Friday, January 24, 2014

Pettine leftovers

Mike Pettine has been credited with transforming the Buffalo Bills’ defense in just one season. Into what is not clear. So let’s take a closer look at that transformation.

The new Browns coach took over a defense in Buffalo last season that was similar in many ways to the Browns’. Like Ray Horton’s scheme, it was a 3-4 hybrid with multiple fronts. It was an attacking defense, designed to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks from all points on the field.

With Pettine's arrival, the Buffalo defense improved from 22nd overall in 2012 to 10th (fourth vs. the pass, 28th against the run) last season. The Browns under Horton rose from 23rd overall in 2012 to ninth in 2013. A parallel journey for both clubs.

The Bills’ defense, like the Browns’, really didn’t shut anyone down last season. Every team on the schedule scored at least 20 points on that defense, which permitted 24.2 points a game (22.5 net when factoring in opposition touchdowns on defense and special teams). The Browns were at 25.4 (23.6 net).

The Buffalo defense stood out in three areas, all related to the pass. The Bills ranked second in the National Football League in sacks with 57 and interceptions with 23 and allowed just 5.9 yards per completion, best in the league. A statistical oddity: the fourth-ranked pass defense allowed 28 touchdowns.

As well as the Bills played the pass, they faltered against the run, permitting 129 yards a game. Sounds like the Cleveland run defense before Horton arrived. Pettine’s desire to put the quarterback on his back had a deleterious effect against the run.

Sort of falls in line with the tough and aggressive approach he plans on bringing the Cleveland defense, which is trying to shed its label of being considered somewhat soft. The Browns dramatically improved their run defense last season, but fell far short against the pass.

Other notable Pettine stats with Buffalo include a respectable 37.1% conversion rate on third downs. The Browns permitted opposing teams to convert 44,7% of the time on that critical down. Getting off the field proved extremely difficult last season.

The best you can say about the results in Buffalo (and Cleveland) was it was mediocre. Nothing embarrassing, but nothing great.

So how does all that impact Pettine’s new job? It doesn’t. He is now the head coach and that’s a brand new ballgame, something he’ll discover once they play games. Being the head coach is a whole different animal than being a coordinator.

A coordinator concentrates on a singular aspect of the game. That’s his job, his main responsibility.  A head coach oversees the entire program. From time management to thinking at least three or four plays ahead of what’s actually going on to making the tough decisions in crunch time, he’s the supreme boss.

A head coach determines the philosophy of and sets the culture for the team in every aspect of the game. He sets the tone. Pettine will find out just how difficult it is to juggle calling defenses, which he said he would do next season, with running the entire team. Very few coaches have been able to do that successfully. Many more have failed.
*          *          *
There was a recurring theme throughout Pettine’s first dalliance with the Cleveland media. Tough was the main theme.

“This team is going to be built on toughness,” he said, then spoke about teams that talk themselves into losing. “That, to me, is the culture that needs to be changed here. We’re going to build a team not just physically tough, but also mentally.”

Added owner Jimmy Haslam III, “I think he’s perfect, He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed. But let’s face it, he has to win games.”

And the best quote of the news conference by Pettine: “To compete in the AFC North, you have to be willing to bloody your nose a little bit. That’s the mentality we’re going to take here. This team is going to be built on toughness.”

He talks tough. Let’s see if it transitions to the field. On the surface, though, it looks as though big boy football is returning to Cleveland.
*          *          *
First impression of Pettine: He’s a no-nonsense guy who will inject a strict discipline into the Browns. How intractable he is, however, can be a mitigating factor with the players. Watching Greg Schiano self-destruct in Tampa Bay the last two seasons should be a valuable lesson.

The way he talks, Pettine appears to be that type of coach. Schiano lost his job because he attempted to run a tight ship following the loose regime of his predecessor, Raheem Morris. It was too tight and backfired.

“The atmosphere . . . was real tense,” Buccaneers cornerback Darelle Revis told the Tampa Bay Times recently at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. “Guys didn’t like coming to work. That’s one of the things you have to have, a stress-free atmosphere and environment.

“You’re going to get everything out of everybody if it’s stress free and let people be who they are. I wish he would have listened to some of the players a little bit more, especially the veterans and some of the older guys.”

If Pettine wants toughness from his team and keep the lines of communication open, he has to walk a fine line between soliciting that toughness and being flexible. He has to make coming to work, as Revis said, an enjoyable experience.
*          *          *
Brian Billick, the former Ravens coach who brought Pettine into the NFL as a video assistant in 2002, wondered what took the Browns so long to hire him.

