? The Browns had a great dinner with Kelly that led to multiple reports that Friday evening that Kelly would indeed be the next head coach of Cleveland Browns.

Banner was the man! The #InBannerWeTrust hashtag was flying around Browns Twitter! They even talked about it as a virtually sure thing on the Cleveland Browns Daily radio show—a show run by the Browns! Banner knew he had him! They had it all locked up! Fly in the lawyers and we’ll sign him at dinner on Saturday! HERE WE GO BROWNIES HERE WE GO WOOF WOOFF!!!

And then Kelly got up from dinner and let Banner know that he still wanted to meet with the Bills and Eagles. The next day Kelly met with the Eagles for a lunch that never ended. After nine hours with the Eagles the Browns were no longer in consideration for Kelly.

Kelly (probably) had his reservations about the front office structure of the Browns. It isn’t natural for a guy with such a wealth of football knowledge, power, and control like Kelly had at Oregon to just give that up to a guy whose claim to fame in the football world is that he’s really good with the salary cap. With those reservations already in his mind going into Saturday’s lunch, he had them confirmed when he sat down with the Eagles (Banner’s ex) who clued Kelly in on what a disaster working for a team controlled by Banner would be like. Kelly ultimately made the right choice and went to Philadelphia where he got them into the playoffs in his first season doing amazing things on offense and maximizing the talents of what was a relatively marginal team.

Banner was left to wonder what happened, and how anyone could possibly resist his charms.

January 6, 2013: Browns “reboot” the coaching search

Nothing says “we had no idea that our top choice would possibly say ‘no’ to us” quite like “rebooting” your coaching search.

Banner’s arrogance hadn’t allowed for the possibility that the guy they targeted could possibly go elsewhere. No one is smarter than Joe Banner after all!

But the Browns were left without a real Plan B and the wheels were already in motion with other coaching vacancies being filled around the league and Banner and his Browns left behind trying to catch up on the fly.

January 11, 2013: Browns wind up with hire Rob Chudzinski

After missing out on their top choice and failing to recognize the potential in other coaching candidates (hello Mike McCoy and Bruce Ariens!) the Browns landed on local boy Rob Chudzinski after Banner and Haslam shared a moment across the table at dinner with the former Browns and Panthers offensive coordinator.

Banner and Haslam praised themselves for their thoroughness in the coaching search and reiterated multiple times during Chud’s introductory press conference that they had found the right guy to be their coach for a long time. They spoke about Chud as one of the smartest, young, innovative minds in football. They affirmed his strong leadership. They spoke about continuity and how good franchises don’t turn over their coaches every couple years.

Banner said of his first coaching hire “We’ve come up with a candidate we feel very, very confident in.”

All is well in Bannerworld J

January 18, 2013: Browns hire Mike Lombardi as lead puppet Vice President of Player Personnel

Lombardi had been long rumored to be joining Banner in Cleveland since even before the latter was even announced as CEO of the Browns. Banner lied about denied any prior contact or even having seriously considered Lombardi for the job until after they had fired Heckert.

Lombardi would go on to be “promoted” to general manager to allow Ray Farmer to join the team under the title of Assistant GM. But none of this really mattered for squat. This press conference would be, little did we know at the time, the last time we’d really see Mike Lombardi in any formal matter in his role as Browns GM. This is, of course, not normal. And as time would progress the true totalitarian reign of Joe Banner would become more and more prevalent.

One really good Banner arrogant bluster nugget did come from the Lombardi presser though. Amidst skepticism about the moves that he had made—hiring Chud first (a coach without great credentials) and then Lombardi (a GM with a poor track record of picking good NFL players)—Banner was questioned if winning would validate those decisions. He responded “It started with winning being the only thing that mattered anyway. I don’t want to put a ‘this year’ on it, because as we’ve said we want to build this the right way so it’s sustainable [emphasis mine]. The only reason any of us are doing this is for the thrill of victory. There needs to be no more motivation, or any criticism or skepticism doesn’t change the drive to do that as quickly as we can.”

Ah, yes…you just couldn’t help yourself could you, Joe? We’ll see in time just how sustainable those decisions will be.

April 25, 2013: Browns throw Chuck Klosterman out of the War Room on Draft Day

Chuck Klosterman, a widely respected writer for Grantland, was promised access to the Browns War Room during the Draft where he would write an in-depth piece about the inner workings of an NFL franchise as the draft unfolded and all that stuff. Only problem for Klosterman was that when he arrived at Berea he wasn’t actually allowed access to much of anything at all.

Instead what Klosterman chronicled was an organization fraught with paranoia. Afraid of anyone spying on them they even erased their white board when the IT guy came in to fix the cable. Klosterman referred to them as being “crazy on purpose.” He would write that “I’ve never witnessed this level of institutional paranoia within a universe so devoid of actual secrets. I don’t even know what they don’t want me to know.”

Klosterman did note in the piece that Banner without a doubt was the one running the draft. Banner is a man who believes that his wisdom is so far beyond other humans. To allow lesser beings to have access to the inner workings of his brilliant mind would compromise his whole operation.

So good. But we’re just getting started, really.

September 18, 2013: Browns trade “star” running back and face of the franchise Trent Richardson

Incidentally the best thing that Joe Banner did in his brief time in Cleveland!

Banner denied that trading their marquee player meant that they were giving up on the season but the message had been sent to everyone: This team needs a franchise QB and the best way to do that is to bottom out and pick one at the top of the draft.

Everyone understood this point. Richardson had been lackluster (to put it kindly) as a player with the Browns so getting back first round pick was golden. But he was the face of the franchise, a guy most fans (not me) were really behind. There were more No. 33 jerseys in the stadium than anyone. This one was a shot to the fans. But the carrot at the end was the franchise QB. This season was a wash. Everyone believed this…including the coaching staff.

And then the Browns went on an improbable three-game winning streak!

November 13, 2013: Banner praises head coach Rob Chudzinski

During the bye-week, with the Browns sitting at 4-5, Banner couldn’t help praising himself by way of praising the guy he picked to be the Browns new head coach. “I’d be hard-pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he’s doing,” Banner said. “All of the measurables that you’d look to come up with, if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment, I just think he’s doing an outstanding job.”

Banner of course has no problem gushing about how great of a coach Chud is when things are going well. This is vindication! This is proof that Joe Banner is smarter than everyone! Screw Chip Kelly! We’ve got Rob Chudzinski!

Banner couldn’t help his bravado at this point. He spilled the beans about how they viewed the team after Week 2 when they traded Richardson. “I did that trade thinking that our team and their team were in totally different places and this would be a trade that legitimately would work well for both teams.” He legitimately thought the Browns sucked and were trading away their best player!!!

Even when Joe Banner is wrong everything turns out right! He can’t be stopped! He’s the smartest man in football! Go Browns!

December 30, 2013: Browns fire Rob Chudzinski

Wait what!?!?!?

In a move that blindsided fans, media, players, and coaches, Banner fired Chudzinski after only one season…despite singing his praises only a month and a half previously.

The players and coaching staff—along with most of the fans and media—understood that this season was about getting ready for the next one. So it wasn’t surprising to see the team fall apart towards the end, especially considering the revolving door of mediocre to bad QBs all season long. Yet Chud was fired supposedly because Banner and Haslam did not see enough progress in the second half of the season.

“At whatever level you may assess the team or the talent,” Banner blusters, “as you go through a season you see teams get better. Sometimes they are not very good teams that get better, sometimes they’re the best teams in the league. It was concerning to us that that wasn’t happening. It left us feeling the best thing to do was to make a change.”

More Banner bluster…

“I think it’s just what we said and if you look around, you’ll find similar situations to what you’re describing and teams that improved as the year went on. I don’t want to walk through all of the teams around the league, but I think that the improvement that should be happening during the season, regardless of the talent level that you’re at, is something that you have to be able to see. It’s something that’s happening on many of the rosters.”

I’m curious how many “similar situations” there were around the NFL that were forced to start eight combined QBs and RBs in one season? Let alone with a first year head coach.

And that’s of course not to mention that they received almost no help from the 2013 Draft class because the Browns (fairly, I might add) traded multiple picks for future selections…again, showing everyone they were focused on 2014 more than 2013.

Banner flatly denied that there was any disagreements with the coaching staff about personnel: “I want to be unequivocal, there was no such thing.” But yeeeeeeeet…we know otherwise. Banner wanted the coach to cut Greg Little late in the season to send a message and Chud refused, that method of fear mongering not being genuine with his coaching style. The Almighty obviously didn’t take too well to his totalitarian authority being challenged like that.

Banner would of course take this public opportunity to puff up himself… “I think the fact that this didn’t go well doesn’t change the track record we both have in attracting good people [emphasis mine], recognizing good people and having continuity once we’ve done that.”—We’ll see about this in a bit.

