Saturday, February 1, 2014

Can't get excited about new boss of offense

While it isn’t official – and reportedly won’t be until sometime early next week – it appears as though the Browns have completed what seemed like a global search for their new offensive coordinator.

When he returns from a family vacation, according to those reports, Kyle Shanahan will be the new boss of the Cleveland offense. Yep, he is the best the Browns could come up with, making it difficult to work up any excitement.

That’s because they flatulated around for so long looking for a new head coach, they put new coordinators on the back burner and some of the good ones signed elsewhere. The Browns, it seems, specialize in slow-motion coaching appointments.

It took them nearly four weeks to decide Mike Pettine was good enough to replace Rob Chudzinski at the top of the coaching staff. But it took about a week to bring over Jim O’Neil from Buffalo to be his defensive coordinator.

That one was comparatively easy, though, since O’Neil and Pettine have worked together for the last several seasons and know each other well. Oh, and by the way, the Bills hired Jim Schwartz as their new coordinator and he wanted his own guys, anyway.

Hiring a few more assistants from that Buffalo staff makes Pettine’s transition to the Browns that much smoother, at least from a defensive standpoint. Coordinating an offense, however, was an entirely different animal.

If there was one critical appointment to the new staff, it was offensive coordinator. That’s because Pettine ostensibly will have nothing to do with that side of the ball. He’s a defensive guy and will channel all his coaching efforts in that direction.

And now that Shanahan is locked in as the offensive boss, that means he will have what amounts to total control. From strategy and philosophy to implementation, he will be the man. No input from the head coach. It would appear as though he will be autonomous. Or is it autocratic? Or both?

Pettine, who has absolutely no coaching background or experience on offense, makes all the calls for the defense; Shanahan will do the same for the offense. That, folks, is a dream job for a coordinator. It also is a possible recipe for disaster.

As the man responsible for the entire football package, it is incumbent on Pettine to become involved in the offense and not just in an oblique way. Head coaching decisions, far different than those decisions made by coordinators, must be made with the focus on the whole picture.

It’s a guess at this point, but it wouldn’t be surprising to eventually learn later on that the decision to hire Shanahan was only approved by Pettine, not made by him. Pettine obviously knows Shanahan by reputation. But that’s about it.

No, this one very much looks as though it has the fingerprints of Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner all over it. Banner is an offensive-minded guy and Haslam appears to be. The fact the Browns wound up with a defensive-minded head coach raised more than just a few eyebrows.

One of the big questions now is whether the Browns will go after a quarterback with their initial first-round pick in the college football draft in May. And if that is the case, how much input will Shanahan have in that selection?

Probably none since Banner, Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi and Ray Farmer will conduct the draft. Shanahan most likely will be nothing more than a spectator. By now, Banner & Co. should know it’s up to them to give him the help he needs to be effective.

It has to be assumed that before hiring him, the Browns were comfortable with the kind of offensive system Shanahan plans to implement. That could be a clue as to just what direction they’ll go in the draft.

It is no secret the Browns must improve all aspects of their offense. From the offensive line to the running game to the passing game, no one area is considered strong and it will be up to Shanahan to become Coach Fixit in a hurry. It won’t be easy.

There are many huge negatives that must be overcome, such as finding a quality starting quarterback and at least two more quality wide receivers, and developing an athletic offensive line that helps produce a running game that isn’t considered a joke.

Shanahan, a veteran coordinator at 34, knows the highs and lows of his profession. He has coordinated top 10 offenses on several occasions. And then there was the disaster that was last season in Washington, which should prepare him well for his new job.

He was Robert Griffin III’s coordinator with the Redskins the last two rather tumultuous seasons. One of the reasons he and his father, Mike, became coaching free agents this offseason was their failure to turn around the Redskins’ fortunes, including a 3-13 record last season. Griffin’s inability to stay healthy was a factor.

Shanahan has the reputation of being a west coast offense disciple, although he ran more of a hybrid west coast/spread option (pistol formation) scheme in Washington when Griffin arrived. His father supposedly called it an east coast offense.

So if Banner and his merry men have designs on drafting Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel with the first pick of the draft, Shanahan would feel right at home with directing an offense catered to Manziel’s talents.

Or if the Browns could somehow pry backup quarterback Kirk Cousins loose from the Redskins before the draft, that could possibly open up the distinct possibility of the club taking a wide receiver with the first pick to complement Josh Gordon.

It was during Griffin’s rookie season in 2012 that the Browns were first introduced to Cousins and not in a kind way. With Griffin sidelined by a knee injury for the week 15 game in Cleveland, Cousins started and completed 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 victory.

Should Cousins somehow wind up with his old coordinator, that would give the Browns two former Michigan State quarterbacks (Cousins and Brian Hoyer) fighting for the starting job. At this point, of course, that is nothing more than speculation.

We know some of the positives Shanahan brings to the Cleveland offense. John Keim, who covers the Redskins for, wrote that an opposing defensive coach called him “an above average coordinator.” His flaws, according to the same coach: managing the game and play calling in critical situations.

Other complaints of Shanahan over the years, wrote Keim: He threw the ball too often and sometimes got too cute with his play calls.

So is Shanahan a bad hire? No. A good hire? We’ll get a lot closer to the correct answer to that one after the draft and at the start of training camp when we see what he has to work with.

For right now, this seems like a move that is swimming in a gray area.

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