“The thing you wonder about,” he said, “I understand you have to go through a process, but you could have hired Mike on Jan. 3 (five days after the Rob Chudzinski firing) and had a leg up on putting together a staff.”

Tell that to Haslam and Joe Banner.
*          *          *
Speaking of Haslam, the Cleveland owner fell back on an old reliable when discussing the national perception of the 25-day struggle to find Chudzinski’s successor. Rather than turning the blame inward, he blamed, ta da, the media. Yep, it’s the media’s fault he and Banner took nearly a month to name a new coach.

“I think that’s the perception you all have generated,” Haslam said. “That’s not the perception among the (coaching) candidates, that’s not the perception among football people I talk to around the country. This perception that’s been created out there is not reality.”

If that wasn’t the perception, why then did it take so long to find the new coach? In this case, despite Haslam’s protestations, perception indeed was reality.

(The preceding note was originally written about Banner and has been changed to reflect the views of Haslam, not the club's CEO. Apologies to Banner for incorrectly linking his name to those quotes.)
*          *          *
Pettine said he was impressed by “a leadership group committed to winning, a young roster, plenty of cap space, a deep draft, plenty of picks.

But why not wait until next year when more opportunities will arise? “I don’t know if I believe in that,” he said. “I look at this situation, when you put all the factors together, this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.” He's saying all the right things.
*          *          *
There will always be a lingering impression that good timing is what landed Pettine the Cleveland job. Good timing for Pettine and bad timing for Seattle’s Dan Quinn.

Because the Seahawks defensive coordinator was tied up with the Super Bowl and couldn’t be signed until after the big event, and the Browns were in a hurry to get a new coach, Quinn will have to wait until next year to become a head coach.

We’ll never know for certain, but Quinn just might have been favored over Pettine by the Cleveland front office and the need to form a coaching staff now took precedence. The longer the Browns waited to name their new coach, the more difficult it would have been to assemble a staff.
*          *          *
Hopefully, Pettine lasts more than one season. And hopefully, the Browns never again conduct a coaching search like this. Its interminable length only added to the embarrassment that seeps out of Berea on a daily basis.

Next time, at least have a plan in place if you’re going to fire a coach. If the Browns had known it would have been this difficult to get a new head coach, they might have thought twice about firing Chudzinski.
*          *          *
So did the Browns improve themselves with this hire? The optimist says what have they got to lose. The pessimist says wait and see. I belong to the latter group. Shocking, I know. We've seen too many failures for the last 15 seasons. I need solid proof. 

We do know they hired a man whose defensive philosophy is a mirror image of the former defensive coordinator. And they are wandering aimlessly on offense because the new guy has never in is career had anything to do with that side of the ball.

But if Pettine wins at least six games in the upcoming season, that will be considered progress considering the Browns haven’t won that many games in a season since 2007, when they shocked the NFL and won 10. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Worth the wait?

Well, it’s about damn time.

Mike Pettine Jr. officially became the Browns’ seventh full-time head coach since 1999 with his anointment, er, appointment Thursday.

It wasn’t so much that Pettine beat out a large field of candidates. In reality, the Browns settled on the 47-year-old former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, a relatively late entrant into the Cleveland coaching derby.

Until recently, the new coach was Mike Who? When his name suddenly became associated with the Cleveland coaching vacancy, practically no one knew who he was. Only the most sophisticated professional football fan could tell you about him.

Pettine clearly is the not the club’s first choice and maybe not even their second or third choice. He didn’t pop onto their radar until about two weeks into the process. But you can bet Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner will deny it, claiming it was a “purposefully methodical” approach that helped land him.

The fact no other team chose to interview Pettine might very well be an accurate reflection on what other teams seeking a new head coach throughout the National Football League thought of his coaching prowess. Only the Browns hopped on that bandwagon.

Hopefully, they won’t get too dizzy spinning the situation to make it look as though he was their top choice from the beginning. Not when the likes of Josh McDaniels, Adam Gase and a few other veteran coaches were available.

It turned out to be a war of attrition for the Browns as the days and weeks tumbled by without a new coach. Nearly a dozen names popped into and out of the picture as the search dragged on for what seemed like forever. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but when the other six teams with coaching vacancies made relatively quick decisions, it made the Browns look like the model of indecision.

