Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rewriting history . . . again

Poor Ozzie Newsome. He just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.

The former Browns tight end stuck his nose where it doesn’t belong Wednesday when he wrote a guest columnist piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, stating that Art Modell belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The guess here is he didn’t write it all; he had help. And that someone other than himself put him up to it.

Why now? Because Modell is one of the 15 finalists for Hall of Fame consideration this weekend down in New Orleans. And why the Plain Dealer? Because it was certain to rile up Browns Nation.

I could go paragraph by paragraph of Newsome’s plea and rebut just about every one of his contentions that his late boss belongs in the HOF. But that would take up way too much space.  So, let’s pick out a few.

It seems obvious that Newsome, who has become one of the National Football League’s most respected general managers in Baltimore, has rewritten history here. And it seems just as obvious he has been misinformed.

“You can’t write the NFL history without Art,” wrote the Ravens GM. “He was an architect of the game we love today.”

In what way was he an architect? “The first person who recognized that television and football were a perfect match for each other was Art Modell,” Newsome wrote. “He recognized the value of the NFL to TV and sold it, dramatically increasing the money paid to the league.”

First of all, it wasn’t Modell who discovered television was the gateway to the phenomenal success the league now enjoys. It was Pete Rozelle, whose prescient brilliance catapulted the NFL from a regionalized sport to national prominence.

It was Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, who went to the various networks to sell his product, using his public relations background as a podium from which to do business. Modell, who had a television background, was nothing more than an instrument, a conduit, for Rozelle to use.

For years, Rozelle and Modell formed the league’s television committee. Rozelle was the idea guy and Modell opened doors to the networks. The real visionary was Rozelle, who chose to share the glory with Modell.

Newsome also pointed out that TV executive Dick Ebersol said recently that "Monday Night Football was Art's brain child." No it  wasn't.

Monday Night Football was Rozelle’s idea, too. The commissioner had contracted with CBS to televise a Monday night game for a couple of seasons in the late 1960s. He then pitched ABC, struggling with ratings at the time, about a more permanent Monday night slot.

When ABC hedged, Rozelle approached the independent Hughes Television Network, financed by billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. The alphabet network got wind of that, agreed to join the NFL family and launched what has turned out to be a TV institution in 1970.

The only role Modell played in that scenario was volunteering his team to play the New York Jets in the debut telecast. He had nothing to do with putting together the package. Nothing.

According to Newsome, Modell’s Browns had a winning record in 27 of his 42 years of Cleveland ownership. Let’s straighten that one out right now. Modell owned the club for 35 years in Cleveland, not 42. And he racked up 21 winning seasons. From 1961 to 1971, the Browns had 10 of those winning seasons and one that wound up at .500,

Now, let’s take a hard look at that record when the last vestiges of the Paul Brown-Blanton Collier era ended in 1970. From 1972 through the fatal 1995 season, Modell’s Browns had 11 winning seasons, 11 losing seasons and two that wound up at .500.

Breaking that down even further, the Browns had three straight winning seasons from 1971 to 1973. So from 1974 to 1995, the Browns had only nine winning seasons out of 22 with a combined record of 161-174-1. That’s well short of mediocre.

Modell’s greatest success as an owner came in the Brown-Collier years. Twelve of his 21 winning seasons were between 1961 and 1973. If winning seasons are used as a barometer, Modell’s record is not HOF worthy.

Newsome also wrote, “I know many Clevelanders will never forgive Art for moving the team. I understand that.” No he doesn’t. If he did, he never would have penned his piece.

He went on to spew the nonsense that Modell lost money running the old Stadium and wondered why the current stadium couldn’t have been built for Modell. “Some of us will never understand,” he wrote.

Fact is Cleveland voters approved construction of a new stadium a day after Modell stood on that platform in Baltimore in November of 1995 and announced the move that shook an entire city and fan base.

Newsome conveniently leaves out the fact that Modell was a terrible businessman. How could anyone who owns an NFL franchise lose money? Remarkably, he did so in two different cities. He also was one of the few owners who compiled a debt.