“I just want to add” Banner would say, inadvertently sealing his fate, “that as unpopular or undesirable for us to be sitting here right now and acknowledging that we didn’t get it right, I think the fact that we are making this change makes a statement that we’re not going to accept not being really successful. Whether you agree with the decision or not, that’s an important message for our fans to hear. It may be one of the things that we feel will make a difference as we go forward. We are going to demand of everybody, especially and starting with ourselves [again, emphasis mine], that we be successful. If we’re not, we’re going to do what we need to do to get there.”—In retrospect, this is an eternally condemning statement given how things played out. Haslam would ultimately hold Banner to that promise. But we’re not there yet…

“I really think the most important thing going forward is,” as Banner revs up his personal hype machine again, “are we going to be able to identify and attract the right coaching candidates…I think we also have in myself somebody who has a 14-year history with the same coach and a great amount of success that should give somebody comfort.”

Banner would go on to address the notion that some coaches wouldn’t want to come to Cleveland because of the organizational structure with Banner holding so much power (paraphrasing…kinda): “I think we’re open to whatever structure we need to have to get the right person.”—Sure you are…we’ll see in a bit.

At the meeting where Banner and Haslam announced to the assistant coaches of the change, Norv Turner spoke up and forcefully challenged the head men. He wanted to know why they’d been sold a long-term building project only to have it yanked out from under them after only one year with a purposefully undermanned roster. Turner had tolerated that lack of talent on the roster because they had been promised the team was being built with 2014 in mind. Only now Turner and the others won’t be around to finish what they started.

The reality of the situation is (probably) that Banner, despite being spurned by his first big coaching target in Kelly, believed he could do better than Rob Chudzinski. The confidence and bluster that Banner displayed after having to can his first hire after only one season told only one story: Joe Banner still believed in Joe Banner.

Banner believed that they would be able to land a big target and they set their sights high once again. The list of top candidates included Bill O’Brien, Josh McDaniels, Gus Malzahn, James Franklin, Adam Gase, and Dan Quinn. That’s an impressive list. Again, props to Banner on being able to identify some real quality talent and set his sights high.

Only problem is that none of them saw the perceived “comfort” that Banner believed working with him would bring. Several of the coaches preferred the stability of being an assistant coach for a good team over taking over a train wreck under a seemingly unstable front office structure that only gave the last guy one year with an undermanned roster. Many of the candidates expressed their unease with taking the position in their interviews. Instead of Banner trying to evaluate for himself which coach he deemed worthy of being his next hire, the Browns CEO was forced to do a sell job and try and convince a qualified candidate that being head coach of the Browns was in fact a good and stable job. But the man who made his mark selling suits was unable to sell himself as the leader of a team because smart football men saw through the bravado and all that was left was a weak man who was losing power by the day and the trust of his boss with every failing interview.

Sometime in the month of January, 2014: Browns attempt to trade for Jim Harbaugh

Determined to not fail on his pursuit of a great coach, Banner took the biggest swing yet by trying to trade for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. The details are sketchy as to why exactly Harbaugh would want to leave a team that has gone to three straight NFC Championship Games including one Super Bowl. Bill Barnwell wrote a really good piece for Grantland breaking everything down. But none of that really matters to us.

All that matters is that Banner was super desperate to land a big fish and was even willing to mortgage the future by giving up draft picks if it meant not coming up empty on a big promise again. No matter how it all went down, Banner and the Browns came up empty.

But, WOW, was this a fun and entertaining story!!! Who could have seen that coming??? You keep doing you, Joe.

Sometime in the month of January, 2013: Browns interview Gary Anderson…seriously

This is the depths that Banner sunk in his search for a coach…Gary. Anderson.

Sometime in the month of January, 2014: Banner inserts himself as a head coaching candidate

Unable to find anyone to take the job it finally dawns on Banner “I’m smarter than all of these people anyways! I’ve been in football for almost 20 years now! How hard can coaching be anyways? Why should I bother with any of these phonies who wouldn’t know a great opportunity if it put a suit on them when I can do a better job myself? I’ll just be the next head coach of the Browns!”

When Banner brought the idea to Haslam and Lombardi they both laughed uproariously thinking it was just Joe being his silly, whimsical self again, not realizing that he was totally serious. When Banner realized they thought he was joking and wouldn’t take his idea seriously he started to awkwardly laugh himself and “admitted” that it was just a joke.

[Ok, this part may or may not be completely fabricated. But at this point, would you really be surprised if it was true?]

January 23, 2014: Browns finally wrangle someone into taking the job hire Mike Pettine

Hey, nothing says “attracting good people,” “strong leader,” and “moving in the right direction” quite like “former defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills Mike Pettine.”

Ultimately we have no idea if Pettine will be a good coach or not. But the fact is that he wasn’t on Banner’s radar until all the other guys said “No thanks.” Otherwise he wouldn’t have waited two-plus weeks to interview such a hot commodity.

It’s the Tom Brady corollary: Everyone praises the Patriots for getting Brady with 199th pick in the draft. But the reality is that if they thought he’d be anywhere close to that good they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to draft him. It was more luck than anything on their part. Same holds true for Pettine. Sure, he could wind up being the greatest coach of all time. But if he is it will be luck on Banner’s part. If they really believed he’d be great they would have interviewed him right away instead of waiting two and a half weeks while everyone else filled out their coaching vacancies. Anyone could have gotten Pettine just like anyone could have taken Brady. One team lucked into one of the greatest QBs of all time. We’ll see how things work out for the other.

Banner smartly steered clear of taking any questions at Pettine’s opening presser but he did take some time to make himself look smart and funny in addressing the infamous “Three Stooges” label that the Browns front office had gotten: “I don’t know if you had a chance to meet Mike, but since Mike Lombardi and I are Moe and Larry, we went and set out to find Curly and we succeeded. That’s why it took so long; there aren’t a lot of Curlys running around the country.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What a crack up this guy is!!!

But he can’t stop there… “I know we were exhaustive to the point that we caused people to question and wonder, but we think that was the right way to do it. [And I add parenthetically…LOL] It’s a very, very important decision to make sure we met as many people as we possibly could” especially when you keep striking out on every guy you talk to.

Banner said of Pettine’s qualities that “we’re very attracted by his intelligence, his aggressiveness, his toughness and the type of discipline I think he’s going to bring to the team” and the fact that he would actually, you know, take the job. “We think he’s an outstanding fit” because he has to fit, seeing as how there were literally no other options.

Eventually after that: Banner has the Browns coordinators report directly to him instead of Pettine…you know, like normal teams do.

Banner is in full-on control freak mode right now. This is a completely insane plan for any type of business, let alone a football team.

So much ego.

So much belief in himself in spite of all the surrounding evidence that disproves his abilities to run the football side of a football organization.

I mean, really??? Why not just make yourself the coach at that point?

This last gasp of insane power mongering of course led to this…

February 11, 2014: Browns fire Joe Banner

Haslam had finally had enough. It didn’t even take two full years of working with Banner before Haslam realized the error of hiring a coat salesman to run his football team.

Furthermore, Banner’s brash and braggadocios personality had finally worn thin. Haslam himself was tired of all the unfulfilled promises. He had seen first-hand the disdain with which competent head coach candidates treated Banner for his lack of football acumen. Haslam finally realized that the team could not be successful as long as Banner was the guy calling all the shots.

The embarrassment that Banner had brought to the organization had finally reached a tipping point. A change was necessary and well overdue.

Haslam of course said some nice things about Banner: “Joe and I, after a lot of conversation, mutually agreed that it was best for the organization if we streamlined things, where accountability and reporting lines were much clearer.”

But even that statement tells us so much about what went on during the dictatorial reign of Banner. The structure was far too cluttered with the paranoid Banner needing to have a hand in every level of the organization. He had essentially everyone reporting directly to him. Again… “control freak” just doesn’t do it justice. It’s no wonder that the Browns didn’t win last year.

Banner did some nice things running the Browns from a business standpoint, bringing in Alec Scheiner. They really are doing good things with the game experience and facility improvements and making things better for the fan experience (aside from the whole “winning football games” thing obviously).

But in the end Banner, much like Pat Shurmur, got promoted one spot too high. He was never qualified to make real football decisions. But his ego and need for control had grown to the point where he no longer lived in reality. I really believe that in his mind Joe Banner believed that he was smarter than everyone else and that he could do the job of running a team better than anyone. Banner is Icarus, who was given a great privilege but became too proud and arrogant with the gift he was given. He flew too high and it became his undoing.

The crazy thing is that if Banner had allowed for a normal organizational structure right from the beginning things could have worked out differently. If he had allowed those in position to just do their jobs without needing to meddle with everything we may have seen a different outcome. We may be sitting here saying to each other, “You know what? These guys know what they’re doing. We’re on the right track. We can start to enjoy this. We’re going to end up in a really good place.”

But that didn’t happen. And instead I sit here and say, “You know what? That guy had no idea what he was doing. He was so far off track. The last two years were absolutely unbearable. We’re actually in a worse place now than when he got here.”