It actually took the team 18 days after the firing of Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 to even consider Pettine for the job. And it required three interviews – Jan. 16, this past Tuesday and again Thursday – before determining that, yes, he was their man.

Normally, it takes no more than two interviews to lock down a job as a head coach in the NFL. Pettine was put through three exhaustive sit-downs. Hard to know exactly what else could be gleaned from a third interview.

It has been reported that Pettine wanted this job badly. Good for him. That, of course, will sit well with some of the fan base. After all, opportunities like this don’t come along often. But after what happened to Chudzinski, he definitely must realize he is now working for the most mercurial front office in the league.

No doubt he honestly believes he can come to Cleveland and turn around the fortunes of this moribund and dysfunctional franchise. You don’t begin a new job with negative thoughts swimming in your head.

If nothing else, at least based on his reputation, Pettine will bring a hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach to a team that badly needs discipline, which was lacking with the last two coaches.

So why did no other NFL team so much as ask the Bills’ permission to interview Pettine? If he is so well respected and thought of throughout the league, why wasn’t he at least considered for a head-coaching job?

What did Haslam and Banner see in him that led them to believe that he was, indeed, the guy they were looking for? Or were they just throwing darts at a board and more landed on Pettine’s name than any other?

The answer might be contained in the Browns’ news release. “Mike is the epitome of what we want the Cleveland Browns to be – tough, aggressive and innovative – with a blue-collar, team-first mentality,” said Haslam.

“He knows what’s necessary to beat teams in the AFC North (having worked several years in Baltimore). Most importantly, Mike has repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success, clearly what we are striving for . . .“

The most praise than can be heaped on the new Cleveland coach is he was the first coach Rex Ryan hired when he took over the New York Jets several years ago. He was the Jets’ defensive coordinator for four seasons when the club racked up some impressive numbers.

If he was so good, then why did Ryan allow him to leave for the Buffalo job following the 2012 season? It was a sideways move. Could it be that perhaps he was not really the defensive boss with the Jets, but the DC in name only? With a strong personality like the defensive-minded Ryan, one has to wonder who actually ran that defense.

That’s the same question asked by Browns fans when Romeo Crennel left the New England Patriots in 2005 to become the head man in Cleveland. Did Crennel really run the great Patriots defense or was it Bill Belichick? And we all know how that ended.

Another big question that needs to be answered is how much power the Browns will give their new coach. Chudzinski coached with one hand tied behind his back as Banner and Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi dictated the shape of the player roster.

If Haslam allows Banner and The Ghost the same latitude with regard to the roster and tells Pettine to stick to coaching, then it very well turn out to be the same old, same old. Again. The only thing that will change is who occupies the office of head coach.

The best attribute Pettine has going for him is his legacy. He is the son of a coach. Not just any coach, but a legendary coach in eastern Pennsylvania. His father, Mike, led Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown to a 326-42-4 record, winning four state Class AAAA state championships.

The new Cleveland coach, who bears a strong physical resemblance to Rick Harrison of the TV reality show Pawn Stars, also coached high school ball in that region for seven seasons before joining the NFL as a coaching assistant with Baltimore in 2002.

It also will be interesting to see whom Pettine hires as his coordinators, especially on defense. He ran a hybrid scheme that leaned more 4-3 than 3-4 in Buffalo, somewhat similar to what Ray Horton ran for the Browns last season.  

In Buffalo, though, Pettine worked with much more talent than he inherits with the Browns. He coached the likes of defensive linemen Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus and terrific rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso. He does not have that kind of talent luxury with the Browns.

That Bills’ defensive line quartet produced 41 of the club’s 57 sacks (the Browns had 40 overall) with Mario Williams leading the way with 13. The extremely talented Alonso burst into the NFL landscape with 159 tackles this past season, third most in the NFL. The Browns’ D’Qwell Jackson was seventh with 141.

Pettine’s passion for the Cleveland job obviously stemmed from Haslam’s commitment to winning. He noting how upbeat, energetic and passionate the owner was during their interviews. All well and good. Right now, those are only words. The right words for sure, but words nonetheless.

All he has to do now is take those words and somehow translate them into Haslam’s goal of winning football. If he can do that, then Mike Who will become a somebody quickly and justify his selection.

But for skeptics such as yours truly, this looks like the same move Browns fans have been subjected to for the last 15 years. Until a coach comes into Cleveland and successfully turns this franchise 180 degrees, that unfortunately will always be the case.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

And the search goes on and on and on and . . . 