Anyone remember several banks turning down Modell, who sought a $5 million loan so he could sign wide receiver Andre Rison? Why would an NFL owner need that kind of money when ancillary income could have covered that need?

Now if longevity is the main criterion for Hall of Fame consideration, enshrine the man. Fortunately, it isn’t. One unconscionable act should be cause enough to keep Modell out.

By moving one of the bedrock franchises in the NFL, he ripped out the hearts of Browns fans, who did nothing to warrant losing their team. Capacity crowds in the cavernous Stadium were commonplace.

Only one owner in the history of the National Football League permanently moved his franchise when it was considered healthy from an attendance standpoint. And that owner was Arthur B. Modell. Al Davis moved his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles for several years before moving back to Oakland.

The only true fact Newsome listed was his own hiring by Modell after his playing days. “To my benefit, but so historically important, Art Modell is the first owner in the NFL history to hire a minority to run his football team,” he wrote. “I will be forever grateful for that.” Can’t argue that.

Other than that, Newsome and revisionist history are strolling hand-in-hand down the same path.

One thing is certain for Saturday’s gathering of the HOF electors. Many of the voters on the list have been lobbied by the Baltimore Ravens front office, which will do anything to get their man in. That includes getting Ozzie Newsome to write a guest column in the Plain Dealer.

Bottom line: Hall of Fame and Art Modell is – and always should be – an oxymoron.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Football bashing not warranted

It’s Super Bowl week. And that signals yet another bashing of the game of football.

First, it’s President Obama's turn to weigh in on the ferocity of the game, telling The New Republic that if he had a son, he would think long and hard before allowing him to play the sport.

First of all, the president has many more important problems to solve than those of the sport of football. In fact, it might be best if he kept his opinions to himself regarding the sport.

Who cares what the president thinks? He’s a sports fan, for sure, but he’s also a professional politician. I care more about what he thinks of high unemployment, the economy and immigration. You know, stuff that really matters.

I don’t want to know that Obama is concerned more with college football players’ safety because, according to an Associated Press story, National Football League players have a union, are well paid and are grown men.

The safety of football players, regardless of what level they play in, should not be a concern of the White House. If asked to comment on the subject, he should have politely declined to answer, leaving those opinions to someone else.

In case you think political views are a factor here, forget it. Makes no difference what a president’s political affiliation is. He has no business sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Same goes for any politician. Sports should be allowed to police themselves.

And now along comes Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who is worried that the NFL will not exist in 30 years because of all the player-safety restrictions. “I could be wrong,” he said the other day.

”It’s just my opinion, but I think the direction things are going – where (NFL rules makers) want to lighten up and they’re throwing flags and everything else – there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.”

What the fans should be fed up with is that many football players on all levels of the game are allowed to use their helmet as a weapon. Legislate the helmet as a weapon out of the game and the number of serious head injuries will decline significantly.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing back fundamental defensive football where tackling the correct way is taught and stressed. Should that style of play ever reappear, the alarm that now sounds would be silenced.

“Guys are getting fined,” said Pollard, who is known for his big hits, “and they’re talking about ‘Let’s take away the strike zone’ and ‘Take the pads off’ or ‘Take the helmet off.’ It’s going to be a thing where fans aren’t going to want to watch it anymore.”

That’s where Pollard is wrong and sadly mistaken. Fans are not that bloodthirsty that they’ll stop watching if the bone-jarring and head-banging hits are eliminated. The game would finally be played the way it was meant to be played if that were the case.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is running scared now because of all the brain damage-related lawsuits. It’s something he never saw coming, but he’s smart enough to not overreact and eventually ruin the sport.

In 30 years, when Pollard is 58 years old, he’ll look back on the day he forecasted the end of the NFL and wonder how he could have been so wrong. He didn’t take into consideration that the style of game he played evolved to the point where it was accepted as normal.

The game he’ll see in 30 years will be different, of course. It’ll be less violent in its nature, but every bit as popular. That’s because common sense legislation will eventually prevail and return the game to its proper fundamental roots.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More news and views

News: Browns hire Norv Turner as offensive coordinator

Views: It’s about damn time the Browns hired a coordinator on that side of the ball who knows what the hell he’s doing.

