Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Aged Beef

We had a spirited debate yesterday about whether this stinking fish that is fast becoming the Cleveland Browns needs to be chopped off at the head. In other words, did the Browns not learn from their history and, by hiring Romeo Crennel, repeat the mistake that was Bud Carson.

On one side of the debate is that Crennel is an "aged" coach and history shows that these lifetime assistants who get their chance late in life are rarely successful. On the other side of the debate is that Crennel has a decent pedigree and deserved his shot.

In seeking to solve this dilemma, we noted this article posted on This is a website maintained by the NFL Coaches Association and in its lead article it touts the attributes of Crennel, Nick Saban and Mike Nolan. It describes the three as tough, defensive minded, and keen on teaching the fundamentals. It also describes all 3 as being great motivators. As for Crennel, it singles him out as being a "players coach", which presumably is someone who is uniquely understands the players and responds accordingly.

Part of the debate on Crennel has to do with the reputation that the article notes. At this point, and giving due credit to a huge talent deficit, the Browns are not very physical and they aren't fundamentally sound. And, more importantly, they don't appear to be highly motivated, Kellen Winslow, Jr. notwithstanding. In other words, if this is Crennel's stock in trade, he's having trouble translating personal attributes to the larger collective.

But more to the point, it's clear that the Browns went outside the trend, way outside the trend, in hiring Crennel. Right now, there are only four head coaches--Art Shell with the Raiders, Marty Schottenheimer with the Chargers, Joe Gibbs with the Redskins, and Bill Parcells with the Cowboys, who are older than Crennel. Tom Coughlin with the Giants is the same age. Mike Holmgren with the Seahawks is a year younger. What's important to note, though, with this group is that they have been in the league, as head coaches, for many years. Except for Gibbs, each is on at least his second NFL team as head coach and, except for Shell and Parcells, was younger than Crennel when they got their most recent job.

For the most part, a typical NFL head coach, even one with fairly extensive experience, is is his late 40s or very early 50s. Bill Cowher, for example, is 49. Brian Billick is 52 as is Herm Edwards. Bill Belichick is the dean of this group at age 54.

In perusing the list even further and delving into coaching backgrounds, it's clear that most teams when hiring these days find either an experienced head coach (who is still typically younger than Crennel) or a young, up and comer. For example, Eric Mangini, in his first year with the Jets, is 35. Mike McCarthy in Green Bay is 43. The aforementioned Mike Nolan is 47. Nick Saban was 53 when he was hired by Miami, but he also was a long-term major college head coach.

The closest parallel to Crennel comes from an equally moribund franchise, Detroit. Head coach Rod Marinelli is 57. His prior coaching experience, like Crennel, was as an assistant. He spent 10 years molding Tampa Bay's defense and was a longtime position coach at several colleges.

This begs the question as to whether Cleveland and Detroit management are simply contrarians or idiots. Rather than pursue a path that's been successful for others, they deliberately go after aged beef that's never served as the entree. Whether either deserved a shot as a head coach earlier in their career is hardly the point, at least to the fans of each franchise. Both coaches were arguably beyond their expiration dates when hired and, given each franchise's struggles, both in retrospect probably would have benefited greatly by following the path of hiring a dynamic newcomer. Neither did and both clubs are struggling.

All of this starts leading down a very scary path: that Crennel (and Marinelli) is closer to becoming Bud Carson then he is to becoming Bill Parcells. And while we could care less about the fate of the Lions, fans of both clubs know full what what this really means-- a new coach and another rebuilding program is just around the corner.

Perhaps the Browns really did give up too soon on Butch Davis.

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