Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 I have never been a fan of Mike Lombardi, who spent two tours with the Browns in the front office in various roles and created so much mischief and controversy he was cashiered both times.

He is still bouncing around the National Football League, poking his nose into the exploits and business of teams and sharing his thoughts with subscribers of the terrific Web site The Athletic.

I find myself, shockingly, agreeing with his latest notes-laden piece in which he leads off with some advice for Jimmy Haslam III. He says the Browns’ owner does not understand that culture, not collaboration, wins in the NFL.

First of all, I firmly believe – and have always believed – that in sports, culture begins at the top. I’m a trickle-down theory sort who thinks that if you are not strong at the top, that weakness filters down.

Such has been the case with the Browns, the ones who returned to the NFL in 1999 after three years of misguided exile, the ones who have not developed that culture in the roughly two decades since that return.

Lombardi makes his case, citing Haslam’s words as he addressed the Cleveland media at the news conference Monday announcing the twin firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

“The message today,” Haslam said, “is we are not going to put up with internal discord. We want people who are collaborative and work together.”

To which Lombardi counters, writing, “Collaborative and working together are words that sound wonderful in a sentence, but never apply to the NFL. The NFL is not a rock and roll band; there is no overall collaboration. It is a military structure with a supreme commander who earns the respect of his men while leading.”

In order to be successful, teams need an ultimate decision maker, according to Lombardi, citing Bill Belichick in New England. “He is the commander in chief and everyone . . . understands their roles and performs them accordingly,” he writes. “And don’t forget we have never dedicated a monument to a committee.”

Lombardi, who has worked for Belichick, was employed by Haslam for a year before being fired for a second time when Joe Banner was in charge of the Browns several years ago. He calls Haslam “a likable man with great intentions” and no understanding of the difference between collaboration and culture.

What the Browns need, Lombardi says, is someone who can come in and set a tone for a team that has no direction, no idea what makes a successful team and with no plan designed with the future in mind.

Seek and then hire a culture builder, Lombardi writes. Get that “supreme commander” and give him “total authority to run the entire football operation.” That rang a bell.

I thought for sure that when Mike Holmgren agreed to become president of the Browns in 2009, he would bring the necessary culture he knew well when he coached so successfully in Green Bay and Seattle.

As it turned out, he treated his job in Cleveland as the final step toward retirement and made bad decision after bad decision. When he retained the awful Eric Mangini, a man he inherited, as his coach, I knew then that Holmgren, who somehow managed to last three seasons in Cleveland, was just taking Randy Lerner’s money and running.

As for the current crew at 76 Lou Groza Blvd in Berea, John Dorsey is not that man, either. The general manager, whose credentials are solid, has a strong background in player personnel. That’s where he is most comfortable and does his best work. He is not a supreme commander.

The next man Haslam hires, writes Lombardi, should be a culture builder, a supreme commander with total authority to run the entire football operation. He “must work only for Haslam. Not for John Dorsey, not for quarterback Baker Mayfield or anyone else.”

And then he veered too far for my taste when he suggested Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney is that man. I find myself in total agreement with Lombardi’s thinking except for the Swinney part even though you can’t argue with his success at Clemson.

I would much rather keep it in state. Why not Urban Meyer? Not as a coach. As an administrator with his fingers on the pulse of this franchise. That would be the ultimate challenge for the brilliant Ohio State coach.

He built winning cultures at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before landing his dream job in Columbus. If there is anything that would lure Meyer away, it would be the challenge of completely turning around an NFL franchise that has been the league’s stepchild for way too long.

He knows how to chart a course and then steer it in the direction of a winning culture, one that is almost guaranteed to produce the kinds of results for which Browns fans have yearned for years. It’s time to pay them off for all those years they have suffered.

We know what he can do on a football field. Winning and Urban Meyer are synonymous. The natural next step for him would be to move up and prove he can be just as successful running a team from the front office as he has been as a coach.

He certainly has the résumé. He knows football. He knows how to run successful programs, He knows what it takes to win. He has been incredibly successful everywhere he has been employed. And he is a winner.

Why not in Cleveland?
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The last time Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes Jr. met on a football field, it was two years ago in Lubbock, Texas, in a good old-fashioned Lone Star State shootout. Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners knocked off Mahomes’ Texas Tech Red Raiders, 66-59, in regulation in a point-a-minute score-a-thon.

Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. Mahomes threw for an astounding 734 yards, five TDs and completed 52 of an even more astounding 88 pass attempts. He ran for two more scores and compiled an absurd 819 yards in total offense.

The offenses of both teams were overwhelming, stringing together 10 consecutive drives for touchdowns in the second half. The Red Raiders were also 20 of 25 on third down. The defenses were on the field apparently because they had to be and yet it seemed as though they were nowhere in sight.

And now these two young men meet for the first time since that classic game Sunday afternoon in Cleveland when Mahomes and his high scoring Kansas City Chiefs take on Mayfield and his struggling Browns.

Mahomes has been sensational this season, throwing for 2,526 yards, 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions, all the picks coming in the last four games. Only Jacksonville shut him out, picking him off twice.

It might behoove interim coach Gregg Williams to study tapes of that game to figure out how and why the Jaguars were successful against Mahomes even though they lost, 30-14.
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Scraps . . .New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens called plays in the Browns’ final exhibition game of the season, a 35-17 victory over the Lions in Detroit. His starting quarterback for that game: Baker Mayfield. . . . . Wondering how long it will be before the Browns sit rookie offensive left tackle Desmond Harrison before his ineptitude causes a serious injury. . . . 60% of the Chiefs’ offensive line is comprised of former Browns – left guard Cam Erving, center Austin Reiter and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. . . . Also on the KC roster are Greater Clevelanders Travis Kelce (Cleveland Heights) and Kareem Hunt (Willoughby South), and Nate Orchard, another ex-Brown.

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