There is but one franchise in sports that can hit rock bottom and find a trap door into a deeper despair.
Ladies and gentleman, I present you the Cleveland Browns.
Following a 3-13 season and a 3-18 slide dating back to 2014, owner Jimmy Haslam made the right move and starting swinging his ax.
General manager Ray Farmer was the first to fall, getting his pink slip Sunday morning before the team’s loss to the Pittsburgh in the season finale. Head coach Mike Pettine received his walking papers Sunday evening. On Monday, heads continued to roll with the canning of executive chief of staff Bill Kuharich and vice president of player personnel Morrocco Brown, Farmer’s top aides.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel and defensive back Justin Gilbert, Farmer’s first-round selections in 2014, are rumored to be on their way out of town on an express train. Others from the front office, coaching staff and locker room will surely follow.
Those are all moves that were necessary. The level of ineptitude displayed by the entire bunch has turned a once-storied organization into a not-so-funny joke.
It’s easy to think by cleaning house the team would be generally headed in the right direction. After all, it really can’t get much worse than it’s been over the last 17 seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.
That’s where you’d make a critical mistake. These are the Browns. Ineptitude is their forte.
At his press conference announcing the firings of Farmer and Pettine on Sunday night, Haslam outlined the plan to hire replacements. Those plans only highlight just how and where he found that trap door at rock bottom.
“We’ll begin the search for the head coach right away,” Haslam stated. “There are several key criteria we’re looking for in our head coach. The first is intelligence. We need somebody that’s smart. Obviously, we need somebody who’s a strong leader, somebody who is collaborative and can work well with others, a good team player, if you will. An individual that can put together a good staff, that’s incredibly important in today’s NFL as a complex as the game is, and somebody who has an intense desire to win and improve every day.”
That wasn’t a bad start. Hiring a capable head coach who embodies the listed values is imperative. That’s Football 101. However, the way in which the process will be conducted is where the plan takes a hard left turn into uncharted territory. Uncharted territory to all NFL teams excluding the Browns, that is.
The problem lies in who will be doing the hiring of this coach and in the order in which the team will fill all of the front-office vacancies.
“The search committee will be made up of Jed Hughes with Korn Ferry. I think most of you have probably heard of Korn Ferry. It’s an international search firm. We’ve used them in our other (business) lives a lot. I’ve known Jed over the last couple of years. Jed has done several searches as of late, I should say, over the last several years. (Head coach) Pete Carroll, (general manager) John Schneider at Seattle, (head coach) Andy Reid at Kansas City, (head coach) Bill O’Brien at Houston, (University of Michigan head football coach) Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, (head coach) Dan Quinn at Atlanta, and he along with Sashi Brown, Dee and myself will head up the search committee. We’ll go to work right away.”
Bringing Jed Hughes in to consult in the search, in itself, is not a bad idea. He could help identify some very good candidates to replace Pettine. He’s obviously got a resume that suggests it’s worth the shot.
It gets dicey from there. Haslam has proven he isn’t so strong hiring on the football side of the NFL. In his short tenure, he has hired and fired Rob Chudzinski and Pettine as coaches and Mike Lombardi and Farmer as GMs. Joe Banner was named CEO in 2012 when Haslam bought the team and wore out his welcome, as well.
Joining Haslam in the search will be his wife, Dee, and a lawyer named Sashi Brown. Let me repeat that. Haslam’s wife, Dee, will be involved in the search for the Cleveland Browns new head coach.
Dee Haslam might well be an extremely intelligent woman. She might well have risen through the ranks of the business world. That doesn’t mean she knows anything about football. And before the sexism cries begin, that statement has NOTHING to do with the fact she’s a woman and EVERYTHING to do with the fact she has never worked in the game of football. The team would be no worse off running a lottery and letting some drunk fan they’ve pulled from the muny lots choose the next head coach.
Being the wife of the owner of a football team doesn’t give the fairer Haslam a lick of knowledge when it comes to the game of football. If that correlation holds, then I am qualified to draw blood because I have family members who work in the medical field.
I say the same for Jimmy Haslam. He has exactly zero knowledge when it comes to football. He’s a businessman who bought a football team. Hell, the average fan in the Greater Cleveland area has a higher football I.Q. than the Haslams combined.
The mystery man in this equation is Sashi Brown, a person we didn’t know existed until the ax fell on Farmer and Pettine on Sunday. Brown is the man who gained the most on Sunday night. He, essentially, will be the man who holds all the power when it comes to the roster as the executive vice president of football operations.
