Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Numbing Sameness of It All, Again--Crazy Is as Crazy Does Edition

At many manufacturing facilities, a sign is posted chronicling the number of days since a lost time accident. Each day a new number is added until an accident occurs. It’s a nice reminder to the workers there to be safety conscious.  At the Cleveland Browns’ facility in Berea they ought to consider erecting a similar sign, only this one recording the number of days since a major front office disaster.  By my count, it’s been nearly a week since they had to reset the clock.

Last week the bomb dropped that Mike Pettine was not the team’s first choice as head coach.  To anyone following, that bomb hardly made noise in and of itself.  What was news was the extreme measures the team was willing to take to avoid hiring Pettine, such as trading some of the draft picks they had accumulated to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for their current head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

That the story broke seemed to be a little vindictive slip from the lips of the recently deposed Joe Banner or, even more likely, those of Mike Lombardi.  Trolls like those two never quite go quietly, even when they’re being paid to leave.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, exhibiting all the savvy of a new owner, essentially confirmed the story when being tight lipped might have worked better.  As a result, a shit storm opened up in San Francisco (though who cares?) and it once again made the Browns look like the most ill run franchise since the last time they looked like the most ill run franchise, which was probably a week or so before that.

While we’ll likely never know exactly the package that Banner/Lombardi floated San Fran’s way to set up a twice year Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh in the AFC North, conclusions can still be drawn.  For instance, when assessing the team’s needs, the prior brain trust felt that coaching was the biggest hole to fill.  Forget Brandon Weeden’s misfiring arm and ability to read defenses, forget the absence of a running back, forget a defense that was weak at nearly every position.  What this team really needed apparently was a head coach with some street cred.  That is how much Banner and Lombardi hated the job Rob Chudzinski was doing.

To this point no one seems to have yet asked whether Banner and Lombardi pursued trades for any other coaches or whether it was Harbaugh or bust.  It seems like if they reached all the way across the country for Harbaugh that perhaps they tried other more geographically friendly coaches.  Did they pursue Bill Belichick?  What about John Harbaugh?  Did Haslam call one of the Rooneys and ask if Mike Tomlin was available for a few draft picks? 

And if Harbaugh, Jim not John, was the only target, why him?  That seems a little shortsighted, as if Banner and Lombardi didn’t realize how much fans in Cleveland hate anything and everyone associated with Michigan.  Isn’t that what Braylon Edwards claimed when he was in the process of blowing up his career in Cleveland?

It’s really intriguing to ponder what Banner and Lombardi thought they’d accomplish by trading for Harbaugh or another active coach.  In a sense it’s a suggestion that the players weren’t the problem all these last several years, it was the lousy coaches.  That’s a pretty big stretch considering that in 9 of the last 11 (Holy God, 11?) seasons the Browns have won either 4 or 5 games.

It is true that the Browns haven’t exactly been coached by the cream of the coaching crop during that woeful stretch.  And to this point not a single one of the team’s former coaches, most of whom are probably receiving checks from either Randy Lerner directly or the Browns franchise, has gone on to enjoy success as a head coach since they left the Browns.  Only two have gotten other head coaching jobs at all—Butch Davis at North Carolina and Romeo Crennel at Kansas City.  Neither of those jobs ended well for them, either.  So a point could be made that bad coaching is indeed at the root of all of the Browns’ evils.

But let’s not give short shrift to the various players with whom those coaches had to work.  It also reads as a who’s who of mediocrity.  Like the dispensed with coaches, none of the quarterbacks who failed here succeeded anywhere since.  Some, like Colt McCoy and Brady Quinn, on occasion, toil as back ups.  Most are out of football all together.  The same holds true for the running backs, defensive backs, linebackers, linemen, you get the picture.

On the one hand there’s a chicken and egg level dilemma here, at least as Banner and Lombardi saw it.  They figured that upgrading the coaching would eventually beget better teams.  Someone else might reasonably think that the coaches would have looked better had the players been better.  Irrespective it’s a riddle that need not be solved.

The common thread to all this are the people in the middle, the Banners and Lombardis of the world.  They’re the ones that have been doing the picking on both sides of the equation for all these years (except when a guy like Davis was doing both).  What the Browns’ incredible streak demonstrates above all else is that if you want to upgrade a franchise, upgrade the front office first.

I suspect that’s the conclusion Haslam came to as well, for what the Harbaugh trade story really does is illustrate how batshit nuts Banner and Lombardi really were as front office executives.  The rest of the story is that Haslam came to the same conclusion, just a week or so too late.

The Browns’ under Banner and Lombardi weren’t necessarily any different than say, the Browns under Holmgren.  Crazy is as crazy does.  Holmgren vacillated with Eric Mangini and fretted over whether he wanted to return to coaching.  He ended up with a dynamo in Pat Shurmur as a result.  Banner scoffed at Shurmur and went after Chudzinski in a fever and then praised the selection as if he had just married Jessica Biel after divorcing Paula Deen.

When Chudzinski didn’t measure up to whatever shifting metrics Banner and Lombardi were applying, they dumped him and undertook the most torturous, most troubled, most ridiculous head coaching search in the history of organized sports.  Haslam stood back and let it all be, including the ill fated trade for Harbaugh.  When Banner ended up with the 38th name on a list that was only 10 names deep originally, Haslam finally, mercifully pulled the plug.

Both Haslam and new general manager Ray Farmer now find themselves married to Pettine for better or worse, which is hardly where either would like to have been or should have been if Haslam had just pulled the plug quicker on the flea circus Banner and Lombardi were running. 

That sinking feeling Haslam had in his gut, the one he referenced when he fired Banner and Lombardi, didn’t appear overnight.  He had it for days if not weeks and instead of just watching the incompetence unfold beyond the point of no return, Haslam should have acted sooner. 

That’s water over the dam at this point but is instructive nonetheless because Haslam can’t abide Farmer not to be the next Gil Brandt and Haslam and Farmer can’t abide having Pettine flame out quickly, at least if they don’t want to have to keep resetting the clock on the banner outside of Berea that currently reads “7 days since our last implosion.”

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