Browns can win with new coach, but can they win with the Haslams?
The Browns can win with Kevin Stefanski as coach.
The question is whether they can win with Jimmy and Dee Haslam as owners.
A few old songs crossed my mind as I watched Stefanski’s introductory press conference as the new coach of the Cleveland Browns.
The first was “Here You Come Again,” by Dolly Parton.
Unlike this Browns organization, Parton has had a brilliant career of success; she’s an American treasure. And when she sings the lyrics “Here you come again … and here I go,” I think of Browns fans.
As in, “here comes more hope. Let’s buy into it.”
In the past, it was easy to do just that. Fans — including me — want this team to be good.
And because we love the team so much, we’ve been willing to chase that hope, that belief, that this time, somehow, this hire will work. This hire will change things.
But then, I’m reminded of another song, and this one sums my thoughts, not so much on Stefanski, but on the organization.
This song went to No. 3 on the pop charts in 1966, as recorded by The Happenings.
“See You in September.”
And that’s because none of this matters.
Not the Stefanski hiring.
Not if he won the press conference.
Not whether the owner, front office and coach are “aligned.”
What matters is winning football games, and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have shown they can’t do that.
Not with Rob Chudzinski. Not with Mike Pettine. Not with Hue Jackson or Freddie Kitchens.
And not with the countless general managers, vice presidents of football operations or chief strategy officers they trot out every year or so.
At some point, you have to believe that the problems run deeper than who the coach is, or who is picking the players.
The problem is the Haslams. And the Browns can’t fire them.
So, as long as they pilot the organization, my feeling is the organization will continue to fail.
On its own, hiring Stefanski makes sense. He’s a disciplined, experienced coach coming from the Vikings, where he was offensive coordinator.
The Vikings are a quality organization that frequently contends for division titles.
He’s a respected offensive coordinator, even though he’s only called plays for a short time.
And frankly, good playcalling doesn’t make a good coach. It’s more about installing a system and culture, earning respect of players and having the patience to stick with a plan.
Kitchens didn’t do those things. Many people inside and outside of the Browns organization believe Stefanski will.
In reality, the Browns’ new coach has two giant responsibilities.
The first is to get Baker Mayfield to improve on and off the field in 2020.
Mayfield has talent. We’ve all seen that. But in 2019, he never seemed to click with the offense, threw a ton of interceptions, and seemed to listen too closely to what pundits and writers said.
Stefanski will need to get Mayfield focused on winning, and on being the leader the franchise needs.
Sound tough? Well, it’s not nearly as tough as his second task,
He needs to manage the Haslams.
In his eight years of ownership, the Haslams’ Browns have been filled with losing, instability and, at times, downright chaos.
Stefanski needs to keep the owners’ trust, even in tough times. He needs to make them believe they made the right choice, and that Stefanski will be the right choice for years to come.
That also goes for front office man Paul DePodesta and whomever the Browns hire as general manager.
I do believe the Haslams desperately want to win. Their press conferences seem sincere, if at times tone deaf.
But as a fan, my patience has run out. I have no reason to give the Haslams — or anyone else — the benefit of the doubt.
And that’s why all the talk about organizational structure and why this coach will work don’t move me. Almost nothing that happens in this offseason will.
It comes down to winning football games,
The Browns ability to show that won’t be available for months.
See you in September.