Browns and Haslam Fire Banner and Lombardi — A Month Too Late

Joe Banner’s time running the Cleveland Browns will be remember by arrogant posturing, empty promises, dysfunction, and the typical losing that is associated with all these front offices. When he took over the job of head honcho of the Browns he promised that things would be different, that we would see them making smart decisions very quickly, and that we would see winning football. Sitting here today it appears that the smartest thing that’s happened since Banner took office is Jimmy Haslam’s decision to fire the underqualified blowhard.

Lest that be mistaken for an unnecessary pot-shot (which it kinda was I guess), let’s take a look back at Mr. Banner’s time in Cleveland…

He came to the Browns after 18 years working with the Philadelphia Eagles (hired by his good friend who just so happened to own the team[1]) where he held titles such as senior vice president, senior vice president of administration, executive vice president, and strategic advisor to the owner. Banner has often been described as a “glorified accountant” and there is no record of him having any say in personnel matters from an evaluating talent standpoint outside of the structuring of contracts. It’s unclear whether his time spent running clothing stores in Boston or non-profit organizations in Philadelphia involved any football personnel evaluation.

Upon coming to the Browns and being named CEO, Banner declared that he would have final say over the 53 man roster and that he would be involved in all personnel decisions and that ultimately everything would run through him.

He was the lead man in every press conference from that point on. General Manager Mike Lombardi was never present to discuss any personnel moves or coaching hires. The perception that Banner presented was always that he was the man in charge and responsible for all decisions that were made.

He fired Pat Shurmur after the 2012 season and immediately declared that they would bring in a strong credible leader. After a long meeting with Chip Kelly where it was announced they were close to a deal things fell apart and the Browns lost their man. They ended up with Rob Chudzinski and Banner proudly boasted that they had hired a bright young mind and that they had the best man for the job.

He re-iterated his positive feelings for Chud during the bye week.

Then he fired him after just one season citing a lack of improvement in the team. Never at any point did Banner take any responsibility for missing on his first big hire as the head of a football organization. All the blame for the Browns 4-12 season was hung on Chud, not on the fact that Banner and company had failed to significantly improve a roster that went 5-12 the season prior. Again, they made bold, big promises, claiming to bring in a strong winner.

The Browns praised their open coaching position as a very attractive one because of the wealth of talent on the team including six Pro Bowlers…never mind that Banner had nothing to do with actually bringing any of those players to Cleveland.

After a month of searching that saw a slew of media reports that had all the top candidates turning down the Browns head coaching job they finally settled on the unheralded defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Mike Pettine. Banner eschewed from taking questions about their hiring process but didn’t miss a chance to pat himself on the back and again claimed to have found the right man to lead the Browns. It has yet to be seen whether Pettine is a good hire, but he’s decidedly underwhelming in the least given the bluster that Banner spewed at the beginning to of the process.

Just over two weeks later…Banner is out. Silent. Without bluster. Without retort. Without actually winning anything. Without doing anything smart.

There are some who, for reasons unclear to me, defended Banner’s handling of the team to the bitter end. But when I look at that timeline all I see is a guy that was underqualified for the position he was given who only went on to make dozens of promises that went unfulfilled.

I’m certainly reading into the situation but the lack of impressive coaching hires in two shots seems to be a reflection on Banner and the way that he ran the organization. All the reports and perceptions coming out of Berea were that everything ran through Banner, that he ruled that organization as a dictator, unwilling to yield any power to those below him. That’s why you never saw the GM at any press conferences. That’s why Banner was always present, even when the owner was not. And that’s why so many highly qualified coaching candidates, after getting a chance to sit down with the Browns top men, decided the situation wasn’t worth taking—in spite of how “appealing” it may seem on the surface. Banner wasn’t qualified to wield such power but did so anyways…to disastrous results.

I don’t know necessarily that the Browns are in worse shape today than they were when Banner took over, but it’s pretty tough to make the case that they’re in a better spot because of his reign.

At some point enough was enough and Haslam had to pull the plug. If you’re going to defend the firing of Chud on the basis of a lack of improvement and results then you have to defend the firing of Banner and Lombardi for those same reasons.

Will Burge, probably the best guy at getting scoops regarding the Browns, shed some light on the situation…

This comes as no surprise and falls right in line with what has been my general perception of the situation the whole time. If you don’t believe me, read what I said about them back when they fired Chud and then when they hired Pettine.

Tom Reed also weighed in with some of his sources…

So there you have it. It’s not just my perception. It likely runs much deeper than we can probably even imagine.

The bottom line with Banner is that he was in a position that he wasn’t really qualified for in the first place and on top of that he was so abrasive and unyielding in it that it limited the pool of potential coaches who would want the job. That’s how you end up with Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine as your head coaches.

I won’t spend too much time on Mike Lombardi. We don’t really even know what he did here so it’s tough to say what impact him leaving will have. What we do know is that his track record as a personnel guy prior to coming back to the Browns wasn’t very impressive. He then spent five years working in the media where apparently no team cared to bring him on as a personnel guy. Then in his one year with the Browns he failed to really bring in anyone who would have a major impact. Sure, Paul Kruger, Mingo, and Brian Hoyer are nice enough players, but they weren’t difference-makers by any means. Lombardi and the Browns basically punted on the last draft in favor of 2013 which is all well and good. But it hurt the team in the short-term, which is what they used to evaluate Chudzinski’s coaching abilities, which led to his firing, which led to the hiring of Pettine. So are we really going to cry about losing Mike Lombardi? I sure hope not. Ultimately Lombardi’s presence on the team was tied directly to Banner. It was believed when Banner was hired that Lombardi was coming with him, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they’re both leaving together.

What the Browns are left with is a more natural front office structure where Alec Scheiner, as team president, handles the business side of the organization, Ray Farmer, as GM, handles the player personnel decisions, and Mike Pettine, as head coach, coaches and develops the players, with all three of them reporting directly to Jimmy Haslam.

I have no idea if Farmer will be a good general manager. He certainly projected well at his opening press conference (who doesn’t though?), was a leading candidate for the vacant Dolphins GM position before he withdrew himself from consideration, and he’s highly thought of around the league…

But we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. Priority number one for Farmer though is getting a QB. If he can get that right we’ll build him a statue.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t criticize Jimmy Haslam himself in all of this. Ultimately everything falls on the owner. Haslam has rightfully acknowledged and accepted that fact. But he has also berated the media for playing up the idea that the Browns are “dysfunctional.” Unfortunately for Mr. Haslam, it’s tough to describe the Browns as anything but “dysfunctional” in the time that he’s owned the team. Those stories basically write themselves given the events that have taken place.

It is believed that the NFL essentially stuck Haslam with Banner but he was nevertheless responsible for him and praised him at every chance, even while announcing his dismissal. You are always responsible for the people that you put in place below you. That’s why the failings of Chud needed to fall on Banner whether he liked it or not. And that’s why Banner’s failures need to reflect back onto Haslam.

And it’s not exactly natural to a fire your CEO and GM after you and them have just spent a month finding a coach. I would much have preferred it if Haslam had just cut bait with Banner when they decided to fire Chud. That may have saved us and Jimmy the headache of that month-long search and could have resulted in a better hire. We’ll never know of course and there’s always the chance that they lucked into a good coach with Pettine. But hey! Better late than never I guess. I was never impressed with Banner and always believed him to be in over his head. So I’m glad that he’s gone.

Now it’s Haslam’s job, as he says, “to get this thing right.” I believe that today was a step in the right direction. I only wish he would have started stepping sooner.


[1] You have wonder if Banner and Lurie hadn’t been good friends growing up if Banner would have ever gotten a foot in the door with an NFL franchise. It’s clear that he did a pretty good job running the business of the organization in Philadelphia and even in Cleveland. It’s the player personnel side that’s always been the question.

The Facts are the Facts: Haslam and Banner Settled with Hire of Pettine as Browns Head Coach

There’s a chance that Mike Pettine could be just the right guy to lead the Cleveland Browns back to the winning ways that they enjoyed prior to 1999. He said all the right things in his opening press conference, preaching toughness, talking about needing to “bloody your nose,” and sharing his personal mantra “Don’t look for a better job, do a better job.” He addressed the notion that he wasn’t the front office’s first choice well and expressed his desire to be a success at the job. He’s very confident and talked multiple times about “betting on myself.” At the end of the day I came away liking Mike Pettine and feeling fine with him as the new football coach of my favorite NFL team.

However, I’ve had this same feeling before. I’ve watched enough of these introductory press conferences to know that the new coach always says the right thing and that unless you’re bringing in a high school coach with a career losing record it’s not too hard to spin anyone’s resume into sounding pretty good. They always win the press conference, but they have yet to actually win any football games.

So you’ll excuse me if I don’t champion Mike Pettine as a great hire or express my undying belief that he’ll be worlds better than Rob Chudzinski. I don’t want to come anywhere close to giving Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner anything that could be mistaken for “credit” with how they’ve run the football operations of the Browns to this point. The fact is that since they’ve come to take over the team they’ve done nothing but talk about how smart they are and how we’d notice positive changes soon upon their arrival. They’ve only been on the job for two years and they’re already on their second head coach (that they’ve hired) and still don’t have a QB. And whether or not anyone wants to admit it, Mike Pettine isn’t a whole lot different than Rob Chudzinski. Both are un-proven coordinators, they’re just coming from different sides of the ball.