There is no question Turner will be the best offensive coordinator the Browns have had since Rob Chudzinski helmed the 2007 Cleveland offense, which produced the best numbers since the rebirth or since, for that matter.

That’s the team, you’ll recall, that featured Derek Anderson throwing 29 touchdown passes, 16 of them to Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis running for more than 1,300 yards and a defense that had problems getting off the field.

It was also the team that failed to make the playoffs, despite a 10-6 record, due mainly to losing to the Bengals in the penultimate game of the season in a wind-swept game in Cincinnati. Chudzinski brazenly kept calling for Anderson to throw the ball in gusty conditions and a couple of interceptions proved costly.

The next season, Chudzinski’s offense fell apart and so did the Browns, who finished 4-12. That signaled the end of the Romeo Crennel era – and Chudzinski, who wound up in San Diego with . . . Turner, now in a classic case or role reversal.

No question it is a solid hire because he’ll bring something the Browns’ offense has missed since 2007: A stylish approach that combines all phases of the offense. Under Pat Shurmur, it was too heavily weighted toward the passing game.

Turner, a much better coordinator than head coach, is savvy enough to know that in order to win in the National Football League, you have to run the football successfully. Even though it has become a passing league the last several seasons, you cannot win in the NFL without a ground game.

And Turner, who has coached and schemed for some of the best runners and quarterbacks (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, to name a few) over the years, knows what it takes to mold a solid offense.

It’ll be interesting to see if he draws any comparisons between the Dallas Cowboys Triplets (Aikman, Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin) and the second-year Cleveland trio of Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon.

Richardson, in particular, most likely will become a pet project. The similarities to Smith, physical and otherwise, are striking.  Turner would have to be blind not to see them and take advantage of them.

There is no question he will glom onto Chudzinski’s vertical passing game bent with Weeden’s strong arm and Gordon’s over-the-top speed as the basis. Weeden was badly misused last season. Turner is smart enough to take advantage of what Weeden will be able to offer.

And look for the tight end too become a more integral part of the offense. That’s a Turner trademark. Now all the Browns have to do is bring in at least two tight ends who best fit into the Turner offense. Those players do not exist on the current roster.

Not to worry. The Cleveland offense will be in very solid hands.

News: Browns hire Ray Horton as defensive coordinator

Views: It’s about damn time the Browns hired a coordinator on that side of the ball who knows what the hell he’s doing.

The Browns got lucky with this one. The Arizona Cardinals wanted to completely divorce themselves from the Ken Whisenhunt era and that meant saying so long to Horton, who badly wanted to be Whisenhunt’s successor.

He had built a solid reputation in two seasons as the Cardinals’ defensive boss and was considered a front-runner. But when the Cards chose to go with Bruce Arians, Horton couldn’t say yes quickly enough to the Browns.

Having watched the Cardinals up close and personal the last two seasons under Horton, I can assure you this, too, is a solid hire. Horton will bring a personality and an energy to a Cleveland defense that lacks both attributes.

Yes, that defense played hard and tough for Dick Jauron the last couple of seasons. But they didn’t play with attitude, with swagger, with a nasty approach to what they were doing. Sort of like a Pittsburgh Steelers style of defense.

That’s what Horton will provide. A disciple of long time Steelers defensive chief Dick LeBeau, he knows how to motivate. The Browns need that motivation in a most serious way.

When Horton left Arizona, player reaction was swift and angry. Even though the Cardinals suffered through a season similar to that of the Browns, it was the defense that, with the exception of one game (a 58-0 blowout in Seattle), kept the club competitive. It was the meager Arizona offense that contributed mightily to a 5-11 record. Only the Kansas City Chiefs scored fewer points.

It took nearly half the 2011 season for Horton’s troops to grasp what he was teaching. After a 1-6 start, the Cardinals finished that season winning seven of their final nine games with the defense leading the way.

With the new personnel and a new approach, it might take Horton some time to get his men in Cleveland to understand the new concepts.  He doesn’t have a Calais Campbell to work with at defensive end, or a Daryl Washington at inside linebacker, or a Patrick Peterson at cornerback.