Now that Adam Gase has reportedly told the Browns to remove his name from their list of candidates to replace Rob Chudzinski, there is no way the club can introduce its new head coach and say he was the first choice. Or even second choice.

That’s how bad it has become for this franchise.

When assistant coaches tell the Browns they are not interested in moving up in the coaching ranks to become the head man, you know they have reached the nadir. That has happened at least twice now with Gase and Josh McDaniels.

There are only 32 of these jobs available on the planet and the notion the Cleveland job is a sort of football coaching graveyard does not nothing but pile on the embarrassment. The aftermath of the Chudzinski firing appears to be reaching epidemic proportions.

Doesn’t anyone want to coach this team?

The answer obviously is yes, but it looks as if Jimmy Haslam III and his minions will have to settle for whoever says yes first. So much for careful consideration as to who succeeds Chudzinski.

Who knows? Maybe the Browns will get lucky and wind up with someone who actually becomes successful to the point where the team rises to the level of mediocrity. After what fans have been subjected to the last 15 seasons, mediocrity is a step in the right direction.

Whether it’s Dan Quinn or Mike Pettine or whomever, it’s time to get off the pot, stop being “purposefully methodical” and wrap this thing up. Find out who really wants to come to Cleveland and sign him before he changes his mind.

This coaching circus needs to stop. It’s bad enough the team embarrasses the city and its fans. Watching the front office botch this coaching search only adds to that embarrassment. And the longer it goes, the worse it gets.

This is not rocket science. Joe Banner’s quest to find the next unknown superstar and anoint him has already produced one failure. Maybe that’s why he is treading cautiously now.

It’s one thing to become careful with the selection. It’s quite another to do so when the field continues to be whittled to a precious few. This obviously has not gone as the CEO had anticipated.

The longer Banner waits, the more difficult it will be for the new coach to put together a staff. The new coaches of the six teams that fired their old coaches have snapped up most of the available coordinators.

With the new coach, the team gets a new philosophy on both sides of the ball. That’ll be three changes of coaching philosophy in the last three seasons. No wonder this team can’t win. With the Browns, continuity is a dirty word.

One of these years, someone is going to come along with a plan that will actually flip this franchise 180 degrees and he will be hailed as a savior. There is always hope.

Until then, we are stuck. And still looking for a head coach.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Browns overcome by inertia

Take a few days off to tend to some personal business and what do the Browns do?


Absolutely nothing except maybe twiddle thumbs between throwing other names out there as coaching possibilities.

Only the Browns can be the first team to fire a head coach and the last team to hire his successor. It just adds to the embarrassment of being arguably the most dysfunctional team in the National Football League. It's an argument fighting a losing battle.

The foot dragging of the somewhat bewildered front office no doubt caused the club’s public relations arm to swing into action. How else can owner Jimmy Haslam III’s recent letter to season ticketholders be explained?

“We have purposefully been very methodical in our approach,” Haslam wrote in small part trying to calm anxious fans and explain that foot dragging. In other words, we can't make up our minds.

The Browns sure weren’t “purposefully very methodical” when it came to pulling the plug on Rob Chudzinski after just one season. Purposefully knee jerk is more like it.

As it stands right now, the Browns once again will wind up with sloppy seconds or even thirds for their next coach. For whatever reason, this franchise gets in its own way with something as simple as choosing a new head coach.

It seems as though every move the Browns make in that regard is the wrong move. All you have to do is look at their 15-year record since the resurrection to substantiate that claim. Again, Murphy’s Law seems to have taken up permanent residence in Berea.

What has gone on since Chudzinski was told his services were no longer needed resembles a merry-go-round of coaching names. (Cue the circus music.) From Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase – both of whom reportedly do not want the job – to Mike Pettine, Dan Quinn and Rich Bisaccia, the current names du jour, the joke continues.

Do not pay attention to the second interviews Pettine and Quinn are likely to get as this whole fiasco drags out until next month. Both men are defensive coaches and the Browns seek someone whose priorities lie on the other side of the football.

Unless Haslam and Joe Banner slam the brakes on that philosophical approach, interviewing Pettine and Quinn will be nothing more than a charade as we await something more dramatic involving an offensive coach.

Bisaccia, on the other hand, is a special teams coach with Dallas. Unless Haslam hopes to hit head-coaching gold as Baltimore did with former special teams coach John Harbaugh, forget Bisaccia.

And unless he changes his mind, Gase will not interview until the Super Bowl is concluded. His agent reportedly is advising the young Denver offensive coordinator to wait another year before entering the head coaching ranks.

