Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Rock Bottom, Again

It’s both hard to imagine but yet easy to reconcile that the Cleveland Browns, already at the bottom of the NFL’s pecking order of desirable franchises, has actually found a way to get even lower.  If this isn’t rock bottom then it better get here soon because that sucking sound being heard all over Northeast Ohio are Browns fans in a collective gasp over  the disaster that is their team of choice.
You know that show “Hoarders” where a borderline mentally ill individual can’t seem to navigate a clear path from kitchen to bathroom because of the accumulated clutter of years of neglect?  The Browns’ house is far worse.  Short of a league intervention, in the way a professional helps the hoarder, the Browns franchise is in real danger of suffocating to death among the piles of mess it’s created and can’t clean.
It’s enough to make you wonder what Jimmy Haslam really sees when he takes a look at the asset he’s devalued as he makes fans actually long for the relative salad days of Randy Lerner’s reign of ineptness.
In just the last week we’ve learned that it’s probably time to remove the word “functional” in front of the word “alcoholic” when it comes to describing quarterback Johnny Manziel.  We’ve learned that Josh Gordon indeed will be suspended for at least a year from the NFL.  And we’ve just learned that general manager Ray Farmer is likely about to get the team sanctioned and himself punished by the NFL for texting his grandiose thoughts on play calling to the coaching staff during games.  This latest just confirms that when it comes to personnel decisions Haslam has about the worst instincts possible.
Seriously, can it get any worse?  The sad truth is that indeed it can get worse.  Just because things are both bad and ridiculous now doesn’t mean that Haslam and his front office staff can’t find a way to make it even worse.  In his short time as the owner Haslam has made each offseason more disruptive than the previous.  With the mess the team is now in how exactly can it even hope to better its 7 win total of last season with a quarterback situation as big a mess as it’s ever been, and that just for starters?
You can say that the flameout of Manziel was expected, at least by anyone actually paying attention, so the only surprising thing when it comes to him is how quickly he devolved into a player needing inpatient rehab treatment.  And before we bestow bouquets upon his breast for the supposedly brave decision to volunteer to seek treatment, let’s remember all the problems he caused, all the red flags he ignored, all the enabling done by the front office and the coaching staff to dress this pig up as a rose.  Manziel was out of control long before he came to Cleveland.  His personal revelation, with his career certainly hanging in the balance, isn’t a stroke of bravery to be admired.  It is what it is, the last rope being grabbed by a desperate man finally realizing he’s drowning in a cesspool of his own creation.
You can say similar things about a nearly unrepentant jackass like Gordon, too.  His open letter to his critics was a passive-aggressive attempt in which he appeared to take responsibility for problems while offloading them to his own immaturity and rough upbringing.  It was what it was, a last ditch attempt to win back the fans who rightfully have turned their backs on him as he set fire to his career because of a raging ego unchecked by the prior punishments he endured.
But when it comes to Farmer, it is a little surprising I guess to find out that he’s mostly an intervening and insufferable prick afflicted by the seemingly contradictory maladies of delusions of grandeur and fears of inadequacy and incompetence.  You don’t have to be a big Kyle Shanahan fan to at least empathize with his need to exit Cleveland the moment the clock read 00:00 in the season’s final, miserable game.  Shanahan knew, unlike most of the coaching staff, that he had other more viable alternatives than wallowing in Cleveland’s mess any longer.  Why should he, why would he, endure that kind of behavior from the general manager during games, let alone between them?
Don’t forget, the hierarchy that Haslam created had the coaching staff, via head coach Mike Pettine, reporting directly to the owner, not the general manager.  Having created the structure it was up to Haslam to enforce it.  Instead he let problems develop and metastasize to the point where the franchise is once again on the precipice of completing falling apart.
If CBSSports’ Jason Canfora’s report is to be believed, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t, Farmer is far from the only problem child.  Alec Scheiner, the team president, is proving to be just as difficult to the point that despite operating solely on the business side he’s forced Pettine to sit with him and watch game film at 6 a.m. each Monday morning of the season. 
Scheiner, like Farmer, is supposed to be at the same level as Pettine yet in practice Pettine is the red-headed step child of a previous marriage.  That’s what comes with taking a job that no one else wanted or would otherwise touch without more millions that even Haslam could afford.  Pettine was desperate to become a head coach and it’s as if Scheiner and Farmer are relishing every opportunity to rub his nose in it.
Given this context, it’s actually hard now to muster much respect for Pettine.  He either lacks the wherewithal or the desire to compete with the sharp elbows of his counterparts on the business or player acquisition sides.  The result?  It lowers his stature in everyone’s eyes, including the players.  Put it this way, the players knew Manziel was both unprepared and too overmatched to actually start a game this season, let alone a game where the playoffs were theoretically on the line.  The players knew that Pettine knew it as well.  But when Pettine didn’t stand up to Farmer and/or Haslam and refuse to start Manziel, whatever respect there was for him in the locker room had to drop by half, or more.  It’s not just that  you can’t imagine Bill Belichick ever getting himself in that situation, it’s that you can’t imagine even Pat Shurmur getting in that kind of bind.
Indeed, I’d have more respect now for Pettine if he had just quit after one dysfunctional season, like Shanahan.  And I’d have more respect for Haslam if instead of keeping the circus intact and letting Shanahan go would have instead say goodbye to Pettine and installed Shanahan as the head coach.  That would have shown real vision on Haslam’s part not to mention a willingness to actually listen to the people running the games on a weekly basis.
What this team needs right now is exactly what they lost in Shanahan, someone willing to set ablaze his relationship with the owner in the name of doing what’s right instead of what’s expedient.  Instead fans are left with a team led by an owner all too willing to let his direct reports push each other around like kids on a playground as if the path to success is to be paved by whoever survives as the biggest bully.
Short of an indictment, which would have come by now if it was coming at all, Haslam isn’t selling this team.  That doesn’t bode well for as far as the eye of the Browns fan can see or his mind can dream.  Haslam wasted several days a few weeks ago by taking a retreat with his front office to figure out what went wrong.  He doesn’t need a retreat.  He needs some of that faux courage that his favorite son Manziel exercised, recognize that rock bottom has been reach and raise his hand and ask for some real help from the league.  It’s very clear at this point that Haslam can’t fix this mess by himself.

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