Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bring on the future

Now the fun begins.

Forget Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That serves as nothing more than a bow that tied up yet another disappointing season for the Browns and a backdrop for the fireworks.

Browns Nation watched as Pat Shurmur played Dead Man Walking for three mundane, dull and otherwise uninspiring hours, wrapping up his easily-forgotten two-season career in Cleveland with a 9-23 record.

Shurmur, of course, is gone after two miserable seasons, following in the footsteps of Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini. Five coaches, 14 seasons and a boatload of losing. 

That’s what Browns fans, loyal beyond any logical reason, have had to put up with. But all that is about the change. And that’s where the fun begins.

For the record let’s record Dec. 30, 2012 as the date misery ended for the Cleveland Browns and a new age began. That’s when new owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner dropped the curtain on an era that will be looked at from now on with revulsion.

All the losing and bad football? History. All the bad coaching and poor player personnel decisions? History. That chapter of Cleveland Browns football is best forgotten.

With Haslam and Banner firmly at the controls, the Browns are being aimed in an entirely new direction. Two men with successes strewn all over their resumes are now in charge and will make changes soon.

They will not waste time in finding a new coach and director of player personnel. There is a distinct possibility, however, that there will not be a new general manager to succeed Tom Heckert Jr., whose impending departure will not stun anyone.

Depending on Banner’s power structure, it’s entirely possible the new personnel chief might possibly be given a de facto GM title. Most, if not all, of the roster decisions are expected to be made by the new head coach.

Also arriving in the new regime will be a brand new attitude and a completely different culture. Losing will not be tolerated and the accountability factor will rise dramatically.

If Haslam is smart, he will allow Banner to call all the shots and be there in order to break any ties that might crop up. Other than that, it’s Banner’s show and all the trappings that come with it.

Because just about everything is new, expectations by the fans very well could put extra pressure on the new front office. Fans are excited, of course, for what’s about to take place. The anticipation of seeing new faces creates that excitement.

There will be those who, no matter who the new football men are, maintain a skepticism that was born out of all those seasons of frustration. “Show me,” they will say. “Prove you’re better than your predecessors.”

And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, haven’t the Phil Savages and Butch Davises, Eric Manginis and Mike Holmgrens of the world told us in the past that things will change?

Seven years ago, for example, Savage decried the “woe-is-me” attitude of Browns fans when he arrived as the club’s general manager.  “We can’t listen to the woe-is-me around town,” he said at the time. “If myself and the organization believed there’s a validity to that, then we’re wasting our time.”

He went on to talk about “the need to reshape the mentality of the team. There is a woe-is-me, run-for-the-hills mentality that seems to permeate Cleveland in general.”

After his first two seasons, during which the Browns were 10-22, Savage joined the crowd, blaming injuries, difficult schedules and “the lack of a core group of players” on the team’s record. Woe was he.

The expectation now is that Haslam and Banner will put together a package that, once and for all, rids Cleveland of the woe-is-me football stench that has hovered over the city since 1999.

Their moves will be watched even more closely because they arrive as the saviors, the group of men expected to return Cleveland Browns football to its rightful place in the National Football League. In many quarters, they will be expected to succeed.

Banner knows how proud a franchise the Browns once had. He knows the passion of Browns fans. Watching from afar, he knows what they’ve been through. He gets it. That’s the easy part.

Now comes the difficult part. Actually crafting and shaping the Browns in his image is what will distinguish him from his predecessors. He knows the pressure is squarely on him.

And now that the 2012 season is mercifully over, it’s time to look ahead. It’s time to have a short memory and move on. It’s time to look forward to a new beginning, a new attitude, a new culture at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.

The last snap of 2012 has been made. What counts from now on is what Browns football will look like after the first snap of the 2013 season.

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