Thursday, January 08, 2015

Dysfunction Thy Name Is Cleveland

It’s a week with a day that ends in a “y” so of course there’s more dysfunction when it comes to the Cleveland Browns.
On Thursday the Browns and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan parted ways while quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was shown the door, involuntarily.  For those keeping score at home, that makes six coordinators in six years.  You have to admire that level of consistency.
There are many ways to view these changes but like most things about the Browns these days using the prism of Johnny Manziel is the best place to start.  Fans will never officially learn who exactly was responsible for drafting Manziel and then putting him behind center with the playoffs still technically in the mix.  But we can pretty well surmise by now that it wasn’t Shanahan’s idea and that’s likely part of the overarching issue here.  Manziel was a non entity as a quarterback but as a coach killer, he’s proven to be pretty effective.
Starting Manziel was such a colossally stupid decision that it’s a little unfair to put head coach Mike Pettine in the crosshairs and force him and him alone to take all the bullets.  That decision emanated officially or otherwise from the owner’s box to the general manager’s chair to the head coach’s office as sure as Manziel is probably drinking champagne out of a Dixie cup at 10 a.m. on a random Thursday in January.
In fact, the level of stupid that was that decision makes me wonder why Pettine as well hasn’t taken the same train out of Cleveland that Shanahan’s now on. This job can’t be worth that level of embarrassment for if there’s one abiding truth in this franchise is that it’s so engulfed in dysfunction that it literally permeates the walls of Berea and seeps into the skin and other organs of the inhabitants within that it saps them of both pride and common sense.
Sure, why not?  Let’s run still another offense next season.  It wouldn’t be a Browns off season unless there was a major coaching change so Shanahan leaving continues the pattern where continuity becomes the enemy and change becomes the constant.  The Browns are led by a still green owner with more passion than sense and a general manager with more ambition than accomplishment.  The head coach is just grateful to have a job.
Meanwhile the fans are once again scratching their heads trying to figure out how a season of legitimate promise has instead degenerated into another offseason of confusion, disappointment and question.  Wasn’t this supposed to be an offseason where finally there would be some continuity?  It didn’t even last past the first week of the playoffs that the Browns once again missed.  Instead of using this down time to actually improve the Browns instead find themselves once again starting over on offense with hope as the abiding strategy.  Here’s a suggestion.  Quit running coaches out of the building and instead dump some of the players that are the ones undermining their authority.
Start with Manziel, who may or may not be a functional alcoholic but clearly has trouble when he mixes with alcohol. He’s back in the news, of course, because he had a celebratory New Year’s Eve and then some.  There were the usual drinks, the usual clubs and the usual trouble.  I’ve lost count.  Is this the second or third incident since his vow to the team and its fans that he would turn things around and stop looking like the public jackass he’s become?
Whoever steps in for Shanahan isn’t suddenly going to see in Manziel, particularly, or the quarterback situation in general, some sort of diamond in the rough.  Manziel is not a legitimate NFL quarterback and never will be.  He doesn’t just lack the size and body to be successful.  He lacks the intellect, discipline and work ethic as well.  There’s almost nothing there to work with except feint memories of broken plays that turned out well while he was in college.  Manziel isn’t likely to last even as long as Brady Quinn did in the league.
The suggestion out there is to trade him and if anyone is willing to part with a draft pick of any level the Farmer should jump at it.  Right now, though, general manager Ray Farmer seems rather unwilling to admit to the mistake that everyone else in the free world sees in Manziel, so it fell to Shanahan to step away from the fray if only to highlight the epic miss. 
If all Shanahan was doing was seeking out a head coaching gig, then there would be no issue. That’s the dream of every coordinator.  What is more troubling is that Shanahan appears willing to take even a lateral move just to extricate the stink of the Browns from his system.  That’s a red flag the size of Egypt but the one thing we know about Haslam is that he isn’t particularly good at seeing trouble even when it’s punching him in the face.
And why would Shanahan want out?  Because there’s no fun in the Browns’ dysfunction.  Being told that Manziel is still a viable NFL quarterback with whom you have to work while casting aside a true, but flawed professional in Brian Hoyer is enough to make any sane man batty.  In other words, if you’re Shanahan you’re staring straight into the business end of an offense whose only viable quarterback right now is Connor Shaw and whoever Farmer decides to try and resurrect from some other team’s scrap heap.  That’s not a particularly difficult situation from which to walk away.
But perhaps the real seeds of this departure lie in story of someone in the Browns’ front office literally texting Shanahan during games with their opinion about plays that should or should not be called.  The story sounds preposterous anywhere but Cleveland and hasn’t actually been officially confirmed but neither has it been denied.  In no case is it hard to believe.
This is the second straight off season of turmoil that Haslam has on his hands and once again he’s responsible for it.  It’s easy to look at each little tree and justify its existence or rationalize why it should be cut down.  But at some point you also have to realize that these aren’t just trees but a forest and your overriding mission is not just its maintenance but its long term viability.
Haslam created the management structure in place in Berea and it’s one that inherently breeds tension.  Having both the general manager and the head coach report to him was always going to spark a competitive tension between the two sides as they vie for the attention and approval of the man to whom they report.  That doesn’t make Haslam’s set up wrong by any means but it does demand that the structure and the boundaries be respected for what they are and tended to with some amount of care. 
When someone on the general manager’s side (or perhaps Farmer himself) starts interfering with the coaching side by texting ideas or complaints during the game, that’s a clear and irresponsible overreach.  Maybe Haslam shut it down or let it go.  We don’t know.  But the fact that it happened at all strongly suggests that Haslam doesn’t have firm control over the structure he created so that it never happened in the first place.
One of the reasons Shanahan is supposedly leaving is that the general manager’s side of the equation gave little or no credence to the input being offered by the coaching side.  It’s not hard to imagine what the input was.  Manziel wasn’t taking his job seriously and was ill prepared to ever play.  There weren’t credible receivers on the roster once Jordan Cameron got hurt and Josh Gordon got suspended.  Why wasn’t a credible back up signed once Alex Mack went down?  Need I go on?
There are good and legitimate reasons why the coaching side shouldn’t run the personnel side but the most functional organizations find a way to make it all work.  There are going to be disagreements in any work environment but for goodness sakes why is it that every disagreement inside the Browns simmers then boils then overflows and ruins the counters?
Just as Haslam was able to eventually find someone, anyone, to take the head coaching position with his team, Pettine will be able to find someone, anyone to become the next offensive coordinator.  If that new coordinator succeeds though it will be dumb luck.  This franchise is simply not constructed to succeed and won’t be until Haslam takes a hard look in the mirror and a step back and then pays more than lip service to his desire to bring continuity and calm to Cleveland.

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