His chief task will be to change the defense’s personality and develop the next Campbell, Washington and Peterson. Considering the passive coordinators who preceded him in Cleveland, that shouldn’t be asking too much.

News: Browns hire Joe Cullen as defensive line coach

Views: What the hell are they thinking?

The strength of the defense this past season was the line. Position coach Dwaine Board helped develop rookies John Hughes, Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, who performed well while regulars Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor recovered from injuries.

Why tinker with that? OK, so the Browns might go to some sort of hybrid defense while converting – again – back to a 3-4 scheme. Not sure I see how Cullen, who brings along his own personal demons from his days with the Detroit Lions, can improve on that.

In his three seasons in Jacksonville, the Jags were 15-33 with just 77 sacks. Was that entirely his fault? No, but the performance of his linemen had to be a factor. The Jags had a measly 20 sacks this past season, 16½ by the defensive line. That’s one a game.

The Browns, on the other hand, recorded 38 sacks, nearly doubling the Jaguars’ total. So why get rid of Board?

What the hell were the Browns thinking?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Murphy's Law out of control

They won’t send them, but you can bet Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Colbert and Mike Brown would love to send thank-you notes to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for hiring Mike Lombardi as your de facto general manager. You have just assured yourself semi-permanent ownership of the basement in the AFC North.

The three guys who basically run the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals right now can’t believe how unbelievably lucky they are that Haslam and his buddy, CEO Joe Banner, chose Lombardi to guide Cleveland’s personnel department and have a strong voice in all decisions.

There is no question Haslam has spoken to Cleveland media regarding Lombardi, who previously worked for the Browns from 1987 to 1995. As a relative stranger to the history of this franchise, talking to veteran media members gives him a more focused look and greater insight into that history.

By allowing and sanctioning the hiring of Lombardi, is it clear he paid no heed. He listened to only Banner, a relative newcomer to the Cleveland scene..

If he had paid attention, he would have discovered Lombardi was more of a hindrance than a help when he guided the personnel department for coach Bill Belichick. The Browns did not get better with those two calling the shots. Their drafts were awful.

It became obvious what Belichick thought of Lombardi when he eventually took over the New England Patriots. The two went their separate ways.

He won’t know right away, but Haslam will find out over the long haul that he has made his first serious mistake as the new owner of the Browns.

In a prepared release, the Browns speak glowingly of Lombardi’s accomplishments, but do not address why the man cannot keep a job. He has become a National Football League vagabond. Good men do not bounce around in the NFL.

This move has Banner’s fingerprints all over it. It establishes, once and for all, that he has become a little dictator. Haslam has handed him the keys to his billion-dollar kingdom.

In a world where the accountably factor weighs heavily in a person’s employment, Banner has placed enormous faith in Lombardi’s ability to come in and become the Browns’ personnel savior.

The problem is there is no evidence that Lombardi, who has been out of the NFL inner loop for the last five years, can step right in and make a difference. It seems as though Banner is clearly gambling Lombardi is the man he hired as a consultant with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997.

But when the Eagles hired Andy Reid away from Green Bay the next year, Lombardi was excused and resumed his vagabond ways.

The hiring of Rob Chudzinski to replace Pat Shurmur as the head coach is clearly a step in the right direction, But to replace Tom Heckert Jr. with the likes of Lombardi borders on stupefying.

Chudzinski, who we are told will have input into the final roster and any subsequent moves, stands no chance with Lombardi, who has a much stronger personality, in charge.

There will be a power struggle. Count on it. And Haslam will be squarely in the middle of it. That’s when he’ll find out how seriously unwise his decision was to back Banner. And there will be only one loser that comes out of it: The Cleveland Browns fan.

The reaction to Lombardi’s hiring, rumored for months, has been swift and vicious by the fans. An overwhelming majority of fans on are outraged. The very constituency Haslam needs in his corner is supremely unhappy.

Snide and surly comments litter the comments section following the Plain Dealer article heralding Lombardi’s arrival. Positive posts are few and extremely far between. I can’t remember when a Browns appointment was met with such vitriol by the fan base.

