Sunday, February 13, 2011

The soft general manager

Read with interest the other day Tony Grossi’s interview in the Cleveland Plain Dealer with Browns General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. regarding some of the personnel mysteries surrounding the 2010 season.

In it, Grossi gleaned some rather interesting answers to several questions as he delved into why certain personnel moves were made. Interesting, that is, in the sense they were rather astonishing in nature.

For example, when asked why running back Jerome Harrison was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in mid-October, Heckert said coach Eric Mangini lobbied for the deal.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have (traded Harrison) because Jerome . . . he wasn’t begging to get out of here, but he was acting like he wanted to get out of here,” the GM told Grossi. “It wasn’t going to do is a whole lot of good to keep him here. Jerome was kind of going through the motions. I think he thought he should have been playing more.”

Then in answer to why the Browns, who concentrated on a run-first offense, pass-second offense, kept only two running backs and seven wide receivers on the roster, he answered thusly:

“I don’t know how to answer that one,” Heckert told Grossi. “I think (the RB depth) was good for a while. When we had Peyton (Hillis), Jerome and a couple of other guys, we were OK. But once Eric wanted us to get rid of Jerome, that’s when it started (going bad). Once you get rid of that guy, then it’s just tough to find guys.”

Now wait a minute. Wait just a darned minute.

Who is the general manager of the Browns? And who is (or was) the coach of the Browns last season?

Whatever happened to the notion that the general manager is responsible for the makeup of the roster and the coach coaches that roster? Whatever happened to a clear division of authority?

Heckert was hired to general manage the team. Mangini was hired to coach the team. Heckert was Mangini’s boss. A clear division of authority, right? It shouldn’t be any simpler than that.

A blatant lack of that division of authority is what has messed up the Browns the last dozen years. That was supposed to stop with the arrival of Heckert and Mike Holmgren. One has to wonder if that, indeed, is the case.

Mangini didn’t want the recalcitrant Harrison around? Too damn bad. It’s up to Mangini and his coaches to maximize whatever talent the GM assembles for them. That includes Harrison, who ostensibly was not a troublemaker. All he wanted was more playing time and Mangini, for whatever reason, was not giving it to him.

Heckert should have told Mangini that Harrison was going nowhere. He should have said something like, “Just go out there and coach him up like you did in the 2009 season. You’re the head coach. Now go out and do your job.”

After all, this was the same Jerome Harrison who ripped off 561 yards in the last three games of the 2009 season and was the main reason the Browns finished strong to salvage what most certainly would have been a monumental disaster.

Instead of doing that, Heckert took the easy way out. He caved and listened to his coach, making a deal that hamstrung his team. It was a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

Mangini told us from time to time last season that he, Heckert and Holmgren were on the same page with regard to the roster and the direction of the team. Another Mangini swerve, as it turned out.

And what’s this “I don’t know how to answer that one” response to Grossi’s question regarding the two-RB, seven-WR roster? Anyone in a responsible position such as Heckert should never admit to not knowing how to answer a question. Never.

Dance around the question. Change the subject. Anything to avoid being boxed into a corner.

Later in the interview, Grossi asked Heckert why the Browns traded for defensive end Jayme Mitchell in early October, placed him on the active roster and then failed to play him.

He called Mitchell’s disappearance from the playing field “bizarre” and admitted “he was by far our best pass rusher and never got on the field, so I can’t answer that one. Eric (Mangini) watched him (on tape prior to the trade) and liked him. So I don’t know what happened after that.”

You’re the general manager and you don’t what happened? You “can’t answer that one”? That’s part of your job. It’s your job to know everything about your team from a personnel standpoint.

And if you don’t know, seek out the answers. Don’t admit you don’t know what happened. Don’t admit not knowing how to answer a question.

You’re the general manager for crying out loud. Act like one.


  1. Perhaps it was the classic "giving him enough rope" deal. It would be kind of hard to tell Grossi that, I would imagine. In my mind, I'll leave it at that, but you do bring up good points, and I hope we never get another interview like that, because that won't sit very well with any of us.

  2. Ed:

    Hopefully, Heckert has no plans to run for political office. He'd make a terrible politician . . if you know what I mean. The hard questions would be handled better by Holmgren, who has more savvy in that department. It would be wise for the Browns' PR to limit Heckert's exposure to the media.