Jimmy Haslam III is going to have a tough time explaining to the growing-angrier-by-the day Browns fan base why he as much as promised Hue Jackson will be back next season as his head coach.
After watching his team set historic records for futility that most likely will never be broken because one cannot imagine another National Football League team ever again being this awful, the Browns owner cannot honestly justify keeping around one of the main symbols of this awfulness.
While it might be partially correct for Jackson to blame this living nightmare on the front office’s inability to provide the kind of talent that can win games, there has to be more reason than that to retain his services.
In what way have the Browns improved this season? Has there been any day-to-day progress? Any week-to-week progress? Any game-to-game progress? If so, I missed it.
For the last almost two seasons now, I have watched the same mistakes being made over and over and over. It’s been like Groundhog Day for this franchise for the past two seasons. There has been scant or no progress.
The only thing that changes is the weekly opponent. That’s it.
On the plus side of the Jackson ledger is how his club performs despite going through tough emotional times. Playing for a loser on a weekly basis for two seasons is extremely deflating.
Players love to win. They are emboldened by winning. It feeds their egos. It makes them feel good. Fans share in their joy. Losing constantly has the exact opposite effect.
Do the Browns play hard? Yep. Do they ever mail it in? Nope. One would understand though, if they packed it in with two games left in the still winless season and the embarrassment of setting historic records for futility already solidified.
The last two seasons have been one gigantic kick in the teeth for one of the most ardent, emotional and passionate fan bases in the NFL. Arguably the most. Their love for this team has been rewarded with utter incompetence.
In the end, a vast majority still cares. And they do so with a never-ending hope that some day, that passion will be rewarded justly with the kind of football that makes them proud to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
In a lot of cases, it will be even more special to those fans whose fanaticism traces back to when the old Browns played the kind of winning football that made Cleveland one of the strongest cities un the NFL. I remember when they labeled themselves, and deservedly so, the Greatest Show in Football.
With all due respect to the Indians and Cavaliers, whose achievements in the last several years have more than balanced the emotional scales of Cleveland sports fans, the city is still a football town.
It will take a lot more than being the NFL’s stepchild for the last nearly two decades to displace the Browns at the top of that list. But the erosion is palpable.
One has to wonder why this franchise, this woebegone, dysfunctional and jinx-ridden franchise, still has enormous appeal. The only rational explanation is that fans have a deep-seated fear they will lose this team again.
The NFL had absolutely no good reason to allow the old Browns to move to Baltimore following the 1995 season. It created an undeserved void. It also created an emotional scar that still exists with many fans. They are afraid it might happen again and this time, there is a good reason.
Apathy is the greatest threat to any professional franchise. And right now, the Browns are on the precipice of experiencing that threat. More and more fans are jumping off the bandwagon.
When the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 after a three-year forced absence, fans were excited. Even though it was with an expansion team, they were thrilled to have the NFL back in town.
They envisioned an eventual return to the good, old days when the Browns were not only competitive, but winning division titles and making serious runs at the Super Bowl. Even though that has not eventuated, the fans remained patient.
Until the last two seasons.
This is where they appear to have drawn a rather large line. Even the most passionate fans are fed up. They are embarrassed, they are angry and they are rightly demanding a better product.
If Haslam does not see the bottom line shrinking, he is either delusional, not paying attention or both. He is taking a fifth crack (in six seasons of ownership) at finally getting it right in the front office. He has made a strong first step with the hiring of John Dorsey as his general manager.
Now he needs to let his new GM do his job. That means allowing him to choose his own head coach. Haslam’s strange loyalty to Jackson is not understood in just about every corner of Browns Nation. No matter how hard Jackson tries, it isn’t working.
If he is still the head coach after the Browns finish either 1-15 for the second straight season or become only the second team in NFL history to lose all 16 games in a season, Haslam will lose whatever credibility he has left with a good chunk of the shrinking fan base.
To avoid that, he must relinquish control of choosing the head coach to his new general manager rather than saddle him with someone not of his choosing. It’s clearly the right move to make.
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How bad have the Browns been since 1999? This bad:
The won-lost record over the last almost 19 years is staggeringly abysmal and embarrassing. Since the return, they have played 302 games and won 88 for a winning percentage of 29.1. The litany of losing is absurdly mind-boggling.
The Browns have recorded only one double-digit winning season, winning 10 games in 2007 but failing to make the playoffs. Their only playoff appearance in 2002 resulted in a wild-card loss to Pittsburgh.
They have finished in the division cellar 15 times. No wonder fans believe they have taken up permanent residence there. Eight head coaches have racked up only two winning seasons (Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel).
Since he took over his billion-dollar investment in 2012, Haslam’s Browns are 20-74 heading into the final two games this season. That includes 29 losses in the last 30 games and 47 in the last 51. They have lost 79% of their games and finished last in the division all six seasons.
They have redefined the term losing football.