The problem with this team is that the current men at the top of the organization believe that they’re the smartest men in any room that they walk into. But the longer that Haslam and Banner have been around the more they start to resemble the emperor without clothes. They prance about Berea as if everything is grand and they’re in control and they’ll get this thing right, completely unaware that to everyone watching they look like complete and utter fools who don’t realize they aren’t wearing any pants.

I get that in order to rise to the place where you’re running an NFL team you have to have had a certain level of professional success which is typically tied to a significant level of personal pride and self-confidence. But Banner, in particular, carries this almost smug attitude to where he’s offended that anyone would doubt his abilities. I really believe that he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else running NLF teams. I believe that when they (rightfully) chose to relieve Pat Shurmur of his coaching duties after the 2012 season that they believed they had the gravitas to bring in a truly great coach. They smartly set their sights on Chip Kelly and for a minute it seemed like they were going to land the hottest name in coaching. We’ll never know why discussions finally broke down and why a deal could never be reached. But there was something that happened in that meeting that turned Kelly off about the Browns and it’s not much of a stretch—judging by the events that have transpired since—to believe it had something to do with Joe Banner and his massive ego and need for control. Banner probably believed that he would be able to get Kelly because he’s Joe Banner and Joe Banner doesn’t fail. When they unexpectedly got turned down they were forced to go back home to Cleveland with their tail between their legs and reportedly had to “reboot” their coaching search. It was as if they didn’t think there was even a possibility that Kelly would turn them down and hadn’t even made contingency plans for such an occurrence.

Since failing to land Kelly (who obviously went on to have a very successful first season coaching the Eagles) Banner and Haslam consistently got the “thanks but no thanks” response for all the top coaching candidates including the likes of Nick Saban. Last year they landed they landed on Chudzinski whom they championed as being “the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format that we want to have here in Cleveland.” Haslam also said of Chud that he is “tremendously innovative” and “one of the brightest, if not the brightest, young mind in the business.” Before a year had gone by they were already admitting failure with that hire and their assessment of Chud’s ability to lead a team. Not that they would actually come anywhere close to accepting any blame for Chud’s failure. Haslam said on December 30th of the next coach that they would bring in “a strong winner who knows how to win football games.” Again the bravado of the Browns leaders came out in their belief that they were so smart and such great leaders that they would be able to bring in the best potential candidate. They reportedly had interest in all the hot young coordinators of playoff teams like Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase, and Dan Quinn[1]—all of whom again told the Browns “thanks, but no thanks.” They reportedly keyed in on the top college candidates but were also spurned by Gus Malzahn, James Franklin, and Bill O’Brien. When they struck out on all those candidates they finally came around and interviewed Pettine—two and a half weeks after firing Chudzinski.

Blind followers of Banner and Haslam will contend that if the Browns had hired Pettine right away (which they could have done since the Bills obviously didn’t make the playoffs) they would have gotten killed for not seeking out other candidates. But it’s impossible to miss the fact that they could have at least started the interview process with Pettine earlier than they did. If he was high on their list of candidates that surely would have been the case. If he was as highly thought of back at the beginning of the process (like we’re being led to believe now by all these people coming out of the woodworks talking about how good a coach he is) then he would have been interviewed for one of the other half-dozen head coach openings. But the Browns were the only ones who thought Pettine was worthy of being interviewed for a head coach position and didn’t come around to that realization for over two weeks and after most of the other jobs had been filled. They didn’t interview Pettine until all the other top candidates had turned them down. At least Chud had interviewed for a couple head coaching positions before he got the Browns job, even if he didn’t get any the offseason he got the Browns job. The fact is that no one else thought that Mike Pettine was even worthy enough to receive an interview for a head coach position. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be a good coach. But it certainly doesn’t provide any optimism as far as I’m concerned.

Recent revelations appear that the Pettine still may not have been the guy that they really wanted. As recently as Wednesday there were still other candidates that the Browns wanted to interview—likely Quinn of Seattle. I made the following observations yesterday morning before the news of Pettine’s hire came through…

And it appears that I was probably right. Pettine disclosed in an interview with WGR 550 that he was close to pulling out of the Browns job because it was taking them too long to make a decision. That was likely conveyed to the Browns through Pettine’s agent. Knowing that Quinn wasn’t a sure thing to even take the job if offered they didn’t want to run the risk of losing out on the only other available guy who actually wanted the job in Pettine. So instead of waiting on Quinn or someone else they settled for Pettine. And I don’t think I’m out of place when I use “settle.” If they really liked Pettine so much they would have offered him the job after his second interview which took place on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl. Instead they left Mobile without offering Pettine the job. Their hand was forced by the news that Pettine was thinking of pulling out if he wasn’t offered the job soon.

But let’s never mind the facts of the situation or let that distract you from the glowing remarks that Haslam and Banner gave Pettine at his introductory press conference yesterday. Haslam said of Pettine that he “brings exactly what we think we need for our organization.” He also said of Pettine that “He’s smart, he’s innovative” and that “I think he will be a perfect fit for our team.” Any of that sound familiar? I could have switched around the quotes about Chud and Pettine and you wouldn’t have even known the difference.

It was a savvy move by Haslam and Banner to go with the single podium at the presser so that they wouldn’t be present to receive questions and everything could be about the new coach. It was also a gutless one that shows their lack of ability to take accountability for how they’ve failed the fans of this organization so far. If they were really men and great leaders they would have stood up there and taken questions as well. When introducing Chud they sat up there flanking the new coach all proud of the great work they had done and willing to take any questions because they believed they were smarter than everyone else for finding Chudzinski. This time they shrunk from the spotlight, a sure sign that they weren’t as brazenly sold on Pettine as they had been about their first hire. Maybe they’re finally learning some lessons that you can’t continue to over-promise and under-deliver. But Banner and Haslam’s choice to not stand up there and face the music was one of sheer cowardice. Their “purposefully…methodical” search has brought them a coach that doesn’t meat up to the standard they set as a “strong winner.” It doesn’t mean that he can’t be a winner, he just hasn’t proven anything yet. Calling Pettine a “strong winner” is nothing more than a hopeful projection.

Furthermore, in his letter to Browns fans on January 15th Haslam made the following declaration:

“We understood from the beginning that if we wanted to speak to all of the coaches on our list that we may need to wait until they have completed their participation in the playoffs. We are prepared to wait as long as necessary because this is a very important decision.”

By not waiting until after the Super Bowl to see if Quinn or Gase was willing to take the job Haslam failed on that promise to “wait as long as necessary.” Instead they panicked and, worried that they’d lose out on all their candidates, settled for Pettine.

Again, none of this means that Mike Pettine can’t be a good or even a great coach. The Browns may have lucked into a great hire. But for fans to sit back and buy all the BS that Haslam and Banner are spewing about how their process brought them the best possible coach is just sad and pathetic. We should demand more out of our leaders than what we’ve gotten from Haslam and Banner. They promised that it wouldn’t be “same old Browns” anymore and that we’d see winning very soon. Yet they’ve already fired their hand-picked head coach and somehow managed to win fewer games than the team had in the previous season.

I’ll support and root for Pettine, that’s not a problem. He’s the head coach of my football team I’m behind him 100%. Heck, I rooted for poor hopeless Pat Shurmur till the bitter end. I want to see my team win. I couldn’t care less who the coach is as long as they win.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll just sit ideally by and golf clap for Haslam and Banner and allow myself to be brain-washed into thinking they got the best possible guy for the job. They are the reason why no one else wanted what is supposedly “a very attractive position.” They are the ones who fired an undermanned coach who thought the team was playing for next year after only one season and didn’t consider the ramifications that decision would have on their pool of candidates. Why would Gus Malzahn want to leave a school where he’s coming off a trip to the National Championship game for a place where he’s going to be on a short leash? Why would Bill O’Brien pick Cleveland where a coach only gets one year to win over Houston that gave Gary Kubiak eight seasons? Why would Adam Gase want to leave Peyton Manning or Josh McDaniels leave Tom Brady for a place that hasn’t found a viable QB for 15 years? And in a business where most of these coaches are incredibly smart and have been working closely with players for decades, why would anyone want to come to a place where they won’t have final say on the roster they’ll be judged by in favor of a guy who has no background in football personnel? If you want to talk about qualifications for the head coach then maybe we should examine Banner’s qualifications as a personnel man.

I will keep rooting for the Browns. Nothing will change that. But I have no faith in the men currently running the football operations of the team and their general tone deafness to their own shortcomings is disturbing in the least. They continue to carry about their business wondering why the fans can’t see their brilliance at work when the reality of the situation is that they haven’t done anything yet that could be mistaken for “smart.”