The fans have longed for – and deserved – a winner for so long, it’s understandable they would react in this manner. They are fed up with wrong moves by this franchise.

Ever since their rebirth in 1999, the Browns have flirted almost annually with Murphy’s Law. You know the adage that says “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When is this madness going to stop? Most of us thought the Browns were finally getting an owner who cared, really cared, about improving the club. We knew Randy Lerner did not and that’s why we bought into the Haslam line.

As it turns out, it’s the same-old, same-old, wrapped in a different package. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

News and Views

News: Chip Kelly named head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles

Views: Welcome to the world of the National Football League, Jimmy Haslam III. You’ve been had.

When Kelly appeared to spurn the NFL and head back to his comfort zone at the University of Oregon after negotiating with three teams, including yours, you made a critical mistake.

You believed him.

When you walked away from your No. 1 choice – and don’t try to tell us Kelly wasn’t at the top of your coaching list– in Arizona, you mistakenly thought no one in the NFL would convince him to make the big jump.

Well, the Eagles persisted while you went looking elsewhere and now you’re left trying to explain just what happened. It’ll be interesting to see what spin you put on this one.

Could it be you’re just now finding out that Cleveland is not exactly the garden spot for the coaching fraternity? When you have to settle for your fourth and maybe fifth choice in Rob Chudzinski, what does that tell you?

You said you wanted your new head coach to be dynamic, exciting. Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but Kelly fit the mold you sought to replace the boring coach of your boring team.

It’s understandable you would be willing to reach out to the most innovative coaches on the college scene and bring him to Cleveland to awaken a fan base that has been in snooze mode for way too many seasons.

Kelly would have been the perfect choice. You and Joe Banner knew it and did everything you could, short of offering him a piece of the team, to make it happen. “Back up the Brinks truck” was one of the terms used in your negotiations with Kelly.

You wanted him that badly. And now you have to reconcile your feelings toward the Eagles and Kelly’s representatives.

One of your biggest mistakes was openly falling in love with the Oregon coach. You allowed emotion to win over common sense. You wore your heart on your sleeve. Wrong move.

If you really wanted Kelly, you would have banged on his door on a daily basis after he announced his intention to return to Oregon. You should have worn him down.  He’s not the coach of the Eagles today because Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman in Philadelphia backed off.

You appear to be the kind of dynamic person who always gets what he wants, no matter what it takes. Once you set your sights on a target, you become relentless. Where was that relentlessness? 

While it sounds as though I’m minimizing the Chudzinski appointment, it’s quite the opposite. The moderately optimistic approval of that choice has been documented.

It’s just that for someone so savvy in the business world, it’s mildly disappointing you allowed yourself to be outthought and outmaneuvered. The previous owner of the Browns fell into those categories.

Randy Lerner preferred to remain in the background and didn’t really care about this team. You appear to be his exact opposite.

The NFL is a cutthroat business. The sooner you realize that, the better.

Lesson learned? Hope so.

News: Cleveland Browns Stadium renamed FirstEnergy Stadium

Views: Too bad. There’s something about selling out that rubs me the wrong way. And yet, I understand why Haslam made the deal.

First of all, there is something distinctive about the Browns’ helmet. Haslam says the helmet won’t be touched.

But there is also something distinctive about playing in a stadium that is untouched by big business. It adds old-fashioned charm to an edifice. It adds to the human factor.

Cleveland Browns Stadium told you exactly where the Cleveland Browns played. FirstEnergy Stadium – FirstEnergy Field sounds better – makes one stop and think that, oh yeah, that’s where the Browns play.

Companies think their identifiers place their stamp, their brand in the minds of the public. To some maybe. To most, probably not.

To me, and hopefully many others, it will always be Cleveland Browns Stadium. It’s not like Jacobs Field or Gund Arena, which were original names of their respective venues.

They were nicknamed the Jake or the Gund. Wonder what nickname will be pinned on the latest name change? The fez?

News: Browns hint at future uniform changes

Views: C’mon now. Why mess around with the past? Why change the image of the team? Do Haslam and Banner really think changing the uniform will make a difference?

