Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Numbing Sameness of It All, Again--Another New Coach Edition

It looks like the combined pressures of running the NFL’s most inept franchise and conducting the NFL’s most inept head coaching search in history finally got the better of Cleveland Browns management as today they officially hired their 7th or 8th choice as their next head coach after sending contrary signals that they wouldn't make a decision until after the Super Bowl.

Mike Pettine, step on up.  You’re the next contestant on Sucker Showcase.  The first task?  Find a credible coaching staff from what’s left in the bottom of the coaching barrel.  At least you’ll be familiar with the inhabitants having been elevated from those same ranks to become the Browns 635th coach in the last 20 minutes.

That it was Pettine isn't much of a surprise. He’s exactly the kind of coach you get when you conduct a search like the Browns did on behalf of the kind of team the Browns are. It instead could have been some other similarly anonymous coordinator from another mediocre team desperate enough to cast his lot with this lot.  The NFL coaching ranks don’t lack for desperate coordinators.  In either case, the challenges will be the same and as insurmountable as ever.

The stunning ineptness of this particular iteration of a Browns coaching search is what was so fascinating, assuming you’re one who finds multi-car pileups fascinating.  It’s hard to imagine, actually, how the Browns could have gone about doing a worse job of finding a new head coach but then the Browns sapped me of imagination years ago.

The Browns job was always the least attractive of any of the openings, mainly because of owner Jimmy Haslam and his two most trusted Stooges, Joe Banner and the Shemp to his Moe, Mike Lombardi.  By firing Rob Chudzinski so unceremoniously and so precipitously, the Stooges sent a powerful message to every good coach looking to upgrade that the Browns franchise is as unstable as it ever was.

Believe if you choose all what you hear from Berea about a methodical search, but the reason the Browns were the last to fill their coaching slot was not because they have some secret recipe or better process but because it represented by far the worst posting on the NFL head coach wannabe job board.  Coming as it did today and not after the Super Bowl smacks of desperation, a team unwilling and unable to face the continued backlash of a fan base that had grown both suspicious and impatient with the utter lack of progress it had been seeing.

The Browns settled, and that isn't a knock on Pettine necessarily.  They had to settle just as they’ll have to settle for the lower tiered assistants a relative minor coach like Pettine will attract.  That was always going to be the case anyway.  

That’s why Pettine ended up in Cleveland.

Again, for emphasis, this isn't to criticize Pettine before he gets a chance to fail.  I don’t know much about Pettine and neither do most of the fans.  The same holds for most of the others that were on the Browns’ list.  My guess is that they're decent sorts who have managed to carve out some semblance of a coaching career.  And one of them could actually turn out to be a successful head coach somewhere.  But the chances of that happening at this time in Cleveland are roughly the same as the chances that Adam Sandler will make a funny movie again.

There simply isn't anything about the Browns that even suggests that a head coach can be successful here, whether it’s the number of coaches they've cycled through, the draft picks they've blown, or the free agents about whom they've been wrong.  Still, you have to admire the pluck of the press release announcing Pettine’s hire.

Haslam is “thrilled” but not with the hire necessarily but with the ability to “announce” the hire.  The heat must have been getting to him.  Haslam called Pettine “tough,” “aggressive,” and “innovative,”  “the epitome of what the Browns were looking for.”  He also pointed a zinger right in the direction of Chudzinski, saying that Pettine “has repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success, clearly what we are striving for….”  That was a classy touch, using the hackneyed excuse for firing the last coach as the sine qua non for hiring the new one.

The more important question, though, is it true?  Has Pettine repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success?  It depends how carefully you want to define success.

If the whole point of defense is not to give up points, Pettine's results were mixed, at best.  The Jets were the 15th best team in the league in 2008, the year before Pettine got there and in his first year they were the best team in the league.  From there though it was steady progress downward.  In his last two years, the Jets were 20th in the league in points yielded.  In his one year in Buffalo, his team was 20th in points yielded, which was an improvement from the previous year’s ranking of 26th.  In other words, some good years some not so much.  Still it would hard to call this consistent improvement and success.

Again, and again, let's not prejudge Pettine particularly since defensive ranking statistics can be wildly misleading, especially points yielded.  What this does illustrate though is how hard the Browns are working to make chicken salad out of the chicken shit they created..

Haslam also said that Pettine knows what it takes to beat the teams in the AFC North, apparently as the result of the 7 years he spent as a Baltimore Ravens assistant.  But heck, who doesn't know what it takes to beat the teams in the AFC North? Chudzinski knew.  Pat Schurmur knew.  Russ in the mail room knows, too.  It takes a team with better talent and until that happens Pettine’s inside knowledge, whatever it consists of, will be useless.

Banner’s words were even more carefully parsed and equally if not delightfully insidious.  He said the Browns “interviewed everyone they could.”  There were plenty they couldn't because they weren't interested.  Gase comes to mind.  Banner then said that of those interviewed Pettine was “the best individual for the job.”  By the end, though, it was a small group from which to glean such judgment as it didn't include those who, having interviewed, took themselves out of the running.

Pettine has been officially introduced to the media in the usual nondescript fashion.  He said about what you’d expect him to say and in the manner in which you’d expect him to say it.  He showed some sense.  He refused to predict a Super Bowl in the team’s future.

With that bit of business behind them, Banner and Lombardi can now go about ignoring Pettine as they get ready for the draft.  He’ll get about the same level of input as Chudzinski did and that’s the exact point at which he’ll realize that his future really isn't his to own.  That leaves Pettine to do what new coaches here typically do.  He’ll order some part of the Berea complex repainted and then will find a house in Westlake he can rent on a month to month basis. He’ll also talk about the importance of the upcoming minicamps.

Meanwhile the fans will get a feint whiff of excitement once again as they continue to put faith into “what if” scenarios.  And when it’s all said and another season is done, the Browns will once again be drafting at or near the top and Pettine, the poor sap, will be on the hot seat, one way or the other.

And that, friends, is the cycle in which this franchise is interminably caught and from which it cannot escape. It's insanity built upon doing the same things in the same ways and expecting a different result.

Welcome to Cleveland, Coach Pettine.  Enjoy your stay and don’t forget to get your security deposit back on that house in Westlake.

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