So you’ll forgive me if I’m not throwing a party this morning because Haslam and Banner finally got around to settling on the only living human being who actually wanted the job a coach that 95% of fans had never heard of until a week ago. I’ll reserve my praise for if they ever actually start winning some games.


[1] For the life of me I have no idea why they wouldn’t take a look at Greg Roman who has had incredible success running an offense with a variety of skill-sets for his QB. It’s never a sure thing hiring coordinators but given how many people they interviewed it’s beyond me why wouldn’t at least sit Roman down for a chat.

Top 13 “Happenings” in Cleveland Sports in 2013

So 2013 wasn’t the year. We could sit here and bemoan the fact that we’re flipping the calendar again without a Cleveland sports championship, but what fun is that? Instead, we thought it would be fun to look back at all the good times we had this past year. These aren’t necessarily “moments” per se…more like “happenings” I guess. They stem the tide from individual moments, to developing stories, to things that blew up Twitter. I hope you enjoy it more than this championship-less year. Without any more blabbing on, here are the top 13 “happenings” in Cleveland sports for 2013…

Shout-out to the following events that didn’t make the list:

Jimmy Haslam Pilot-Flying J FBI scandal–Too dark and too fluid a situation to be included in such a happy column. Also I didn’t want to write about it. And it’s my own column…so you can’t make me.
Tribe bench mob–The four principle characters (Ryan Rayburn, Mike Aviles, Jan Gomes, and Jason Giambi) had such a profound impact on the Indians season that it’s tough to exclude them from this list. The Indians wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success they did without a huge hand from this group that by season’s end weren’t even really bench guys.

13. Re-Hiring of Mike Brown

Brown 003

It hasn’t been all champagne and roses in the second stint from Mike Brown as the head coach of the Cavaliers. He’s had to deal with locker room confrontations, constant trade rumors, lazy players, rebellious players, players playing out of position, bad players, good players playing like bad players, and much much more. (We’ll get to some of these more in a minute.)

More than anything it’s just wild that we’re to a place where Brown is back coaching the team. When he was fired three years ago I didn’t think there was any chance we’d ever see him again on the Cavs bench. I mean, that stuff never happens, right? But this is Cleveland, where “that stuff never happens, right?” doesn’t exist. If you’re upset that Mike’s utterly atrocious approach to offense is back in Cleveland then the person you should probably blame most is Byron Scott, who did such a poor job of bringing along a young team and teaching them simple defensive concepts that he just had to get canned. In hindsight it might not have been all Scott’s fault. This collection of players might just be kinda dumb and generally bad at defense as even the guru himself, Coach Brown, hasn’t gotten consistently good work out of the guys on that end.

We still need to see a lot more of this season to know exactly how it’s going to play out and whether bringing back Brown was a good idea. I’m still going to rest and hope on the premise that Brown has never coached a team that by season’s end you could call “bad”. When allowed to finish a full season he has always had a winning record. That trend will be put to the greatest test this season because he doesn’t have LeBron or Kobe on this team.

12. Cavaliers Locker Room “Confrontation”

Irving and Waiters 002

Rumors about what happened in the Cavaliers players-only meeting spread like wildfire that weekend in mid-November. It all started when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote that things got “contentious” during a Cavs players-only meeting following a blow-out in Minnesota. News started spiraling on the Twitterverse that had Dion Waiters punching Kyrie Irving in the face breaking his nose which was why Kyrie was wearing a mask the next game. People were saying that Dion wanted out of the team and had gone AWOL all weekend. This then led to loads of trade scenarios and people speculating that Dion may never suite up for the Cavs again and that the better question would be if the Cavs would be able to deal him or if they would end up cutting him.

After seemingly like the whole season was going down in a flaming ball of fire that weekend things settled down pretty quickly after that. Dion came back to the team and denied that there was an altercation and said that he was just really, really sick. The Cavs as a team started playing better eventually and both Kyrie and Dion are keys to the team’s success this season. We may never know exactly what happened in that meeting but it certainly caused quite a stir there for a few days.

11. Andrew Bynum Sweepstakes

Bynum 002

I’m not sure if you can really call it a “sweepstakes” because the Cavs may have been the only team seriously interested, but the signing of Andrew Bynum was an interesting and fun story to follow this summer. The rumbles about signing the banged-up big man began early on in the summer and were fairly dormant for a while. There were obviously pretty huge concerns about the former All-Star center after he missed the entire 2012-13 season with various knee issues. It didn’t help that there had been reports out of Philadelphia that Bynum didn’t work hard on his rehab and that he wasn’t interested in being part of the team. Safe to say that the Philly media painted such a bad picture of Bynum that he’s universally hated in City of Brotherly Love maybe more than any other athlete.

This happening though for me was more about almost like the crescendo that happened on Twitter when it was reported that he was signing. We all remember #BynumWatch! There had been talks, then murmurs, then reports about being near a deal, then it was really happening, then it officially happened. It was thrilling and exciting and probably way more so than it should have been considering that we weren’t exactly sure whether or not he would ever be able to play again. What was best about the deal though is the way that Chris Grant constructed it in such a way that the team held all the cards. Bynum would be getting paid as long as he performed, thus minimizing the potential risk involved for the club.

Writer’s note: I wrote the following paragraph prior to this past weekend’s events:

The jury’s still out about whether or not this was actually a meaningful move. Bynum has looked great at times and certainly has made his presence felt defending the rim. But I’m still not sure if running the offense through the post is necessarily a good thing for this team, especially in Bynum’s current state. Sometimes it feels like they’re forcing things by trying to get Bynum the ball and that he clogs things up a little on offense. I always enjoy watching the offense better when Anderson Varejao is in at center in place of Bynum. We’ll see as the season goes how this shakes out and what the Cavs decide about what kind of team they want to be.

The fact that this all changed so quickly is just so Cleveland. I’m sorry, I have to say it but it’s true. The great thing about it though is at least from the opinions I’ve seen, no one really seems too shaken up about losing Bynum. Maybe it’s because we weren’t sure coming in exactly what we would get out of him or maybe it’s because, like me, most people didn’t love watching the offense go through him in the post. Even if he never plays another minute for the Cavs and they have to cut him I still maintain that it was a worthy risk for the Cavs. There wasn’t a whole lot else they were going to do with that cap space anyways. The potential upside of adding even the shell of Bynum’s former All-Star self at a manageable cost for the team was a healthy risk. And who knows, maybe they’ll be able to work a deal for him like the one that Brian Windhorst reported this morning about a potential swap for Pau Gasol. Regardless of what 2014 holds for Bynum and the Cavs, it was still a fun ride even if it was short lived.

10. Chris Perez Weed Arrest

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This was so great. Beyond the fact that if you had to pick out a guy on the Indians team to get arrested for possession of marijuana you’d need only one guess to get the right answer, the details of the incident are downright hilarious. First of all, Chris Perez allegedly had a package of weed mailed to his house. Now I didn’t grow up on the streets and I’ve never smoked weed and I didn’t have many friends who did either. So I’m not super versed on how you go about getting weed and such. But even I thought it would probably not be a good idea to get illegal substances—especially ones with a distinct aroma—mailed to my own home. But the best part of the story BY FAR is that the package was addressed to one Brody Braum. Who is Brody Braum, you ask? It’s no one. Brody is the name of the family dog and Braum is Perez’s wife’s maiden name.

Simply brilliant.

9. Terry Francona Wins Manager of the Year

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With the way coaching has gone recently in this town it’s almost unconscionable that a guy as professional and skilled at this job of leading of a team is actually employed in this town. I can’t say enough, and will probably in the end say too little, about what a great job Terry Francona has done of managing the Cleveland Indians. I will probably always have issues with some of his in-game decisions and the way that he uses his bullpen sometimes, but that doesn’t detract from the real greatness that Francona brings to a ball club.

It’s great that the name of his position is “Manager” because that’s exactly what describes Tito best. He did a masterful job of managing the Indians in 2013. Maybe he looked even better because his predecessor was so terrible at it, but in a season where many teams would have and could have simply folded midway when times got tough, Tito got this team to ride out the tough times and come out on the other end even stronger. It is so impressive that he maximized the talent on this team and got them into the playoffs, especially when you consider how many “better on paper” teams missed out. Sure, it would have been nice if the season had lasted a little loner than the one-game playoff. But I didn’t even know if we’d make it that far honestly. And the credit for that goes in large part to Francona, whose Manager of the Year award was well-deserved. And at a time when everything on the other side of town with the Browns seems like such a mess, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air to know that spring is around the corner and a competently led team is on its way again.

8. The Brian Hoyer Hype Job

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Ah yes, Mr. Adequately Mediocre himself.

If you’ve read me throughout the season you’ll know already that I’m not junior high girlishly in love with Brian Hoyer as many Browns fans are. I wasn’t blown away with his play in the two games. I thought he was fine. Good, not great. “Adequately mediocre” is the term I came up with to describe his play.