The Browns, with one notable exception, have had the cleanest looking uniforms in the NFL. Nothing fancy about them. Burnt Orange, Seal Brown and White with clean lines.

The only time the club stumbled with uniform change was in an exhibition game in the early 1980s. They wanted to see what orange numbers with brown and white piping on the back of brown jerseys looked like. In a word, terrible.

If you were sitting beyond the first row at the old Stadium, you couldn’t make out the numbers because they disappeared against the much darker background. The experiment lasted one game.

The jerseys were auctioned off as part of a charity shortly afterward. I own one that was worn by guard Joe DeLamielleure (#64), who now resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s a size 48. Not a perfect fit (I’m a size 40), but a treasure nonetheless.

I learned to tolerate the orange pants and brown jerseys of about 30 years ago and was glad when they disappeared. That’s because the only color pants the Browns should wear are the whites.

I can’t imagine what some creative fashion genius will do with a new look. Hopefully, it’s not something that will embarrass the franchise.

Haslam and Banner know about football. Their sense of fashion is about to be put to the test. Change for the sake of change should always be a road carefully traveled.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chud just might be the right guy . . . finally

Watching Rob Chudzinski at the news conference announcing his appointment as the Browns’ new head coach, one thing became abundantly clear.

The man was really, truly, honest-to-goodness thrilled to be sitting where he was at the time, listening to the words of his new boss.

“. . . and I believe we came back with the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format we want to have here in Cleveland and we all expect to have,” said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III.

The pride showed on Chudzinski’s countenance as he sat there between Haslam and club CEO Joe Banner late last week. It looked as though he wanted one of them to pinch him to make certain this was all really happening.

If you’ve ever wished for something big and ultra important in your life and then got it, you know exactly what coursed through Chudzinski as he faced the media. The smile on his face did not belie the inner joy and pride he must have felt.

After listening to the new coach field a variety of questions, there was no doubt whatsoever this sad-sack team is finally getting a head coach who gets it, who lived it, who knows what it’s like to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.

Anyone who can recall what he did as a little kid growing up in Toledo, living and dying with a Browns team of a different era, pretending he’s Ozzie Newsome or Brian Sipe, gets it.

Chudzinski knows what it feels like to be a Browns fan. He knows the hurt of a tough loss, the exhilaration of a big victory. He knows the colors Burnt Orange and Seal Brown are special.  So is the logoless helmet.

Eric Mangini can have his “but it’s the Cleveland Browns, mom” moments. That’s not nearly the same as this. Mangini said he got it. No he didn’t. He never did.

Chris Palmer, Butch Davis Romeo Crennel and Pat Shurmur, who all preceded Chudzinski, never got it, either. All they wanted was a chance to be a National Football League head coach. Didn’t matter where.

To Chudzinski, Cleveland matters. That not only gives him a leg up on the job that lies ahead, his genuineness gives him style points in the eyes of many fans.  

However, style points do not win football games. And the odds of this man calling all the shots for the first time in his career and being successful are bigger than one would think.

The success rate for first-time head coaches who were coordinators in the NFL is rather low. The Mike Tomlins, Andy Reids and John Harbaughs are the exceptions. The landscape is littered with failures as the Browns know all too well.

Is Chudzinski a popular choice? No. His name popped out from virtually nowhere. The Browns were the first team to contact him this season and they did so almost as an afterthought. Despite Haslam’s protestations, he wasn’t their first choice.

The Browns’ spin, naturally, suggested he was their man all along even though the team’s interview list might have reached double figures. By the time Chudzinski appeared on their radar, all the high profile guys were either back in college and snapped up.

Haslam said his first coaching hire “was always on our radar screen.” That’s so easy to say in hindsight. Consider it nothing more than rhetorical blather because only the sycophants buy it.

Here’s another from Haslam: “We did not have one person in mind as the favorite.” Tell that to University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly who, if you believe the reports, could have written his own check if he had said yes to Haslam and Banner.

Because Chudzinski was not the first, or even the fourth, choice, that doesn’t necessarily make him the wrong choice. There is something about him that says of all his predecessors with the Browns, except perhaps Davis, he’s got a good shot to live up to Haslam’s expectations.