Next season, the coaches of six NFL teams – the two New York teams, Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Oakland – could be coaching for their jobs. And all but one of those franchises are more attractive than Cleveland. Only the Jacksonville job could be considered worse.

Thus it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gase wait patiently and take over a team with much more potential and a whole lot less dysfunction than exists with the Browns.

But if Haslam wants Gase badly enough, he just might make it much more worthwhile to cast his lot with the Browns. In other words, make him an insane monetary offer he’d be crazy to turn down.

And if that doesn’t work, give him what the club wouldn’t give Chudzinski: total control of the roster. Disarm Banner and Mike Lombardi. Based on what he has accomplished in his brief time with the Browns, the reputation Banner built all those years in Philadelphia has been shot.

If Haslam is determined to be more hands-on because of what happened this past season, he might as well make bold moves. He’s got nothing to lose. If Gase is his man and he refuses to take no for an answer, then the owner has to overpay for a coach with only one season’s experience as a coordinator.

But if Gase listens to his agent and remains steadfast in his refusal to become a head-coaching candidate until the 2015 season, Haslam has to face a harsh reality. He spent a billion dollars to purchase a franchise that is nothing but trouble; a franchise whose unattractiveness scares off legitimate coaching candidates.

McDaniels, with his strong northeast Ohio connections, would have been a natural fit. Only he didn’t want to come back home, not with the current front office running the show. So he pulled his name from consideration even before a job was offered.

And now we are reduced to Gase and all the other guys. The Browns just might have to settle again for the first person who says yes.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hello Whiz; goodbye Whiz?

One more down. One more added.

And the beat goes on and on and on.

Scratch James Franklin from the list of candidates seeking to become the next head coach of the Browns and add Ken Whisenhunt.

Franklin is taking his coaching talents to Penn State University, where he will match wits with the likes of Urban Meyer. Now we’ll see how good he really is.

Whisenhunt is a surprise added starter to the Browns’ search only because CEO Joe Banner said last week that no one interviewed last year when the job was open would be interviewed again this year. Whisenhunt will be, according to reports.

Someone, not Banner, seems to have steered owner Jimmy Haslam III in Whisenhunt’s direction. Not certain what else the former Arizona Cardinals coach can bring to the table that he didn’t last year.

Perhaps it’s because he was coming off his firing by the Cardinals last year and this year, he arrives as the offensive coordinator of the surprising San Diego Chargers, who upset Cincinnati last weekend in the playoffs.

The big question is whether Whisenhunt will make it to the interview at all with the Browns. The Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans are believed heavily interested in acquiring his talents.

One look at the Detroit roster tells you why Whisenhunt would be a fool to turn down an offer from the Lions should one be forthcoming. And the Lions would be just as foolish to let him interview with other teams.

Whisenhunt’s success and subsequent failure with the Cardinals is directly tied to whoever quarterbacked the team. When Kurt Warner was his quarterback, the Cards got to a Super Bowl and were annual challengers for the NFC West title. When Warner retired, the Cards’ fortunes plunged.

Now take a look at the quarterbacks for the Lions and Browns. The Lions have Matthew Stafford. The Browns have, uh, well, uh, Brian Hoyer. And, uh, Jason Campbell. And, uh, well OK. Advantage Detroit.

The Lions terribly underachieved under Jim Schwartz this past season. That’s why he’s looking for another job. Whisenhunt would be a perfect fit for an offense that features Stafford and Calvin Johnson and a defense that has arguably one of the best defensive lines in the National Football League.

So unless the Lions and/or Titans drag their feet with Whisenhunt, it looks as though his name will drop off the Cleveland radar almost as quickly as it reappeared.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nyet, says McDaniels

So Josh McDaniels is no longer a candidate to replace Rob Chudzinski as coach of the Browns.

According to reports, Bill Belichick’s top assistant with the New England Patriots has removed his name from any consideration.

Smart man? Or one who believes his next job should be with an organization that has generous amounts of stability. An organization that is not dysfunctional. An organization headed in the right direction.

By snubbing his nose at the Browns, McDaniels basically has indicated he is willing to bide his time and wait until the right organization comes along so he can redeem himself from his Denver disaster. Smart man.

The Canton native obviously looked at the Cleveland roster. Then looked at the front-office structure. And then determined this wasn’t going to work.

Maybe, as some seem to be suggesting, Belichick talked McDaniels out of any notion to move back to northeast Ohio. Then again, maybe he didn’t have to. One interview told McDaniels all he needed to know about the Browns.

