Team’s biggest problem is the man it can’t fire
Hue Jackson won three games in 2 1/2 years as the Browns coach.
That included his team going 1-31 over two seasons, and an 0-16 record in 2017.
There’s no defending that. You can’t. Even for someone like me, who liked the Jackson hire and had great sympathy for him, there’s no real way to say he should have kept his job.
Pro football is a bottom-line business. And when you don’t win, you get fired.
But I’d feel better about the whole thing if I believed Jackson was the Browns biggest problem.
No, Jackson didn’t win. But neither did Mike Pettine, Rob Chudzinski or Pat Shurmur.
And the front offices of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer and Sashi Brown were all failures too.
I’m reminded of something Bill Polian, the long time general manager who led the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl appearances, once said.
It was fall 2017, and Polian was doing a radio show on SiriusXM. The topic was Shurmur, and whether the former Browns coach-turned-Vikings coordinator could get another head coaching job.
“He didn’t win in Cleveland,” Polian said. “But no one wins in Cleveland, and there’s reasons for that.”
Yes, there are reasons. But I’m afraid the biggest reason can’t be fired.
Jimmy Haslam bought the Cleveland Browns in the summer of 2012. It wasn’t like the Browns were doing great then. They were coming off a 4-12 season. Mike Holmgren was the head of football operations, and the general manager was the late Tom Heckert.
By the middle of the season, Holmgren was gone. Banner was in, and there were rumors Lombardi — who at the time was talking a lot on NFL Network — would join him.
After the team went 5-11 in ’12, Heckert and Shurmur were out. Banner and Lombardi were in. So was Farmer, working under the pair.
The three were all Haslam hires. The group brought in northwest Ohio native Chudzinski as coach.
The team went 5-11.
And that was it for Chudzinski. What followed was a long coaching search. It didn’t appear that the Browns didn’t want to hire someone, inasmuch as no one wanted to take the job.
Firing a hand-picked coach after one year is no way to foster confidence.
Finally, the Browns hired Pettine. But a few weeks later, Banner and Lombardi were fired. There were rumors of a power struggle. Farmer, the only one left standing, got promoted to GM.
OK, here’s the problem with all this.
Pettine was hired by Haslam, Banner and Lombardi. Farmer got a promotion, and was now he and Pettine were stuck with each other.
I’m not saying this shotgun marriage was the reason the Browns ended up with current-CFL mediocrity Johnny Manziel as their QB — there was that story about a homeless man who told Haslam to take Johnny Football — but it couldn’t have helped.
By the end of the 2014 season, Farmer was texting coaches on the sideline, Manziel was spiraling out of control, and the Browns had another losing season.
But 2015 was even worse. Farmer signed tight end Dwayne Bowe, and Pettine didn’t seen to want to play him. From the outside, it looked like another power struggle. When the team finished 3-13 — with Manziel again seeming to fall apart — Pettine and Farmer were out.
Another pair of Haslam hires. Another pair of Haslam firings.
Then, the Browns went heavy on analytics. Sashi Brown — a very smart man but with no real football background — was paired with former baseball GM Paul DePodesta. Meanwhile, Haslam hired Jackson.
Brown reported to Haslam.
Jackson reported to Haslam.
I struggle to say there were rumors of a power struggle, because the team kept losing so who would have the power. But Brown was fired first.
Then, John Dorsey was hired as general manager.
The Dorsey hire was nearly universally praised. But like everyone else under Haslam, he got saddled with someone he didn’t hire. Before the announcement of Dorsey’s hire was even official, it was announced Jackson would be back.
Dorsey drafted Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb. That’s good.
Jackson, apparently bored without a power struggle, had one with Todd Haley, his first-year coordinator. But worse than that, he only won two of seven games.
We all know what happened. Haley and Jackson were dismissed Monday. Bounty-gate veteran Gregg Williams got the interim job (how someone gets hired to a head coaching after giving players bonuses to intentionally injure opponents is a question to which I have no answer).
The scariest thing came afterward though, when Haslam said he wanted to be involved in the coaching search.
There are some things people shouldn’t do.
Jason Kipnis shouldn’t be the Indians centerfielder.
KISS shouldn’t perform without makeup.
Rod Stewart shouldn’t slaughter American standards.
Jimmy Haslam shouldn’t be involved in hiring coaches.
Dorsey had a great 2018 draft. He didn’t have a perfect offseason, but he has improved the team.
He should get to pick his coach.
Haslam should let Dorsey and his top lieutenant, Alonzo Highsmith, make the pick. He should stay out of it.
But I’m not sure if the owner can.
And maybe that’s the best defense for Hue Jackson.
He had to deal with the team’s owner.