Chudzinski is inheriting a nice player core, especially on offense, which is his specialty. He indicated he would adapt to his personnel, not vice-versa, something that got the stubborn Shurmur fired well before the end of his contract.

What works in the new coach’s favor, though, is his preference for a vertical downfield passing game that is much better suited for the Browns. The days of making quarterback Brandon Weeden play with a west coast bent are over.

If there is anyone who can maximize Weeden’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, it’s Chudzinski. Ample proof of that is what he did as offensive coordinator down in Carolina with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. In two seasons, Newton passed for nearly 8,000 yards, ran for another 1,450 and accounted for 67 touchdowns, 40 with his arm.

Chudzinski put him in a position that gave the Panthers the best chance to win games. Instead being forced to play in a pro set from under center, Newton was given an offense similar to the one he played in at Auburn and flourished in his first two NFL seasons.

That’s not to say Weeden can duplicate Newton’s feats. But you can look for him to return to his Oklahoma State shotgun days and unfurl his strong arm that seems perfectly suited for his new coach’s style of play.

Chudzinski applied the perfect adjective for the kind of football Browns fans can expect and have yearned for all these years: aggressive. Football, by its very nature, is an aggressive sport. And the new coach has promised we’ll see it on both sides of the ball.

Attacking teams usually are teams that wind up winning a majority of games. How many times have we seen with the last three Cleveland coaches a passive, almost play-not-to-lose mentality? Correct answer: Too many. That’s got to stop. If you’re going to lose, you might as well go down fighting.

Another aspect of coaching that has been missing for the last dozen or so years with the Browns is attention to detail. “We’re going to focus on critical situations in a game,” Chudzinski said, adding fundamentals will be stressed.

OK, all coaches say that. And you can bet a lot of people will be watching closely to make certain he keeps those promises. If not, it’ll be back to the square one for Haslam and Banner.

Somehow, this glass-half-empty thinker sees something in Chudzinski that wasn’t there with the likes of Crennel, Mangini and Shurmur. Maybe it’s the Browns fan growing up background. He might not be a Clevelander, but inside him beats the heart of a Browns fan.

For the first time in the last several years, since 2007 when he was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator, I feel somewhat sanguine that, even though Chudzinski was far from their top choice, Haslam and Banner have made the correct choice.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Spinning the wheel of coaches

Round and round she goes and where she stops, nobody knows.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the National Football League’s coaching carousel wheel spinning furiously in the last few days after the Black Monday fallout.

The Cleveland spins stop at names like Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien, Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton. All will be, or have already been, interviewed by this weekend as the Browns seek Pat Shurmur’s successor as the club’s head coach.

It’s almost as though there are hundreds of names on that wheel as the seven teams scramble to plug their vacancies. And each team looks for something different.

Teams such as Arizona and Chicago, whose strength lies on defense, look for an offensive mind to help create the necessary balance to compete. Others seek someone whose forte is stopping the opposition.

It’s almost a circus as the seven wandering teams take aim at what might seem like a plethora of candidates. Some of those candidates can’t talk right now because they are either tied up with a college bowl game or an NFL playoff game.

Right now, the flavor of the day for the Browns seems to be high profile college coaches. Owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner understandably want to make a big splash with their first hire.

That’s why Kelly and O’Brien appear to occupy the top rung right now. The mercurial nature of what they hope to accomplish could cause a sudden switch, however, once the interview process commences.

Factor in that the Cleveland vacancy is not nearly as attractive as, say, the ones in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Diego. The Browns’ record in the last 14 seasons isn’t exactly a screaming endorsement for choosing Cleveland.

Even though they are not yet wedded to Kelly, who might have to be a different type of coach in the NFL as opposed to the gimmick-loaded offense he oversees at Oregon, zeroing in and then landing him would be a huge gamble.

Who knows how many times the Browns will have to spin that wheel before finally deciding on where to stop and then move in on their target? Banner has said the selection of a new coach would be made quickly.

