Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lingering Items--A Banner Edition

There are any number of ways to look at the upcoming Super Bowl and the local and national media won't tire of trying to tell you what that should be.  But really if you're a Browns fan is there any other context than to look at the participants and use them as a benchmark for how far your team has to go? Didn't think so.

For in truth, the only point of the NFL, indeed all sports really, is to find a way to get to the top of the mountain.   When you're a team like the Browns that can't ever seem to exit base camp, all you can do at this time of year is to watch the better climbers do what they do best and figure out how to be one of them when you grow up.

The Browns journey over the last decade plus  has been quixotic, to say the least.  To say the most it's been one big cluster after another and while we've dissected all the reasons why until we're as sick as sick can be, the fact remains that neither the patient nor those who care about it most (that's you, the fans) has gotten any better.  This is the narrative that we all know so well, including now owner Jimmy Haslam and his right hand hatchet man Joe Banner.

Haslam has made no great missteps since he bought into the Billionaire Boys Club known as the NFL unless you count his almost blinding trust of Banner.  This isn't a screed about Banner, however, just a cautionary note that while Haslam's methodology is sound it success still hinges on the execution by people.  Banner has enough of a resume to warrant some level of trust but right now the fans are a little queasy placing their faith in the guy who just placed his fate in the combined talents of Rob Chudzinski and Mike Lombardi.

At first I was confused because I assumed that the Browns and Banner were thinking of the guy who played Mike Lombardi in the TV show Rescue Me as their new personnel guy.  Sure that Lombardi was confused about his sexuality but he was a helluva fireman and always had Tommy's back.  So that had to count for something.  Then someone told me it wasn't that Mike Lombardi but the recycled nut job who helped run Bernie Kosar out of town.  That didn't exactly clear things up until I remembered that this is Cleveland and nothing smells as fresh as a repainted house.  So yea, it made as much sense as the Cavs blind faith in Byron Scott.

The trepidation about the actual Mike Lombardi (and Chudzinski) is well earned, sure, but at what point do the fans just sit back and let it all be?  There have been seemingly far more competent hires in the Browns' recent past and yet not a single damn one of them worked out. I suppose then just on the basis of that rare combination of dumb luck and contrarian thinking there's every reason to hope that this can work.

I know more about why Chudzinski hasn't yet been a head coach (young, paying his dues) then the reasons why Lombardi's been on the sidelines for the last 5 years giving curbside opinions into open microphones instead of showering his brilliance on some other wanting franchise.   Maybe the right situation didn't materialize.  Maybe he liked the non pressured life of a pundit.  Maybe no one until Banner trusted him enough to make personnel decisions for real.  So Lombardi enters the fray here in Cleveland with a cloud hanging over him, which is nothing new for virtually and Cleveland sports hire, and an upcoming draft that will either make other teams look stupid for ignoring his acumen for so long or confirm Browns' fans worst fears.

But hell, let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt for now and treat it as if there's a choice. Let's remember that in most circles outside of Cleveland a recommendation, particularly a glowing one, by Bill Belichick, is highly valued.  That doesn't have to be good enough here mainly because Browns fans would be nervous if Belichick up and quit the Patriots and came back to coach Cleveland instead.  But there's really no way of knowing how Lombardi will perform until he does.  Besides let's stop acting as if something terrible will happen if Lombardi does turn out to be the devil.  This franchise through all its losing has proven to be remarkably resilient and the fans remarkably forgiving as it waits for some sort of oracle who probably never will arrive.


Are you finding the budding feud between Banner and his childhood buddy and former boss, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie delightfully perverse? I know I am. When Banner and Haslam escaped Arizona without doing something really stupid like making a flavor-of-the-month, always-chokes-when-the-pressure's-greatest, no NFL experience, getting-out-of-Dodge-before-the-NCAA-can-saddle-up guy like Chip Kelly the highest paid head coach in the NFL, they did so because Kelly was vascillating. An attention whore at heart but as decisive as a 6-year-old in Dylan's Candy Shop, Kelly wasn't coming across as all-in. While flirting with Haslam he also was making goo-goo eyes at Lurie and secretly texting his love to Phil Knight. So the Browns' contingent left and Kelly went back to Oregon, a classic case of overplaying a truly lucky hand.

But when the Eagles couldn't find a suitable date they called back Kelly and he proved he isn't always as stupid as he's been and jumped. A press conference was held and all sorts of cutesy pointed barbs were hurled toward banner by Lurie and the next thing you know a rivalry has taken hold. Gosh I hope not.

I'm all for circling the wagons around the locals and protecting them from the invaders but really, what's the point?  Lurie is an idiot. He ran a perfectly successful coach out of town in favor of a perfectly enigmatic question mark.  Maybe it works and maybe it doesn't but why get all grouchy about it? It's not as if the Browns and the Eagles are tethered by their division. They aren't even in the same conference. Chip Kelly could go on to be the next Bill Belichick and Rob Chudzinski could go on to become the next Chris Palmer and it still wouldn't make me question the decision to leave Kelly standing on the tarmac of Sky Harbor airport picking at his scabs. Kelly is a shady character and the Browns always will be better off without him.

On the other hand if Banner engages the fight by bringing in a washed up Michael Vick in order to try and prove a point, then I will start to worry mostly because what's business will have turned personal and that's just one more distraction this franchise doesn't need.


Norv Turner was officially introduced to the media by way of a press conference with his new boss earlier this week and all attention turned to the “Brandon Weeden Question.”  Basically, is Weeden the guy or not?

The early verdict is that it’s too soon to tell.  Chudzinski and Turner say they have to look at some more film, talk to Weeden, etc ad nauseum.  But if Brandon Weeden doesn't fit the offense that,Chudzinski and Turner have in mind, well, doesn't that just figure?  Weeden was a risk pick based on age alone. He needed to impress immediately because of his age and instead ended up as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, a player who had some early downs, some mid season ups and some end of season disasters.  He played like a typical rookie, assuming that rookie was 10 years younger.

Weren’t fans told that Weeden’s age was an advantage?  Whatever extra maturity he brings didn’t particularly translate on the field and so now what Turner and Chudzinski face is a 30 year old second year quarterback.

Will Weeden develop isn't as much the question as will he develop in enough time? That's the question Turner, Chudzinski and Lombardi will debate in one form or another for the next several months. It's the most important personnel question they face and the one they can least afford to screw up.

That said what's the effective alternative? Is there someone coming out in this year's draft that makes the Weeden question a no-brainier?   Hardly. Throw in Weeden's contract, a contract that reflects his actual draft position instead of where he was projected, and you immediately get the sense that no matter how many hours the Browns' current brain trust debates the matter, no matter how much film they watch, no matter how many times they take in vain the names of the previous Browns' brain trust who put them in this position, Weeden will be back under center or in the shotgun come next year's season opener.  Call it the Travis Hafner syndrome—too much contract to dump.

In other words, pray that Banner and Lombardi do the right thing and resign Phil Dawson. I see lots of stalled out drives in the Browns’ future.


Getting back to Kelly, he's the subject of this week's question to ponder:  What's the over/under on how long he'll stay in the NFL?


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