Thursday, December 7, 2017

Haslam got it half right

The good news out of 76 Lou Groza Blvd. Thursday is Sashi Brown is longer in charge of the Browns’ fortunes less than two years after being elevated to the top football spot.

The bad news? Hue Jackson has been guaranteed a third season as the Browns’ head coach.

Brown, the executive vice president of football operations and de facto general manager of the Browns, was relieved of his duties by owner Jimmy Haslam III, who promoted the Harvard lawyer in January 2016.

It was a promotion of historic proportions, but the wrong kind of history. All you have to do is look at the Browns’ 1-27 record since that promotion as more than ample proof his stewardship has been an abysmal failure.

In a prepared statement, Haslam revealed what many who questioned Brown’s promotion from legal counsel and salary-cap boss to begin with already knew.

“We have great appreciation and gratitude for Sashi’s commitment and leadership to our organization, but believe transitioning to someone with strong experience and success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams is critical to the future of the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said in the statement.

Strong experience, success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams. Brown possessed none of those qualities. It wasn’t even close. And it showed every time the team took the field.

Haslam said all the right words in letting Brown down softly when it had become quite apparent over the last two seasons that this team was rapidly headed in the wrong direction.

There was minimal improvement at best, but it did not reflect in the bottom line. This franchise has been on a disastrous course downward the last two seasons that has seen it set a few National Football League records for futility and ineptitude with more on the way.

It has been a bitter and frustrating fall from the days when Cleveland was one of the great and proud franchises of the NFL. And to watch it set these embarrassing records is sad almost beyond words, especially since this franchise has one of the most ardent and hungry fan bases in the league.

Someone had to take the fall. Brown was in charge of a roster that is talent-starved, severely handicapping the coaching efforts of Jackson and his staff. The coach, it would appear, has won what is being perceived as a power struggle.

Haslam made it clear in his statement that Jackson is still the man and appears to have been absolved of blame. “Hue Jackson will return for the 2018 season, but we feel it is necessary to take significant steps to strengthen out personnel department,” he said in the statement, a damning condemnation of Brown.

Guaranteeing Jackson’s continued employment as head coach of the Browns, however, flies in the face of how it's done in the NFL. Brown’s successor has not been named and yet it appears he will have no say in who will be his head coach.

Normally, an NFL general manager gets the opportunity to choose his head coach. That’s sort of unwritten NFL protocol. This way, it’s ass backward and extremely unorthodox.

This is not to suggest Jackson should not return next season as the Browns’ boss, but only if the new guy puts his stamp of approval on that. If he does, it will merely be history repeating itself.

The last time that happened was in 2010 when incoming president Mike Holmgren unwisely gave incumbent coach Eric Mangini another chance. Mangini rewarded Holmgren with his second consecutive 5-11 season and was shown the door, a door he should have been shown a year earlier.

To his credit, Jackson and his staff have done a remarkable job of keeping the club focused in spite of a losing culture that would ruin other clubs. The Browns this season cannot be accused of packing it in at any time when they had every reason to in some cases. They have just been beaten by more talented teams.

With regard to Brown, I wonder why it took Haslam so long to recognize his inadequacies? Did he actually think the team would turn it around and head in the right direction?

It remains a mystery. Maybe the owner figured the Browns couldn’t possibly lose this many games. But he failed to take into consideration the talent quotient was not nearly as high as Brown and his minions believed or led him to believe.

There was no evidence whatsoever to support that notion. This team lost games because they were incapable of winning them. While that seems like a simplistic conclusion, consider the following.

There were three quarterbacks on the roster. Their victory total was zero. It’s hard enough to win in the NFL with an experienced quarterback, let alone three who have never celebrated after playing a regular-season professional football game.

Now take into consideration Cleveland’s wide receivers corps was arguably the worst in the NFL. The leading receiver this season is a running back. Be it dropped passes, underperforming free agents or running the wrong routes, this unit has disappointed all season.

On defense, the major inconsistency was located in the secondary, which has been strafed all season with only occasional help from the front seven.

So why did Haslam elevate an attorney to the top job in the first place? If there is any blame to be placed, it should be directed at the owner for promoting Brown. He was promoted after his owner fired coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer.

It would appear Haslam will not make any more moves until the season concludes. It would not shock anyone to see chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta head back to the baseball world and player personnel chief Andrew Berry either demoted or cashiered.

For now, though, the guessing game begins as to who succeeds Brown.

Names you’ll be hearing often are New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, Jacksonville Jaguars director of pro personnel Chris Polian, Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, former Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough, co-director of player personnel for the Seattle Seahawks Trent Kirchner and Green Bay Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf. Polian and Wolf are the sons of former NFL general managers.

Caserio has local ties to Cleveland. Born in suburban Lyndhurst, he is a John Carroll University graduate who played his high school ball at University School in Hunting Valley and has been one of the key factors in the success of the Patriots.

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