Monday, October 29, 2018

Semi-cleaning a dysfunctional house

The inevitable became reality Monday morning at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea. Ding, dong, Hue Jackson is gone. That means he is no longer head coach of the Cleveland Browns period. Period.

Tagging along with the now former head coach out the door is offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose firing was more surprising than Jackson’s, whose pathetic tour with the Browns lasted way too long.

If owner Jimmy Haslam III had done the right thing in the first place and dismissed Jackson after last season’s ultra embarrassing 0-16 record, Monday’s news conference would not have been necessary.

Nor, for that matter, would that little power play between Jackson and Haley that ultimately led to the twin firings. Call it a double dose of addition by subtraction.

“We put our organization in a better place today than we did yesterday,” Haslam said. Definitely addition by subtraction.

Midway through the 20-minute gathering with the Cleveland media, Haslam uttered something that resonated. “We’re not going to put up with internal discord,” he said. That’s code for dysfunction.

It has been going on since Haslam bought the club from the Lerner family seven games into the 2012 season. Here we are eight games into this season, almost exactly six years later to the day, and nothing has changed.

Under Haslam’s stewardship, the Browns are 21-75-1, finishing in the AFC North basement every season.

The fact this franchise is still floundering despite a roster overhaul by General Manager John Dorsey casts an embarrassing light around the National Football League on the City of Cleveland and the loyal fans of this team.

A lot of that has to do with Haslam’s seeming obsession of wanting to be a part of everything that is Cleveland Browns, primarily the football side. Of course that is his prerogative as the man who signs the paychecks.

But there is a certain order to the chain of command around most of the NFL that begets success. It shields ownership from the every-day business aspect of running a professional football franchise.

In a large majority of cases around the league, the owner is the final arbiter if there are problems. Otherwise, he relies on and trusts his general manager, or whatever title the chief football man has, to run the day-to-day end of the business.

He is the guy responsible for what the roster looks like, the one whose main goal is to give his coach and coaching staff the players who put the team in the best position to win games.

The head coach, whose main responsibility is to prepare the team on all levels, cultivate a winning atmosphere and make certain everything runs smoothly in the locker room, reports to the GM.

It’s a chain of command that has proved successful over the years. And owners who insert themselves into that equation more often than not wind up hampering rather than helping, Jimmy Haslam is one of those owners.

Everyone who is anyone reports directly to him. In other words, the general manager and head coach. It’s a sneaky way to bypass the general manager and curry favor the GM might object to.

If anything, it can possibly create division between the two most important men responsible for the overall product, the reason they are in business to begin with.

Being a huge football fans, perhaps it is Haslam’s ego and insatiable curiosity that thrusts him into wanting to know every little thing that goes on. And that is where the problem lies as he turns a blind eye to a possible solution.

The Haslam way hasn’t worked for the last six years. But like most stubborn people who believe that doing it their way is the right way, it is mindful of how Albert Einstein once defined insanity.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” the noted physicist said.

Haslam keeps running the Browns the same way and nothing has changed in those six years. It’s not exactly a head scratcher that trusting your general manager to work with the head coach without any outside interference works in the NFL.

Robert Kraft doesn’t tell his people how to run the New England Patriots. The Hunt family in Kansas City stays in the background. The list of hands-off owners who know how to build winners the right way litter the NFL landscape.

The Rooney family stays out of the way in Pittsburgh. Haslam should know all about what makes the Steelers a great franchise, having spent several seasons as a minority owner.

It’s owners like Jerry Jones in Dallas who adore the spotlight who epitomize the meddling owner. He is the face of the Cowboys, not the players or coach. He thinks he knows everything. He doesn’t and the Cowboys have paid the price.

So can Haslam be expected to change his ways? Probably not. Think Einstein.

Dorsey strongly indicated the removal of Jackson and Haley was not a sign of giving up on the season. “This is not a throwing in of the towel,” he declared. “It’s a rebooting if you will, an opportunity to give (the team) a fresh start for their last eight games.”

The new voice in the Cleveland locker room belongs to interim head coach Gregg Williams, who will still coordinate the defense, which has struggled mightily lately. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens, who has never called plays, takes over as offensive boss.

Asked if Williams will be a candidate for the vacancy in 2019, Haslam did not discount it. “If Gregg is interested in the job and we decide to do a full search, of course he would be a candidate,” he said of what likely will be the most closely watched story once this season concludes.

In a rant on this site last Jan. 15, I wrote the following when the club was still looking for an offensive coordinator and the guessing was Jackson might not make it through 2018.

“There is a coach out there who has received little or no mention this season for a head-coaching job. He is not as high profile as the others, but Dorsey knows all about him.

“It’s strictly a guess, a hunch, but for some reason, don’t go to sleep on Dave Toub, special teams coordinator for the last five seasons in Kansas City and eight seasons before that with Chicago, achieving success at both stops.

“If Dorsey believes Toub, who has no head coaching experience, is ready to make the leap, one way to get him to Cleveland to replace (Chris) Tabor (now in Chicago) without it being a sideways move would be to name him special teams coordinator/assistant head coach.

“That way, when – not if – Jackson self-destructs, however far he makes it into the season, Dorsey can elevate Toub to the top spot, at least on an interim basis, and have his man in place.”

Of course that never eventuated. But now that the landscape has changed, one more reminder: Don’t go to sleep on Toub.

It will be interesting this Sunday when the Chiefs come to town to play the Browns whether Dorsey reconnects with Toub and if his coaching future will be a topic of conversation.

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