Look, everyone went nuts because he led a game-winning drive to get the victory in the Minnesota game. That’s wonderful, except that it got forgotten that it was Hoyer who turned the ball over three times which put the Browns in the situation where they needed a game-winning drive. Then in the Cincinnati win he didn’t really do much of anything because he didn’t have to as the defense dominated the game. Hoyer managed the game well and didn’t turn the ball over. Considering that the Bengals only put up six points he didn’t have to do much at all.

And then that was it for the local kid because he forgot how to slide and ended his season. And never mind that he did absolutely nothing in the Bills game but people are still crediting him with that win…championing him as going 3-0 as a starter. It’s possible that Hoyer, if given the chance, could wind up being something in the league. But there’s a reason he’s a career journeyman who was on four different teams in like a 13 month span. There’s also a reason he was No. 3 on the depth chart coming out of preseason, behind Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. If he was so good then why didn’t he look like it in camp and preseason? No one was clamoring for him to be the starter. But then after he came in and won a couple games that all of a sudden meant that the Browns coaches were idiots for having started Weeden over Hoyer in the first place. I kind of just got sick of the whole love-fest because I didn’t see a difference-maker. I saw just a guy who can win you a couple games if his defense plays dominant football—which they did in those two games by the way.

You can call me a hater, that’s fine. I don’t care. If he comes back next season and wins the starting job over whoever the team drafts and takes the Browns to the playoffs then I’ll gladly eat my bowl of crow. But that’s not going to happen. Hoyer was nothing more than a comet. He comes in for a little bit and it’s neat and cool to look at. Then he’s gone and you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

7. Cavaliers Win the Draft Lottery

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I almost hesitate to include this because the thought of going back to the lottery makes me sick to my stomach. But winning it for the second time in three years was undeniably fun in the moment (even if the prize wasn’t much in reality). The fact that the Cavs with Dan Gilbert rolled into that stuffy room of no-clapping and no-emotion allowed with an entourage of fans, local media personalities, and rap stars was just awesome. And having David Stern there with his snide disproving face on the whole time made it even more wonderful.

The moment of winning was one of unbridled brilliance that you couldn’t manufacture if you even tried as the card was flipped and Tony Rizzo went absolutely nuts shouting praise for Dan’s son as if he had actually done something to win the top pick. Again, what made it so great was that the whole reaction flew in the face of the the charade that the NBA wants that event to be. And while, yes, being at the lottery isn’t necessarily something that you should celebrate because it means you’re a loser, you might as well own it and have some fun while you’re there. I mean, what isn’t fun about winning the lottery after all?

6. The Shock of Drafting Anthony Bennett

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Any time a selection can elicit this kind of a reaction, you know it was a shocking move…

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This site was launched just before the Cavs won the lottery, so draft coverage dominated the early content of The GOAT. I spent a ton of time breaking down all the top prospects and weighing their respective places on the Cavs should they be the selection. I broke down the great debate between Nerlens Noel and Alex Len. We had seemingly covered every angle.

And then Chris Grant laughed as he pooped on all of our draft predictions. To say that almost no one had Anthony Bennett getting selected No. 1 overall would be an understatement. I was blown away and it cast me into such a fog for the whole night that I can hardly remember anything else that happened in that draft. I had broken down every one of the top players in depth except for Anthony Bennett. I just didn’t see how he fit on the Cavs.

Looks like I might have been right.

I understand why Grant decided on Bennett. If the criteria was “we’re going to take the most talented player and worry about fit later” then I understand how in a draft devoid of top-level talent that Bennett would qualify as “most talented”. Maybe the fit is just terrible and that’s why he’s looked so bad. Maybe he’s just out of shape. Or maybe he really is a tweener without a real position in the NBA. Whatever the reason it’s been about as rough a start for a No. 1 pick as there’s probably ever been for a top pick in any league ever. Bennett has shown some flashes of late that he might be starting to figure some things out so at least there’s hope. And if all else fails, and you really need some cheering up about the Cavs top pick, just go to YouTube and watch some his college highlights…

He really is a pretty talented player. Hopefully all he needs is for the calender to flip.

Speaking of flipping…

5.  The Weeden Flip

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It’s a moment that is forever etched in time, a statue that will commemorate everything that needs to be known about the Brandon Weeden era in Cleveland. There are quite a few things to like about Brandon Weeden as a quarterback. He led one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football before he made the jump to the NFL. He already knew about being a professional athlete having failed at played professional baseball before going to Oklahoma State to take up football. He’s always looking to make a big play and not settle for the check-down like previous disappointments Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. But Weeden’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly that he has an absolute cannon for an arm.

When he chooses to use it that is. You see, Weeden’s greatest weakness is that he seemingly doesn’t know how to read a defense which causes him to hold onto the ball too long, which forces him to scramble, which isn’t something he’s capable of doing, which leads to him doing things like under-hand flipping the ball ten yards forward and about 15 yards laterally in an effort to, as he calls it, “make a play”.

The Weeden Flip has been deemed the dumbest play in the history of football by some. I don’t know if I’d go that far necessarily but it’s certainly in the running for Top 10. I still maintain that even good QBs make really dumb throws from time to time (like this one from the great Andrew Luck).

But the best thing might be that Weeden went on to make underhand flips throws like two or three more times during the season. It was almost as if he was just trolling Cleveland fans at that point. I really wanted to make this the top moment of the year, but I chickened out and went with some more “happy” things instead.

4. The Rise of Kyrie Irving and Taking over All-Star Weekend

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So this one probably actually started before the calendar flipped to 2013 but I don’t care, I’m running it anyways. Kyrie Irving’s stardom really took off last season as the nation began to finally to take notice of what a great player he truly is. The late game heroics, the dazzling dribbling, the clutch shots…people who follow the NBA began to really take notice of the unique skills that this kid possesses. Among the contingent of those who own NBA League Pass subscriptions the Cavaliers, despite their lousy record, became appointment viewing during the fourth quarter because it seemed like every night Kyrie was doing something that was so awesome that you just had to witness it live. As a means of reminiscing, allow yourself to enjoy some GIF’s of the dazzling Kyrie Irving…

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An integral element in the rise of young Kyrie was his presence at All-Star Weekend. With all the great players gathered together and so many things to talk about, only one player had everyone buzzing…Kyrie.

He started off in the Rising Stars Challenge putting on a display that was capstoned by this ankle-breaking move on Brandon Knight…

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Irving crossover 102

Irving crossover

He followed that up on Saturday night by “getting buckets” and winning the 3-Point competition.

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And then came the grand finale: The All-Star Game. Despite only being in his second season and not even voted in as a starter, it was undeniable that Kyrie belonged on that court with all those great players. He wasn’t the best player in the game or even the best point guard. But he found ways to shine nevertheless.

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By the end of the weekend there was no denying who had “won the weekend”…it was only Kyrie Irving. The nation as a whole was getting their first long extended look at the young star and they liked what they saw.

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He still has some growing to do as a player and especially as a leader. But just about every night when the Cavs take the floor, with very few exceptions, the team from Cleveland has the best player in the house.

And everyone knows it now.

3. Jason Giambi Walk-Off Homer to Save the Season

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This moment to me meant so much more than actually going to the playoffs, because it was the moment when that dream actually started to turn into a reality.

It was everything that lead up to the moment that made it as great as it was. It was September 24 and the Indians were clinging to a one-game lead in the Wild Card race over the Rangers who were playing the hapless Astros at the time. So the Indians needed to win to keep their hold on the race.  With a 3-2 lead in the ninth over the White Sox, Chris Perez in all his all fat, sloppy, unkempt glory came out and promptly gave up two home runs and the lead. This had been just the latest in a string of terrible appearances for the troubled closer and his untimely collapse led to fans going absolutely nuts on Twitter. It was so depressing. It felt like the season was slipping through our hands like they’d been greased by Perez’s hair.

Then Jason Giambi happened.

There was just something special about the oldest man of the team, someone who by all normal statistical evaluations was having a terrible year, coming through in the biggest moment. Giambi was mostly bad this past season with the amazing exception that he did have two walk-off homers. This one late in the season meant more than anything else and gave him a place on this team and in the hearts of Tribe fans that won’t soon be forgotten.

It was the home run that brought so much hope to a city that had endured nothing but sports misery for several years now. It meant that the dream of the playoffs would likely become a reality. If there’s ever been a  “Believeland moment”, this was certainly one of the best.

2a. Rob Chudzinski’s Firing after only One Season

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I had to add this one in here at the last moment. I don’t want to spend too much time on it because it’s still so fresh and I just ranted about it wrote about it yesterday.

My buddy Slim, a Raiders fan, asked me on Sunday afternoon what was up with the Chud rumors and noted that canning him after only one season was “Raider like behavior”…ouch. As crazy, terrible, and dysfunctional as the Browns have been since 1999, firing the coach after only one season was a new one.