I’m sure he didn’t figure he would have competition from six other teams. It’s a situation where the Browns might be forced, for whatever reason, to take the plunge prematurely and cross their fingers that it’s the correct move.

Just because Haslam and Banner have seemingly fallen in love with two college coaches does not necessarily mean they will wind up with either. It’s rare that the first names that pop out of the rumor mill are the ones who ultimately wind up with the job.

The interviewing process separates the solid candidates from those who will do and say anything to get the job. The weeding-out system is a tried and true method of identifying the strong candidates. Many candidates eliminate themselves.

Unless Haslam and Banner are so convincing (verbally and monetarily) that they can land their man quickly and then move on to select a player personnel chief, the selection of a new Cleveland coach might take longer than they bargained.

As long as the coaching wheel continues to spin, just about anything is possible. No one can be ruled out. And that’s what makes this little game they play so much more fascinating.

While Browns Nation eagerly awaits the new coach to be anointed, all kinds of speculation will be tossed around. Rumor Central will be ramped up to peak capacity. That’s the fun part.  Sides will be taken with certain candidates and cyber fights will break out.

One conclusion is certain: Haslam and Banner had better get this choice right. Browns fans have had enough with the incompetence of the Lerner family the last 14 years. They will not stand for continuation of that incompetence.

The grace period for Haslam and Banner has expired. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Oh . . . and one more item

Meant to get to this earlier, but other subjects (new coach, etc.) kept getting in the way. So . . .

It was a couple of days before the season finale against Pittsburgh when Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress was asked his thoughts on the ending of the Denver game in his weekly news conference. His reply, to put it mildly, stupefies.

A media type wanted to know why the Browns were so aggressive at the end of that game the previous Sunday.

At the time, 1:55 remained in the fourth quarter with the Broncos leading, 34-12, and the Browns out of timeouts, having blown all three in the previous Denver possession. In other words, it was a three-possession game with less than two minutes remaining. The game was lost.

Here’s Childress’ answer.

“Would you like me to wax like Herm Edwards right now?” he asked. “Perhaps? That would encapsulate my thoughts that you ... play ... to ... win ... the ... game. You do everything to win the game.”

The Herm Edwards reference was in response to what Edwards, then coach of the New York Jets, said in answer to a question posed by Judy Battista of the New York Times after the Jets had just fallen to 2-5 following a 24-21 loss to the Browns on Oct 30, 2002.

She asked him, “Do you have to talk to your team about not giving up on the season?”

“This is the greatest thing about sports,” he replied. “You ... play ... to ... win ... the ... game. Hello! You ... play ... to ... win ... the ... game.” It became a famous moment in post-game coaching history.

The final series of the Denver game saw Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy drop back to pass on five straight plays (one was wiped out by a Cleveland holding penalty) with the Broncos’ pass rush, which had already racked up four sacks, teeing off on him.

The Browns’ offensive line was tired, the game was lost and all anybody wanted to do was just get out of town without anyone getting hurt. Too late. Childress kept dialing up pass plays.

The Broncos’ pass rush, which drove Brandon Weeden to the bench with a shoulder injury in the third quarter, nailed McCoy two more times in those final moments, the final sack injuring his right shoulder. On the play before, running back Trent Richardson suffered an ankle injury in pass protection. All three men missed the Steelers’ game.

So why would Childress call five straight pass plays in a decidedly losing situation? “You play to win the game.” That’s why. Then he doubled down on a follow-up question..

Asked if the players bought into that philosophy when they are down, he replied, “I certainly think players would think less of us as coaches if we weren’t still trying to scrape and scramble and call and try to make the next first down and the next first down.”

Yes, the man actually said that. He must be delusional. This season has been rougher on him that I thought.

One huge difference in the Edwards reference. His Jets had just lost a tough game to the Browns 10 years ago. The 2012 Browns were down by 22 points to the Broncos with less than two minutes left in the game. Childress must have been absent that day in math class.

The Jets, by the way, recovered nicely that season and went on to finish 9-7, getting to the division championship game before losing. 

The only good that comes out of this is that Childress will not be back next season. With flawed thinking like his, he's better off doing harm with another team.