In one of the worst ideas in this lame-duck scheme, a coach will be hired before the GM, whom will be hired with the consultation of the new coach.
“Once we hire a head coach, then we’ll go out and hire a GM. Let me talk about why we’re going to do this,” Haslam said at Sunday’s press conference. “Effective today or tonight I should say, Sashi Brown will be our executive vice president of football operations. Sashi, I believe, is the right person to do this for the Cleveland Browns. He’s been in the NFL for 10-plus years, has been involved in the cap and has been heavily involved in our football administration and operations for the last year or two. He’s very smart, very organized, good at systems and processes and an outstanding team player. He’s also very strategic so we will use those skills and working for him will be a GM whose primary job will be talent acquisition.”
Let’s hit the pause button. Haslam stated the new GM’s primary job will be talent acquisition. However, Brown has the final say on all personnel decisions. The coach and GM will have “input” into those decisions. Essentially, the new GM will have zero power in bringing in new players.
Haslam’s explanation for taking this power out of the hands of the new GM (after he is hired) and giving it to Brown is ridiculous. He basically said the team has been terrible at bringing in good football players so he is handing those decisions over to a man who has no background in evaluating football talent.
Brown has spent 11 seasons in the NFL. Not one of them was on the football side of an organization. He is a lawyer and businessman. He was hired as executive vice president/general counsel by the Browns in January 2013. Again, where is the football pedigree? Where is the knowledge of what it takes to succeed on Sunday afternoons? How many Pro Days and scouting combines has he attended and rated players at?
Asking Brown to evaluate football talent is like asking a blind man to assess a painting.
“If you look at the Cleveland Browns and this is prior to our arrival and during the time period we’ve been involved with the team, we have not been good at talent acquisition,” Haslam said. “If you look at the teams that are successful, they’re very good at talent acquisition. That’s something that we have to get right, and we think this setup with somebody with a background in systems, processes, analytics and very strategic married up with a football person, if you will, who is very good at talent evaluation will hopefully put us in a position to win a lot more games than we have in the past.
“The same group Sashi, Jed, Dee and myself will be involved in the search for the GM, and the head coach will also be involved in that process. We think by doing it in that manner we’ll hopefully have very good alignment moving forward because that alignment is hugely important.”
If Sashi Brown is a football man, I’m the next Browns quarterback. Yet he will be the man tasked with rebuilding a once-glorious organization.
“Sashi will make the final call, but I think in any well-oiled organization, there will be several people involved in those calls.
“I think that is the final say with a lot of input from a lot of very qualified people, whether they be our quarterback coach at the time, our offensive coordinator, our head coach, our general manager,” Haslam said in defending the decision to put a person with no playing, coaching or scouting experience in charge of the draft. “It won’t be just one person making that decision in a vacuum.”
Right. The man with the job title and his butt on the firing line in an organization known for drafting players lacking talent will trust the people around him to guide him in the right direction. Not going to happen.
Let’s go back for a minute and address the idea the team is hiring its new coach, then allowing him to be involved in the hiring of the new GM, his direct boss. In essence, the inmates will be not only running the asylum, but also hiring the guards.
In exactly zero businesses do the people on the low end of the totem pole determine who their supervisors will be. If that were to happen in a factory, not one unit would be manufactured. Not a single one.
What power does the GM actually hold under the system the Browns are putting in place?
Unlike most teams in the league, the GM will not be making the personnel decisions. In Cleveland, instead of signing free agents and making draft picks, the new GM will, for all intents and purposes, will a glorified head scout.
“The GM’s job will be this: he will be in charge of our entire scouting group,” Haslam said. “He will be in charge of putting the draft board together. The ultimate say will be Sashi’s. In reality, I would expect several people to work really close together – the GM, Sashi and our head coach.”
The other area a GM has say in is the hiring and firing of coaches. Not in Cleveland, where the coach has hired the man in the position above him. What coach will allow himself to be held accountable by the man he put in the position to begin with?
“Remember, Sashi Brown’s job as executive vice president of football operations, he will have the ultimate say on the roster,” Haslam said. “If you think about it, we just think this makes more sense to hire the head coach first, then second to hire the talent acquisition or general manager.”
Haslam’s head is in an orifice which can’t be named if he thinks that will work.
In a couple of seasons, the Cleveland Browns will be right back in this position. Hopefully, they will get it right at that point. Until then, the Factory of Sadness will continue to manufacture losses causing its fans to drown their sorrows in cases of beer.