Thursday, October 6, 2011

Same old, same old

Wasn’t the soap opera that was Cleveland Browns football supposed to end this season?

Weren’t Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert Jr. and Pat Shurmur brought to Cleveland to get rid of the nonsense that has plagued the franchise since it returned in 1999?

No more Carmen Policy. No more Dwight Clark, No more Butch Davis, No more John Collins. No more Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. No more Eric Mangini and George whatshisname.

This was supposed to be a new start. A new beginning where the inmates didn’t run the asylum. Where all the shenanigans would stop. Where the fans would finally get a chance to enjoy the smooth running of a football team.

Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As some frustrated fans are no doubt saying just four games into the Holmgren-Heckert-Shurmur regime, “Here we go again.”

Four stinking games and the wheels might not be off, but they are certainly wobbling.

It started about two weeks ago when Peyton Hillis was diagnosed with strep throat. He was advised, or so we were told by the club, that team physicians recommended he go back home after reporting to Cleveland Browns Stadium for the game against the Miami Dolphins.

The following day, some former Browns who still live in the Cleveland area, called Hillis soft. It was also speculated that the reason he didn’t play was that he was not satisfied with the way talks for a contract extension were not going the way he had hoped.

All parties denied those rumors. But they were confirmed recently by Hillis’ agent, Kennard McGuire, who admitted he told Hillis to go home that Sunday. Not the doctors.

All of which cast suspicion on Hillis that he allowed the contract situation to interfere with his role as the team’s most effective running back. Reportedly, sides were being taken in the locker room. Not a good sign.

The specter of outside distractions had clearly raised its ugly head. Just four games into the first season of a rookie head coach. And they have been allowed to fester.

This team does not need those distractions. The players aren’t talented enough to overcome them. They need to devote their attention to playing the game, not worrying about things they can’t control.

This is where good coaching comes in. A head coach must have firm control of his locker room. The players and coaches must think as one. Any deviation to that credo needs to be addressed.

The week following Hillis’ absence in the Miami game, he started against the Tennessee Titans and carried the ball just 10 times. Ten times for one of the hardest-running, toughest-to-bring-down runners in the National Football League. Ten times in a game that saw quarterback Colt McCoy throw an embarrassing 61 times. Ten times in a game that begged for a game plan that featured more of the ground game.

Was this some sort of childish punishment for Hillis? He was certainly well rested and recovered from the strep throat. If it was a punishment, then shame on Shurmur and whoever suggested it.

If Shurmur was trying to make a point with Hillis, he certainly made it. And Hillis played the good soldier by not saying anything that would jeopardize further punishment.

What kind of nonsense is this? The naysayers of Browns football, those fans who are more than used to these kinds of distractions, have the definitive answer.

Same old, same old. It’s not like we haven’t seen stuff like this before.

And a lot of those nattering nabobs of negativism say the problem isn’t really down on the field. What we're witnessing down there is the result.

Where the problem begins – and should end – is up in the ivory tower where Holmgren and Heckert reside. That’s where fingers of blame should point.

Happens with other teams, argue those solidly in the corner of the new Browns triumvirate. Not necessarily.

Don’t see that happening in New England. Or Baltimore. Or Pittsburgh. Or Green Bay.

You don’t see any dysfunction with those franchises. Maybe that’s why they have been so successful the past dozen or so seasons.

Perhaps it’s time for Holmgren, from on high, to grab hold of this franchise and right it before it gets so far out of hand, it’ll be too late. Of course, that’s only if he knows how.

Up until now, he has not shown that capability.

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