Whether you fall on the side of being in favor of the move or not, what is undeniable is that the brunt of the blame for this latest failure of a season has to fall on the front office and Joe Banner in particular. You can’t come in claiming to be smarter than everyone that’s come before you, promise that things will be different and better, promise that “the same old Browns” are gone, hire a new head coach that no one else interviewed, fire him after just one season, and not expect to get lambasted for it. The fact is that if not for No. 2b on this list the 2013 Browns season was a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and energy. They came in without a real answer at the most important position in sports, had a lack of depth because they were saving cap space, and traded assets that would have improved the team now for future help. Every move they made pointed to gearing up for 2014. So how can you possibly be shocked that the players tailed off late in the season? And how do you expect to attract a good coach when you’ve established that you’ll get canned if you end the season a bad stretch?

Look, I realize that the firing is completely warranted given that the team lost ten of its last 11 games. You don’t get a pass even if you’re a first-year coach. But once it became clear that the team had no intention of developing Weeden the season was a wash for me. After that I was completely focused on the 2014 Draft and the hopes of getting a franchise quarterback. So the collapse of the season didn’t bother me one bit. Evidently Banner and Haslam have higher standards.

I didn’t love Chud but I didn’t really have any issues with him either. I didn’t see incompetence like I saw under Pat Shurmur. I’ll I saw was a guy coaching a team that didn’t have a real quarterback and after Weed 2 made a move that clearly said “we’re focused on next year already”. I don’t blame the guy for only winning four games is all I’m saying.

With the number of other, probably more appealing, head coach openings around the NFL, I sure hope that Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam know what they’re doing. I’m just going to leave the following tweet here without any further comment…

The reason I decided to keep the Chud firing out of the top spot is because we see coach firings in Cleveland all the time. These final two happenings, however, were/are especially unique.

2b. Josh Gordon Blowing Up the NFL

Josh Gordon, Aqib Talib

 

The fact that the closest thing that the Cleveland Browns have had to “star” player since their rebirth in ’99 is a left tackle and a kick returner really encapsulates the depths that this franchise has sunk to.

But not any more!!!

The Browns finally have a player that fantasy owners can get excited about. And even more importantly they finally someone that Browns fans can get excited about…as long as he stays off the drugs of course. It’s insane in retrospect that some people were willing to trade Josh Gordon for like a third round draft pick as if he was just some dude. Granted, not even his biggest supporters could have seen a record-breaking stretch that would catapult Gordon to become the NFL’s leading receiver (despite missing two games no less).

I could go on and on about how amazing it is to watch Flash Gordon play football. But let’s be honest, it’s New Year’s Eve and you’d rather watch GIF’s of amazing plays than read my prose. So here you have it…

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1. The Release of the Draft Day Trailer

Just kidding…

1. The Trent Richardson Trade

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I don’t even know where to start, so let’s just look at some of the Twitter reaction after the trade was made…

Colts owner Jim Irsay was a little excited about it…

Matt Miller of Bleacher Report was especially feisty about the trade…

And my favorite…

Going into the final week of the season Richardson is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Indy compared to 3.4 YPC that he had the first two games before the trade, which brings him to a cool 3.0 for the season. How about those “wide open running lanes”, Matt?

The best part was that even when it was clear that Richardson is shaping out to be a bust, there were still people defending him…like Peter King…

I haven’t heard anyone defend Richardson in a while, so it seems like everyone has finally come to their senses.

I’m wrong about a lot of things…like Brandon Weeden for instance. But I feel so thoroughly vindicated by the poor play of Richardson. I wasn’t a fan of him when the Browns drafted him. I was consistently critical of his poor running when he was in Cleveland. And I loved the trade. And I was RIGHT!!! So that’s why the Trent Richardson trade is the No. 1 happening in Cleveland sports for 2013!!!

Ok, that’s not really why I picked it. But there wasn’t a more polarizing moment for the sports fans in this city than that trade. And the best part is that no matter what side of the debate you fell on when it happened, we can all celebrate it now. And that’s what we should be doing going into the New Year: focusing on the positives…like how we made out like bandits in that Richardson deal!!!

So thank you, Trent, for giving us something to be excited about.

Only 128 days till the NFL Draft!!! Get excited, Cleveland!!!

2014 is going to be our year.

Believeland.

Browns Fire Chudzinski: Haslam and Banner still have a lot of questions to answer

I have long maintained that continuity for continuity’s sake only leads to more losing. If a team doesn’t believe in a coach or GM or whoever then they should cut bait and move on instead of waiting to see if he pans out. Keeping a losing coach on just to have sense of consistency is how you end up with a situation like Gary Kubiak in Houston or Jim Schwartz in Detroit.[1]

So with that as a principle that I’ve already set for myself, I can’t completely pan the Cleveland Browns’ firing of first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski. Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi determined that he was not the right man for the job and decided it was better to cut ties after one season than hang on with a coach that they didn’t believe was up to snuff. However, when Banner, in particular, came into town he preached how it wasn’t going to be the “same old Browns” anymore and how we’d start seeing very quickly just how smart they were. He promised change and more importantly he promised winning. Maybe we’re suckers for believing that the new guys were going to be any different than the old “new” guys who said the same thing but never delivered. One year in we’re sitting on another losing season where the team actually managed to win fewer games than the previous year and on top of that they’ll be bringing in a new coach already.

One of the biggest problems that has plagued the Browns franchise over the years has been the lack of anything resembling a good quarterback. Outside of one good year of Derek Anderson we haven’t seen anything that would pass for a top-level signal-caller in this league. The other big issue for the Browns has been the lack of a good/competent head coach who is able to last more than a couple years. Chud only lasted one year. Before him Pat Shurmur and Eric Mangini each got only two seasons at the helm of the S.S. Berea. Romeo Crennel’s four years of proving his incompetence seemed like an eternity compared to the three who followed him. It would be easy to point to this constant turning-over of coaches and say that this is the reason why the Browns haven’t had any success. “You have to have some sense of continuity to achieve success” is what some will say.

However, that isn’t necessarily true. What you need is a good coach. The Eagles this past season cut ties with consistency and made the playoffs with a first-year college coach in Chip Kelly. A few years back the 49ers got rid of a guy they didn’t believe in in favor of Jim Harbaugh and have made the playoffs every season since. Same thing happened with Pete Carroll in Seattle. The problem for the Browns isn’t that they keep changing coaches…it’s that they haven’t hired a good one yet to replace the crappy one that they just cut. None of the men of who have coached the Browns since their re-birth has gone on to have any success coaching in the NFL after they’ve left Cleveland so to say that firing them was a poor move is just wrong. They all proved to not be right for this job, let alone any head coaching job.[2]

The problem with the current regime of the Browns is that they think they’re smarter than they’ve proved so far. Joe Banner promised that we’d see smart moves quickly. The first big move that he made was to hire a coach that no other team interviewed and claimed that he was the guy they liked best all along after spending a whole day wining and dining with Kelly only to get snubbed.[3]  Furthermore, they gave Chudzinski a roster devoid of a quarterback or a running game and a general lack of depth because they were hording $26 million in cap space. Banner claimed that things would be different but as we sit here today the new team looks a whole heck of a lot like the old one. It’s impossible for anyone to give this front office credit for getting rid of a bad coach without eviscerating them for hiring him in the first place. They bare the blame for this season, not Chudzinski. In their infinite wisdom they believed they found the right guy and equipped him for success but evidently they were wrong.

Now if their only criteria for whether or not to keep or fire a coach is if they see improvement over the course of the season then the firing of Chud is warranted. The team didn’t get better over the course of the year and probably got worse. I would argue that a big reason for the decline in play was because you can only go so far with the crapfest that they were rolling out there at quarterback and the lack of depth that the team had because of unused cap space. I don’t believe that Banner and Lombardi put a good enough team together to have a sustained winning season, mostly because of the quarterback situation. The only way that you were going to have true success this year was if Brandon Weeden panned out. The only way that was going to happen was for them to commit to him and let him grow and learn while playing. That didn’t happen. They cut out Weeden’s legs before he had much of a chance. I don’t know if Weeden will ever be anything in the NFL. His play to this point certainly doesn’t make a good case for a positive future. But once they moved on from Weeden and switched to Jason Campbell the season was lost as far I’m concerned, and I know I wasn’t alone in that thinking. I’m sure that many of the players in the locker room felt the same way. From saving cap space, to trading picks for future picks, to trading Trent Richardson for a future pick, it certainly seemed like they were building this team for 2014 and not for 2013. I don’t know what the Browns front office expected exactly from a thin team down the stretch that wasn’t playing for anything under a backup quarterback. But they didn’t see what they wanted evidently so they’re moving on after only one shot with Chud.

Going forward the biggest question that needs answering and will ultimately be born out is how a front office that demands so much power and has proven now that they have a quick trigger is going to be able to lure a good coach to this team. They will need to do a pretty good sell job to prospective coaches to get them to buy into a place that just canned an undermanned coach in his first head job after just one year.