When coaches are interviewed for jobs, the smart ones conduct their own interview at the same time. If you’re going to commit yourself to a new employer, you might as well find out as much as you can about him.

In his first head-coaching stint in Denver, McDaniels ran the whole football operation. With the Browns, that was never going to happen as long as Joe Banner and Mike (The Ghost ) Lombardi drew paychecks.

Whoever gets the Cleveland job will never have anything resembling autonomy. McDaniels obviously saw that. The only puzzler is why it took him so long to realize that and withdraw his name from consideration.

Would he have been a good fit with the Browns? That’s a moot point now. The only thing we know for certain is his snub has sent a signal around the football world to beware of what you’re being sold in Cleveland.

When all the dust clears from the search and the new coach is introduced, we will be told McDaniels wasn’t their first choice when it certainly appears as though he was. That’s called damage control.

The Ghost, in particular, would love to have latched on to a Belichick protégé, especially one so young and dynamic. He must be terribly disappointed McDaniels opted not to fulfill his so-called boyhood dream of coaching the Browns.

So now the search for Chudzinski’s successor plods on.

One down. Who’s next?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

And the beat goes on

Is Ben McAdoo lucky number seven?

Or is he just another name thrown against the proverbial wall in hopes it will stick?

In their slow-moving search for a new head coach, the Browns, who have had six head coaches in 15 seasons, are venturing further and further into unknown territory.

McAdoo, for the unwashed, has been the quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers the past two seasons. Before that, he was the tight ends coach.

OK, time to fess up. Anyone ever hear about McAdoo before his name was leaked to the media with regard to his coaching future? Anyone?

Of course not. He was just another assistant coach laboring in relative anonymity before being thrust into the spotlight by the Browns’ eagerness to interview him.

And now, he officially becomes the eighth potential candidate competing for the privilege of replacing Rob Chudzinski as Cleveland’s seventh head coach. Lucky No. 7?

In front of him, and in no particular order, are Josh McDaniels, Bob Stoops, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Dan Quinn, Adam Gase and Todd Bowles. McDaniels, Quinn and Bowles have been interviewed.

Heading into foreign territory is nothing new for Cleveland CEO Joe Banner. That’s how he landed Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Lightning obviously did not strike twice with the Chudzinski appointment a year ago.

But that certainly won’t stop him from searching every conceivable corner of the football universe in an effort to redeem himself to owner Jimmy Haslam III. Pulling a John Harbaugh or Mike Tomlin out of a hat doesn’t happen in Cleveland. He wants to change that.

Banner was embarrassed by the Chudzinski fiasco. He also is well aware of Cleveland’s reputation as a coaching graveyard. How can anyone come to any other conclusion after what has transpired the last 15 seasons.

No doubt he will work exhaustively to eliminate that reputation, hope his No. 1 choice wants to take the job if offered and then cross his fingers that he made a wise decision.

The last time the club nailed its top choice to be the head coach was back in 2009 when Eric Mangini arrived. Randy Lerner was the owner at the time and all but demanded Mangini be hired. History proved that move supremely unwise.

Banner has Haslam looking over his shoulder on this one. Hopefully, the owner will show restraint and allow his CEO to conduct the search with no interference.

We are now at nine days and counting with no apparent end in sight. ‘Tis better, though, to go slowly and get it right than rush for the wrong reasons and screw it up.

That’s why candidates like McAdoo pop up on the radar. Don’t be surprised if there are a few others like him before the final decision is made.

Monday, January 6, 2014

So who gets the job?

He began his coaching career modestly as a graduate assistant at his alma mater at the age of 23.

He later went on to become an assistant coach at four different schools before getting his first head coaching gig at the age of 36.

He took a storied college football program that hadn’t won a conference title in 11 seasons and restored it to greatness within two seasons. His teams have won eight conference championships in 15 seasons.

For years, his name has been linked at various times with the opportunity to take his coaching talents to the National Football League.

And for years, even though he chose to remain in the collegiate ranks, the linking of his name with the NFL grows exponentially.

He is clearly the most interesting man in the Browns’ search for their next head coach.

He is Robert Anthony Stoops, the most successful member of the famous football family of Youngstown, Ohio. And, according to reports, is on the Browns’ radar.

Stoops, whose college coaching record at Oklahoma University is 160-39 after his Sooners upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl recently, would be a natural fit for the Browns. He has never in his 15 seasons at Oklahoma not gone to a bowl game.

