Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blow it up

Some free unsolicited advice for Paul DePodesta as he plunges into what unquestionably will be the biggest challenge of his career.

Clean house as you have never cleaned house before. Lay waste to whatever system and culture exists at Browns headquarters. They haven’t worked for the last 17 seasons.

The team’s new chief strategy officer has no idea he is stepping into a minefield. It is littered with explosives all the way to the office of owner Jimmy Haslam III. It’s a gigantic mess.

As he evaluates the situation, he will encounter ineptitude the likes of which he most likely has not seen in his two decades of major league baseball.

He will see sides pulling in different directions instead of pulling together. The mind-set at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. is watch your back. The paranoia that has resided there has become toxic over the years. And it has filtered down to the field.

If, in fact, it is DePodesta’s goal to march in and clean house, more power to him. The culture that currently exists needs to be eradicated. The stench that permeates throughout Haslam’s billion-dollar team – on and off the field – needs to be fumigated.

If it is his intention to reinvent this organization, he definitely will leave bodies in his wake. But it clearly would be the correct move. If, however, he decides after evaluating that only a tinkering is required, it would only perpetuate all that is wrong.

The entire organization needs straightening out and that starts at the top with Haslam, who has failed time and again to surround himself with the right people, those who know – not think they know – know how to build a winning organization.

That hasn’t happened in Cleveland since the team that became the Baltimore Ravens in the mid-1990s left town. Many regimes have tried . . . and failed. From the days of Randy Lerner and Carmen Policy to the current situation, it has been one failure after another.

Only the names and faces change. The results have been consistently disappointing for a franchise that once was one of the proudest in the National Football League during the second half of the 20th century.

Not sure if DePodesta believes in the trickle-down theory. We’ll find that out soon enough. With few exceptions, it works. Strong front office and ownership produce strong teams.

Check out the 32 franchises in the NFL and notice the strongest front offices and coaching staffs generally turn out strong teams on a regular basis. Weak, dysfunctional teams that change direction every couple of years or so rarely make the playoffs.

Want to know how and where it works well? Cast your eyes about 120 miles southeast of Cleveland to a steel town where its NFL team has gotten it right for the last 43 seasons. Yep, the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers.

Most Browns fans direct their venom at their archrivals in mean, often hateful ways. In juvenile fashion, they poke fun at them and the denizens of their city. Bottom line: They’re jealous. They would never admit it, but they would love for the Browns to play like the Steelers.

Can’t argue with Pittsburgh’s record over the last 43 seasons. The litany of success is staggering: Playoffs in 28 of those seasons; eight Super Bowl appearances; six Super Bowl victories; only three coaches since 1969.

Before that, the Steelers, who were established in 1933, won nothing. Played very much like the Browns have the last 17 seasons.

They made just one post-season appearance in their first 37 seasons. (They merged with the Philadelphia Eagles and then Chicago Cardinals in 1943-44 due the war effort). Never won more than nine games in a season and they did that only once.

Since 1972, the Steelers have registered double-digit victory seasons 23 times. Their road to success began when Chuck Noll, ironically a native Clevelander (graduated from Benedictine High School) who played for the Browns in the 1950s, was named head coach in 1969.

Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin followed and perpetuated the system laid down by Noll, continuing his winning legacy. And the Steelers have done it, for the most part, from within, with players they have drafted over the years.  Many of them have wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now contrast that with the Browns have accomplished since 1963, the year after Paul Brown was fired. They have racked up just 12 double-digit victory seasons and 16 postseason appearances with one NFL championship in 1964.

When it comes to double-digit losing seasons, the Browns are the NFL’s poster child. Since the return in 1999, they have reeled off 13 of them. Losing became a way of life for the moribund franchise.

The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the great rivalries in the NFL now reduced to nothing more than two teams headed in opposite directions.

It has been said many times that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. After what the Browns – and their fans – have been through the last 17 seasons, maybe it’s time to admit the Pittsburgh way works a whole lot better than the Cleveland way.

Perhaps that’s something into which DePodesta should look. He’s an analytical guy. Analyze the Steelers over the years and find out what makes them tick because what makes them tick seems to work a whole lot better than what fans have been subjected to in Cleveland.

Revealing statistics: They don’t always tell the whole story, but the following Browns  stats this season sure do.

They scored 28 touchdowns, third-worst in the NFL to San Francisco (24) and Dallas (26). Their -154 net-points differential was the league’s worst. They were one of four teams that won only one road game (Jacksonville, San Francisco and San Diego). They were the third-worst scoring team (278 points) behind, you guessed it, San Francisco (238) and Dallas (275). Only Tennessee had a worse conference record (1-11) than the Browns (2-10). Only New Orleans (476), the New York Giants (442) and Jacksonville (448) gave up more points than the Browns (432).

Notice a common thread? None of the teams mentioned made the playoffs.


  1. Just curious if you have a favorite among the coaching candidates.

  2. Not yet. But the Hue Jackson thing intrigues me. His reputation is more impressive than the last two offensive coaches hired by the Browns -- Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski.

    All I know is they had better hurry because if they don't, they once again will wind up with their fourth or fifth choice.