In their press conference on Monday Jimmy Haslam did a really good PR job of stating that he understands and accepts the skepticism that people like myself have for the job that the Browns are currently doing of building a winning team. You’re right, Jimmy, talk is cheap and I don’t know where Browns fans are supposed to go from here. I’m glad I’m not a season ticket holder who needs to decide if I should re-up my hard-earned money for another season of crap football. How long before Browns fans turn on this team like they did on the Indians at the turn of the century? We’ve been the most loyal fan base in the world given how we’ve stuck through all this garbage. But how much more can we take? I named this website the GOAT in part because the Cleveland fans are the greatest for sticking through all the crap and supporting these teams. But it also stands for “the goat” in that we’re always the butt of the joke, and this debacle has only served to further the notion that we as fans are idiots for faithfully supporting these franchises when all they ever serve up is more pain and misery.

Sometimes I’m actually glad that I live 500 miles away from Cleveland so I’m not in a position where I’m investing financially in these teams. I’m only investing my time, energy, and emotions, and even those are running thin. When will the GOAT fans of Cleveland finally break and give up? I don’t have an answer for that but I know we’re getting closer and closer with every fruitless season that leads to wholesale coaching and personnel changes. And this year will be no different. At some point all the faithful fans who were born into rooting for the Browns will have died off and the younger generation that has seen nothing but losing will be left. And I doubt that my son’s generation will be as patient and loyal. I want my son to be a Browns fan and a fan of all Cleveland teams. But it’s going to be a tough sell as he starts to get older to talk him into rooting for a perpetually losing franchise when there are plenty of winners he could pin his hopes on instead.[4]

The Browns have probably the greatest fans in the NFL. But they can only handle so much. They will break at some point and I hope that Jimmy Haslam realizes that. If they don’t get this thing right soon then they’re going to lose the fans as well as the precious few good players that previous regimes have managed to collect in spite of their own incompetence.

The time for excuses and processes is over. It’s time to start winning.

I’m glad 2014 is only a day away.


[1] One thing they mentioned in their presser is that they would bring in a guy who they believe can win football games in the NFL. Schwartz, who has already been connected to the Browns, has proven that he’s not that guy. So bear that in mind as we go forward.

[2] Jury is still out obviously on Chud. One year isn’t nearly enough to determine if he’ll ever be a good head coach. Time will tell if he ever gets another shot.

[3] Despite what Banner claims, Chud was probably their fourth choice behind Kelly, Saban, and O’Brien.

[4] Especially, given that we live in Wisconsin, the Packers, who are the model of what winning looks like. Their fans treat 8-8 seasons like we treat 4-12. They’re so used to winning that even .500 feels like losing. What I wouldn’t give to live in that realty.

NFL Week 17 Lines: And one more tirade about the Browns lack of a QB

I won’t lie…I’m pretty sick of the 2013 NFL season. It hasn’t really been a good one. Too many injuries, too many inconsistent teams, lots of bad football. It’s just been bad.

Nothing new for the Browns of course as we’re used to watching crap for 15 years now. I’ve got some final thoughts I’d like to get out about the 2013 Cleveland Browns but I’ll do it in the picks…

(Home team in CAPS. Lines are from SportsBook.com. Gamble only if you’re stupid.)

STEELERS (-7) over Browns

I feel like the Browns always gets their butts handed to them in this game. There’s nothing left for them to play for while the Steelers are still clinging to a chance. The Browns players have no reason to kill themselves to win this game outside of theoretically playing for their future jobs.

This matchup does provide something though. It’s a perfect example of what I’ve been trying to say all season long about the Browns. When you put these two teams side-by-side you can’t really make the case that the Steelers are a more talented team. In fact, not only are they not more talented, I think they’re significantly less talented. What separates these two teams is the quarterback. The Steelers have a guy in Ben Roethlisberger who, though a reprehensible human being, is a really good player/leader at elevating his team. He doesn’t a receiver close to as explosive as Josh Gordon, nor does he have a tight end as dynamic as Jordan Cameron. He doesn’t have a remotely good offensive line. And as bad as the Browns running game has been this season they actually have 41 more rushing yards this season on 37 fewer attempts than the Steelers backs. Oh yeah, and statistically the Browns have a better defense too. But the reason that the Browns are sitting at 4-11, playing out the string while the Steelers are 7-8, still with hope is that they have a quarterback and the Browns don’t.

Blowhards in the media like Greg Brinda and Aaron Goldhammer can scream all they want about how “your record says what you are and it says you’re a loser” but that serves to only completely dismiss everything we’ve ever learned about the NFL for the past decade-plus and that’s that there is nothing more important than the quarterback position. A change of QB took the 2-14 Chiefs to 11-4 this season. Last year it was the 2-14 Colts, 5-11 Redskins, and 7-9 Seahawks who all added QBs and went to the playoffs. Fixing the quarterback position is the best way to turn things around in the NFL.

Yes, there are other ways to win without getting Pro Bowl play from the QB position. But that requires that all the other elements of your team are pretty much perfect. And for most football teams that is almost impossible. As great and dynamic as the Broncos have been this year they’ve had their fair share of injuries to their offensive line. Their receivers are good but not great. They don’t have an amazing running game. And their defense is just meh. But they have Peyton Manning…and that makes the difference between being 8-8 in 2011 and 12-3 in 2013.

So go ahead and continue to whine and complain about how this team is “nowhere close to competing” and about how “all the players on this team are losers” and ignore the fact that the only thing really holding the Browns back is that they don’t a quarterback. And until they get one this endless string of losing seasons will go on and on and on and on and on.

Nothing else matters if you don’t fix the quarterback. End of story.

Panthers (-7) over FALCONS

The Panthers still have home field and a first-round bye to play for while the Falcons have, well, nothing.

TITANS (-7) over Texans

Remember when we the Texans were 2-0? They’re now 2-13. It’s been rough year in Houston.

Redskins (+4) over GIANTS

This would be the kind of game where Kirk Cousins pulls out a meaningless win to provide useless sports talk fodder for the next four months about how he’s a viable QB.

Ravens (+6.5) over BENGALS

I don’t like how big that line is. Call me a sucker I guess but the Ravens need this game more than the Bengals do. I’ll at least be close.

Jaguars (+11.5) over COLTS

Jets (+6.5) over DOLPHINS

Boy did Miami crap the bed last week when they still had a shot at the playoffs! I can’t remember a game like that where one team actually has something to play for and the other doesn’t and it’s a complete blowout like that. Really weird. The Jets on the other hand appear to really be playing for their coach, much like the 2009 Browns did for Eric Mangini. Like him or not, Rex Ryan has done a really good coaching job this season with a team most people thought would be among the worst in the league.

Lions (+3) over VIKINGS

Speaking of playing for your coach. I’m not sure that both of these coaches don’t get fired after this game. Detroit has been a colossal disappointment for me this year. So just so they can let me down one more time I’m picking them again…basically just hoping their players are still trying hard enough to put up selfish stats and will end up winning because of it.

Packers (-3.5) over BEARS

This is simple for me. Aaron Rodgers is playing…I’m taking the Packers. I found the lack of effort that the Bears gave against the Eagles last week unbelievable considering that they had a chance to win the division with that game and not put their season on the line against a potential Rodgers return. The Eagles are pretty good, but the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in the league last week. I have no confidence in Jay Cutler and there isn’t a guy in the NFL that I’d take over Rodgers. I don’t care that the game is in Chicago, I’ll take that discount double-check guy anywhere.

PATRIOTS (-9.5) over Bills

The job that Brady and Belichick have done this season is incredible. How’s this for another example of what a difference a quarterback makes? I think Brady would kill to have the Browns offensive players around him and I’m not even remotely kidding.

SAINTS (-13) over Buccaneers

The Saints still have an outside-outside shot at playing a home game in the playoffs and more than anyone they need to play at home. They’re also not guaranteed even a playoff spot yet either. So they really need this game.

Broncos (-13) over RAIDERS

The Browns need the Raiders to win so that Cleveland can move up in the draft order. How crazy would it be if Oakland pull off the miracle…yeah, right never mind.

CARDINALS (+1.5) over 49ers

How much would it stink for Arizona fans if you finish 11-5 and out of the playoffs? They’ve had a pretty good year for the team that they have. Carson Palmer hasn’t been bad. Just shows you what can happen when you get good QB play…[continues to beat the dead horse].

CHARGERS (-9.5) over Chiefs

Chiefs have nothing to play for this week and the Chargers do. Simple as that.

SEAHAWKS (-10.5) over Rams

Eagles (-7) over COWBOYS

I’m so bummed out that Tony Romo is injured. Has there ever been a bigger buzz-kill? I love this Eagles team. They’ve had a pretty wild season but they’re hitting their stride. This is just the kind of team that could get hot at the right time and go on Super Bowl run. I must admit that I’m super envious of Philadelphia fans because I wanted Chip Kelly so bad and the Eagles are playing the exact kind of exciting football that I was hoping we’d get in Cleveland. As we continue to lament the current state of the Browns I’ll leave you with a tweet I sent out while watching the Eagles dismantle the Bears on Sunday night…

LAST WEEK: 10-6

SEASON: 103-113

BROWNS PICKS: 5-10