He would be a terrific public relations coup should he decide to finally make that final coaching leap. The freshness of the local kid returning to his roots (geographic latitude in effect here) would have a lingering effect.

He would be a highly popular hire. He’d become the face of the team. Anyone who dared criticize such a move would be ostracized.

Stoops has two negatives. He has never before coached in the NFL. More coaches wind up failing than succeeding while trying to make the leap from college to the NFL. And he is a virtual unknown from a coaching standpoint to Joe Banner and Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi.

Both men are strictly NFL guys. Their roots are sunk deep into the league. And while Stoops might be given some consideration should be finally acquiesce and explore the possibility of turning pro, the fact he is college might be a deterrent.

Lombardi might be a figurehead, but his input in matters such as these are not ignored. Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam III will make the ultimate coaching choice, but not without the thoughts of Lombardi and assistant GM Ray Farmer.

Stoops is being coy with regard to his immediate future. Responding to a report out of St. Louis early last week that he had the inside track on the Cleveland job, he said, innocuously, “You never know.”

Later, he told national talk show host Dan Patrick that “you never know what will come your way. Right now, I love what I’m doing. Right now, it’s not something I will pursue.”

He might not pursue, but he might wind up being the pursued. It’s entirely possible that whoever wants Stoops’ talents might be doing so in a surreptitious manner through back channels.

Now on to the other candidates.

If Stoops is the most interesting man in the Browns’ search for a new head coach, James Franklin certainly has to be the most intriguing.

Who is James Franklin? To the college football junkie who follows the sport religiously, he’s the young head coach at Vanderbilt University, a school known much more for education than football. To the average college football fan, Franklin is “who?”.

All he did when he took over a moribund Vanderbilt program in 2011 is become the first Commodores coach in 68 years to win his first three games en route to a 6-6 record and lead his team to a bowl game.

Last season alone, the Commodores knocked off bitter rival Tennessee at home for the first time in 30 years, won four straight Southeast Conference games in a row for the first time since 1949, and produced their first eight-victory season in 30 years and first nine-victory season since 1915. This past season resulted in the school’s first ever back-to-back nine-victory seasons and a third straight bowl game.

So why is he reportedly on the Browns’ radar? No one knows for certain. In some circles, he is considered a budding coaching star. Anyone who can almost magically turn around the Vandy program so quickly and successfully obviously has the kind of coaching chops that draws the attention of larger college programs.

It’s very possible the Browns’ interest in at least interviewing Franklin stems from Haslam’s knowledge of the coach. The owner is a huge supporter of Tennessee football and the Commodores have defeated his Volunteers the last two seasons. Maybe he figures if Franklin can do that at Vanderbilt, why not the Browns?

Two more points: Franklin did serve as wide receivers coach with Green Bay in 2005. So he does have some NFL experience. And Banner is not averse to tapping an unexpected unknown as his coach. He’s already done that twice; first with Andy Reid in Philadelphia and then Rob Chudzinski. He’s batting .500.

Another college coach in the field is Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Considered by many an offensive genius in the Chip Kelly mold, Malzahn also might be the luckiest coach in college football this year.

The only reason he’s in the BCS Championship game against Florida State Monday night is a lucky break on a tipped pass in the late stages of the Georgia game that turned a loss into a victory, and an iconic 109-yard return of a missed field goal in the victory over Alabama that propelled the Tigers to the title game.

Without those two fluke plays, Auburn is just another very good football team and Malzahn, who has no NFL experience, is just another coach who came close. And probably removed his face from the Cleveland radar.

Now when it comes to Todd Bowles, Dan Quinn and Adam Gase, the talk turns serious because they have NFL pedigree. You can, for all practical purposes, eliminate Bowles and Quinn from the competition, though. They are defensive coaches. The Browns are looking for an offensive-minded  head coach.

Interviewing Bowles, who one-upped Ray Horton as the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator this past season, satisfies the Rooney Rule. And Quinn is the flavor of the year with his brilliant coordinating of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense. Neither man is a serious candidate.

Gase is another story. The Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator, in his fifth year with the team, is young (he’ll be 36 in March) and very progressive. Much like Chudzinski was a year ago at this time.

There are those who believe the Broncos’ real offensive coordinator is Peyton Manning, that Gase is the coordinator in name only. Manning runs every offense as though it’s his own. He did it in Indianapolis for all those years and directs it in Denver like he is conducting a symphony.

