My New Job: Rebuilding the Browns, Part I

(This article and more from Danny Massaro can be found on The CalfMuscle)

Every Sunday from September through early January, I look forward to three things: Church, brunch (usually a steak omelet and a side of cheesy hashbrowns from Tinitique – my family’s favorite restaurant), and the Cleveland Browns. And every Sunday, two of them meet and even exceed my expectations – and then there are the Cleveland Browns.

Since their reinstatement in the NFL in 1999, I may have missed maybe five games. If watched almost all of them and if I wasn’t watching, I was listening. Excluding the 2002 playoff team and the 2007 should-have-made-the-playoffs team that finished 10-6, each team, each season, each game has turned my Spiritual and/or caloric high from church and omelets into a nadir of life.

This Sunday was hardly different other than that I ate a meatball pizza after church and I was in Syracuse with my sister visiting some old friends. I went to church, I ate, and I hurried to laptop to tune into the Browns-Cowboys game.

The Browns handled business early, taking a 13-0 (that easily could have been 21-0) lead into halftime. It was nearing three o’ clock so Terrilyn and I figured we might as well start our five hour drive home. It was no big deal; Cleveland had a lead and I could just listen to the rest of the game on the radio.

What a mistake.

Long story short: The Browns crapped away that lead and then a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left in regulation. They lost in overtime. It was more painful listening to it than watching it. The only plus to listening was Jim Donavan is the best play-by-play guy in the business and I didn’t have to look at Pat Shurmur’s stupid face.

I’m usually not Get Overly Mad Over Something That Doesn’t Pertain To My Life Guy, but after this game, I’d had it. Once Dallas kicked the game-winner in OT, I started screaming to (not at, but to) Terrilyn.


Again, I promise I never get that worked up. I love Cleveland but I’ve never been the guy that says “We” when talking about a team and I’ve never been Wear A Jersey With Another Human Being’s Name On It Guy. But I lost it. I feel for Cleveland’s fan base. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Anyway, Terrilyn was a great sport. She listened to my rant. Then she responded only as she could: “I’m sorry. But do you think you could do better than their coach?”

The question was supposed to be rhetorical, but of course I took it literal. I thought for a second, maybe two, but that was all I needed.

“Yes, Terrilyn. With no experience whatsoever, I’m confident that I could do better. I don’t know if I could break down film like their coaches, but if given the reins, I know I could but a better product on the field than what’s been displayed the last 14 years.”

I probably lost you all now. I’m sure you are all thinking I’m out of my mind – and maybe I am. But ever since the Browns loss in Dallas and Terrilyn and my conversation, I’ve been recounting pretty much every move I can remember the Browns making since ’99, and honestly I’d say less than 10% if them have been fruitful. I’m talking about everything from front office and coaching hires to drafting and free agency to play calling and game management. I don’t think the organization is cursed, I just think they have been really really really bad at decision making.

With all of that said, here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to post once a day for the next couple days as if new owner Jimmy Haslam hired me as his General Manager today. My intro to this post was lengthy, so I’m not going to combine all my thoughts into this, but instead I’m going to break them up. Maybe I’m just wasting my time doing this, but I know that a few Browns fans will read this and even though the chances of my hire happening is less than .000000000000001%, maybe even this fictional situation and team I’m going to piece together will bring you some joy.

What I’m going to do in (lengthy) conclusion to this first post is elaborate on my philosophy as to what will make the Cleveland Browns successful. I’m not talking successful five years down the road, I mean sniffing a wild card in 2013 and winning the AFC North in 2014.

I believe there are four major factors in building a successful football team (or business or anything for that matter): Coaching/Leadership, Talent, Philosophy/Vision, and Culture.

COACHING/LEADERSHIP: Spoiler Alert: I’m firing Pat Shurmur and most likely Brad Childress (offensive coordinator) and Mark Whipple (quarterbacks coach). And hopefully I can find a way to excommunicate them from the State of Ohio as well as the NFL and organized football at any level.

Anyway, what do I stress in finding a coach? Do I want a guy like Jon Gruden with NFL experience, do I want the top college coach like David Shaw or Chip Kelley, or do I want the top up-and-coming coordinator like Ray Horton? I’ll discuss that more tomorrow. What I’ll elaborate on today is what coaching means to the success of the Cleveland Browns.

Any time we see an immediate turnaround with an NFL franchise two things can be credited: A top-tier quarterback (Drew Brees to Saints, Aaron Rodgers taking “the leap”) or a new head coach (Harbaugh Brothers). Those two positions get a lot of credit because they make the most decisions of anybody involved with the team, but I disagree with that being the chief reason. I’m in the camp that leadership means more than X’s and O’s. Naturally, the head coach needs to know what everyone is doing on every play, but leave the heavy X’s and O’s to the coordinators. A head coach needs to lead and needs to call all of the shots.

The last three Browns head coaches (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur) have been “X’s and O’s guys.” The combined record of the three: 40-82.

On the other hand, I don’t view Mike Tomlin of the Steelers as a great football mind, but I see him as the ultimate player’s coach. His guys would run through a brick wall for him. It helps that he has two of the best seven or eight coordinators in the game, but again, Tomlin wins because Tomlin is a leader of men. He takes pride in the leadership aspect of being a coach compared to the “I’m going to outsmart you” aspect. And by the way, Tomlin’s career record is 61-29. With a Super Bowl ring.

What I’m saying is that a Head Coach needs to be the guy that when the wheels seem to be falling off, his players turn to him and he makes it right. He doesn’t need to flip through a play script to find the answer. He is a leader and winner.

TALENT: I’ll make this one short. Bottom line is talent can beat coaching on any given Sunday. Take the Green Bay Packers for example. They found their quarterback so they decided to just stockpile talented athletes around him. They didn’t go out and get the best receivers, but they got some of the best athletes.

This is all pretty obvious, so I’ll wrap this point up by saying this: The most talented teams are the ones who don’t get cute in decision making. The Packers draft the best. The Giants draft the best with the highest ceiling. The Steelers draft the best. The Browns draft for need and fail. The Bills reach. I’ll never forget the 2009 draft when Shady McCoy kept sliding and sliding because the league bottom feeders were taking defensive ends from Hawaii. That’s why they are still bottom feeders.

VISION: Don’t just draft and hire and sign in vain. Figure out the direction you want your team to go. Do you want to be a passing team with backs who can all catch the ball (Saints)? Do you want to invest the most money in your o line (Patriots)? Do you want to stop the run and get to the QB and let the secondary take care of itself (49ers)?

Nothing is worse than seeing a team take strides in fifteen different directions because they get nowhere. That’s what the Browns have been doing. It seems like they have no vision. The best thing I can come up with is they wanted to make their team younger, and that they did. But now what?

CULTURE: I played 15 years of organized football, and from when I was seven until I hung up my cleats for the last time, the best teams that I played four had the best culture. The locker room was tight-knit and focused. The coaches treated their players like sons. The older players led and the younger players watched and followed their lead.

The New York Giants are far from being one of the most talented teams, but as far as I can remember (and please don’t bring up Plaxico Burress shooting himself, that has nothing to do with in house), they’ve always succeeded because of the culture. From the owner to the coach to the GM, their decision-makers were of the highest class and worked together in decision-making. The players followed their leaders (Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck) like a flock of geese.

The Giants one those Super Bowls because they carried themselves like champions, not because of the ability of their roster.

That wraps that up. Sorry again that this post was so long, but please check out my post tomorrow on who Mr. Haslam, Mr. Banner, and I are hiring to coach the 2013 Cleveland Browns.

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