Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday leftovers

Is there any question now as to who runs the Browns from top to bottom? It certainly is not the owner.

Sure owner Jimmy Haslam III lays out the big bucks. He’s the owner. He should.

But when it comes to running the whole football show in Berea, there is only one man who controls everything.

After the sacking of rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski mere hours after the end of the 2013 season Sunday night, there is no question that Joe Banner was the motivating force behind the move.

Yeah, Banner, the martinet, probably checked with Low Profile General Manager Mike Lombardi, the club’s mystery man, and assistant GM Ray Farmer to see if they agreed with him that Chud must go. And whattaya know, they did. Shocking!

He also might have solicited the advice of some friends in the business just to make certain he wasn’t making the wrong move. That move, while not unprecedented, was most unusual. It isn’t often in the National Football League that a first-year head coach gets rolled after just one season.

No, this one had Banner’s fingerprints all over it. The Browns were losing and losing badly and he was being embarrassed by their embarrassing play. Something needed to be done. And you can’t fire the players.

But never lose sight of the fact that Banner does it all at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. Lombardi and Farmer are the talent evaluators and chief yes men. But all final decisions regarding football matters fall into Banner’s lap.

The man with a business background now appears to fancy himself a football man through more than 15 years of osmosis as the successful president of the Philadelphia Eagles. He controls the shape of the roster. Lombardi and Farmer are mere lackeys. So was Chudzinski.

Even though he and Haslam owned their mistake of hiring a coach not yet ready for primetime, sitting at Monday’s news conference to explain their actions must have been tough for Banner. Large egos do not handle such situations well.

While he occasionally called a tough question “a fair question” as though trying to balance the emotional scales, he managed to tap dance his way around answers several times. It was an uncomfortable scene he does not forward to repeating.

There is more pressure on Banner to succeed in Cleveland now more than at any time he was in Philadelphia mainly because he basically has become the Jerry Jones of this franchise without owning it. The Dallas owner makes all personnel decisions for the Cowboys.

In Philadelphia, Banner did not make the ultimate personnel decisions. Eagles coach Andy Reid and whoever his general manager was at the time made them. With the Browns, Banner is the man.

It’s a position he appears to relish. And with it goes the future of the franchise. Never before has anyone with such limited knowledge of personnel been in charge of shaping that future for the Browns.

Everyone around the NFL now will watch with perhaps greater interest than normal as Banner begins the newest search for his next head coach. Right now, he’s 1-for-1 in that department, striking it rich with Reid in Philadelphia and missing badly with Chudzinski.

There is one certainty about the next coach. I would be very surprised – no, make that stunned – if Chudzinski’s successor is not an offensive-minded coach. His M. O. suggests that’s the direction he will go.

~ Among the names being thrown out as Chudzinski’s possible successor is New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a native of Barberton, Ohio. McDaniels, who played his high school football at Canton McKinley and college football at John Carroll, has an advocate with the Browns in Lombardi through their working relationship with Bill Belichick.

McDaniels, 37, coached the Denver Broncos for slightly less than two full seasons before being fired in December 2010. He fits the mold Banner is looking for. He is young enough and NFL-savvy enough to at least get an interview and is considered by some to be the early favorite.

Other names being speculated are Todd Bowles and Dan Quinn, defensive coordinators at Arizona and Seattle, and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase. But most of us know Gase is the offensive coordinator in name only. Peyton Manning is the brains behind – and runs – the Broncos’ offense.

If McDaniels somehow winds up with the Cleveland job, don’t be surprised if he tries to bring Tim Tebow back into the NFL. McDaniels shocked the entire league when he selected University of Florida quarterback with the Broncos’ No. 1 pick in the 2010 college draft. The controversial Tebow did not play in the league in 2013.

~ The Browns, who own 10 picks in the 2014 college football draft, including seven in the first four rounds, will select fourth in the first round. With so many areas of need to fill, it will be interesting to see which side of the ball will get the earliest consideration.

The Browns, in no particular order, could use a quarterback, running back, a couple of offensive linemen (guards), a wide receiver or two, a couple of linebackers (one inside, one outside) and a cornerback.

The next draft is considered much deeper than the 2013 lottery. Maybe that’s why Banner and his minions decided to take that draft off and stock up on future picks. Only one problem with the search for the team’s next franchise quarterback: There doesn’t seem to be anyone coming out who fits the mold. The 2015 field will be much stronger.

~ Want to know why the Browns finished 4-12? Check out these statistics.

The offense scored a net 273 points (subtracting defensive and special team stats), eight fewer than last season. The defense allowed a net 378 points (subtracting opposing teams’ defensive and special teams stats), 31 more than last season. 

The rushing offense produced 1,383 yards (1,593 last season); the pass rush had 40 sacks (38 last season); the turnover ratio was minus-8 (plus-3 last season); the offense had 30 touchdowns (28 last season); four were on the ground (12 last season); and the leading grounder was Willis McGahee with 377 yards (950 last season by Trent Richardson).

~ More telling stats . . .

The Browns either had the lead of were tied at halftime in 10 games and lost six. The second quarter was, by far, their most productive on offense with 105 points, or 34% of their 308 total. They scored 56 points (18.2%) in the first quarter, 71 (23%) in the third and 76 (24.7%) in the final quarter. In other words, they started slowly at the beginning of each half.

On defense, they were the strongest at the start of each half. In the first quarter, they allowed just 67 points (16.5% of their 406 points). In the second quarter, it was 121 points (29.8%). They yielded just 73 points (18%) in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was their worst with 145 points (35.7%). Nearly 66% of the points allowed (266) occurred in the second and fourth quarters.

~ Notebook: OK, a few more stats. In their first five games, the Browns sacked opposing quarterbacks 18 times. In the final 11, it was 22. . . . Since 2010, the Browns are 3-18 in December. . . . In the first five games, the Browns allowed 18.8 points a game. In the final 11, that number rose to 28.4. . . . Jimmy Haslam III is learning the hard way how difficult it is to be a Browns fan. When he left the Browns-Steelers game Sunday with half a quarter to play, he no doubt experienced the hollow feeling most Browns fans have had since 1999. The only difference is he can do something about it. Turning the Factory of Sadness into the Factor of Happiness and Joy would be his crowning achievement. Now all he has to do is go out and do it.

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