Then there are those who believe Gase is maximizing Manning’s fading physical capabilities to the point where he is setting league records for passing. He and Manning are reputed to be extremely tight.

Only problem is Cleveland does not have a quarterback who is even in the same universe as Manning. And maybe Gase wouldn’t want to put himself in such a position for his first head coaching job.

He also has made it known he will not make himself available for interviews until the Broncos are either eliminated from the playoffs or after the Super Bowl, whichever comes first. So if the Browns haven’t named a new coach by that time, you can almost bet Gase is definitely in the mix.

Unless, of course, Banner and Haslam surprise us all and tap someone whose name has not yet surfaced. The way Banner works, that wouldn't at all be surprising.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Throwing stuff against a wall

Stop it already with all these coaches’ names.

I like a coach search as much as anybody, and this search for the next victim, er, coach of the Browns is as intriguing as it gets. But come on.

All these names being thrown out there is enough to drive any fan absolutely nuts and all pundits to unheard of heights of speculation.

Josh McDaniels, Bob Stoops, Dan Quinn, Adam Gase, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Todd Bowles and maybe your next-door neighbor are the latest culprits as the guessing game as to who succeeds Rob Chudzinski as the Browns’ new coach commences. Did I miss anyone? Urban Meyer? Nah, he’s too busy trying to fix Ohio State.

Don’t think for a minute that the Browns’ brass doesn’t love all this attention. Think of it. Free publicity almost around the clock in the wake of the negativity that surrounded the dismissal of Chudzinski a week ago.

Everyone wants to break the news first whether it’s on a local or national level and they’ll do it anyway they can to do it. To achieve that goal, the fans and pundits throw as much crap against the wall as they can, figuring some of it might stick.

The fans, of course, get most of their information from those much closer to the situation, those so-called insiders who purport to know what’s being discussed in the boardroom. And then the fans take what they read, hear and/or see and blow it out of proportion.

It’s a game that’s played every time an important decision such as this needs to be made. It’s a game to the fans because it somehow makes them feel closer to the situation than they really are.

All kinds of opinions are put forth and shared, whether on radio talk shows or the Internet. And until the new Browns coach is named, those opinions and subsequent disagreements will continue to spew.

Should the Browns take a chance on an untried college coach? Or should they try again with a National Football League coordinator? Lord knows the latter route has proved disastrous the last 15 seasons.

Of all the names in the hopper currently, McDaniels is the closest to being a retread. He’s got failure listed on his resume. Seems he had a few personnel problems in Denver a few years ago when the owner mistakenly allowed him to run the football program.

He wasn’t nearly ready.

Some say he’s ready now after heading back to New England, where Bill Belichick once again took him under his wing and better prepared him for his next gig. Belichick used his stint as the Browns’ coach a generation ago as a learning tool to better himself for his eventual comeback as coach of the Patriots.

Did McDaniels learn his lesson in Denver? Is he ready to take on a new venture with the Browns if he wows Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner in his interview and is offered the job?

We all know Browns General Manager Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi wants McDaniels and will lobby hard to bring him to Cleveland. The Ghost’s strong relationship with Belichick is the driving force behind that.

McDaniels had better make damn certain Cleveland is his best place to land, though. Fired coaches in the NFL rarely get second chances. If they fail a second time, they are usually done. Just ask Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel. Lose in two cities and you are finished.

So McDaniels better think long and hard and make certain Cleveland, if he is offered the job, is the place he wants to be, especially with a front office that seems to have a hair trigger on firing head coaches.

He is young enough and bright enough to wait until the right opportunity comes along. Maybe he takes a long look at the Cleveland roster and determines that yes, this is the kind of team I think I can turn around.

Then he has to remember that most of his success has come as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for Tom Brady. And if weren’t for Brady, Belichick might not own three Super Bowl championship rings today and be a virtual lock for residence in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thus, we have a chicken and egg situation. Is Brady a future Hall of Famer because of McDaniels? Or is McDaniels considered the next Belichick (in some quarters) because of Brady? Considering Brady thrived when McDaniels bombed in Denver, the latter seems more likely than the former.

Coordinating an offense or defense in football is substantially different than being a head coach. Success in one does not necessary beget success in the other. The responsibilities are vastly different. Coordinators coach players. Head coaches coach coaches.

Once again, is that a lesson McDaniels learned from his Denver experience? If the Browns seriously want to hire him, that’s a question that needs to be addressed.

Tomorrow: A look at the other candidates.