With the search underway for the Browns' fifth head coach of the expansion era, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the history that has led us to this point.
Wait, did I say "fun?"
Maybe I meant "funny," especially if your sense of humor is as dark as the Browns' recent on-field performance.
Anyway, here's some fun with real quotes, the kind that paint a bleak picture of the Browns' management during the expansion era.
RANDY LERNER AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF BUTCH DAVIS:
"In retrospect, since it didn't work out, it certainly doesn't seem like a great move on my part. My goal was to stabilize the situation."
The Browns' owner's thoughts here are in response to his decision to extend Butch Davis' contract, several months before Davis eventually quit as head coach late in the 2004 season. Although these same words could fit any number of scenarios, including giving Davis and his assistant Pete Garcia full control of all personnel decisions. Or, one could point to the anti-"stabilizing" effect of trying to mesh Davis with Carmen Policy – a move that ultimately resulted in the first of several crippling front-office power struggles.
Anyway, the next phrase is one all too common to long-suffering Browns fans.
RANDY LERNER AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF BUTCH DAVIS:
"We have to get this right."
While Lerner's intentions in righting the franchise were seemingly heartfelt, this next quote seems to reflect his limitations as a professional football team owner.
RANDY LERNER BEFORE HIRING PHIL SAVAGE:
"There is no magic. We need to concentrate on organizations that have been successful and we need to understand how and why they have been successful and we need to assume those practices."
This is a theme that Lerner has carried with him for the better part of the last decade, as both the Baltimore and New England models have been co-opted. Actually, pieces of both organizations were welded together as Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel were added prior to the 2005 season.
However, the familiar refrain of front-office turmoil continued to plague the Browns.
RANDY LERNER AFTER THE RESIGNATION OF JOHN COLLINS:
"My priority is to give the general manager and head coach all the resources necessary to make the Browns successful."
Here, Lerner is referring to the power struggle between Collins and Savage, one that necessitated the following quote.
RANDY LERNER ON NOT FIRING PHIL SAVAGE:
"Phil Savage has not been fired, and Phil Savage is not going to be fired."
At least not before 2008, that is. After all, Savage – fresh off his front office victory – was in the position to make this declaration.
PHIL SAVAGE ON CRENNEL:
"Romeo has the total support of Randy Lerner and myself. He has the respect of the team. They believe in him. Randy and I are 100 percent behind him. We're going to do everything in our power to help him rest the next five games, the upcoming offseason and next year."
But then again….
RANDY LERNER AFTER FIRING BOTH SAVAGE AND CRENNEL:
"I think what you need to do is be nimble and move as quickly as you possibly can. I think it's imperfect, given this particular situation where you have two openings. You've got to be very sensitive and nervous about the idea of missing out - and I am."
After watching his front office again slowly disintegrate, Lerner now seemed to be in a rush to yet again save the Browns.
RANDY LERNER AFTER HIRING ERIC MANGINI:
"There is not as much of a rush to get a GM because his main responsibilities are putting together the draft and [NFL] free agency. My goal is to get the right GM to work with the coach. The key is the right guys working together and respecting each other."
Of course, this led to the hiring of George Kokinis, followed by one of the shortest GM tenures in NFL history.
RANDY LERNER AFTER FIRING GEORGE KOKINIS:
"I don't believe the GM was in anyway beholden to the head coach. They had distinct and clearly articulated duties and responsibilities."
As for who was responsible for "articulating" these "distinct duties and responsibilities" that's a whole other story. One that begins with the following quote.
RANDY LERNER LATE IN 2009:
"We need as many credible, serious eyes and ears assessing this situation as is possible."
Another hallmark of Lerner's ownership of the Browns has been his tendency to surround himself with ex-players or unofficially official "consultants," if you will. One of these sets of "eyes and ears" helped to spill the beans late in 2009.
JIM BROWN – LATE IN THE 2009 SEASON:
"At this moment, right now Randy Lerner is meeting with one of the great football minds in this country. And if things work out, that person will come in to run the football side of the Browns."
Which brings us to the present. After purging the front office of Brown and other Lerner consultants, the Browns appear to have finally landed the type of "credible" leader who can both create and maintain the kind of "stability" that has been lacking for over a decade.
MIKE HOLMGREN – THIS PAST MONDAY:
"The here we go again feeling is real. I am not thinking much about continuity right now. I am trying to find the right person. We have to play better. I don't want to (hire a new coach) again. While I understand why people would say this, I think it's important to get it right."
Based on all the above, the "here we go again" feeling is more than "real." In fact, it's become a permanent sense of consciousness for Browns fans.
However, at least based on Holmgren's short tenure as team president, it appears that the Browns front office is more stable now than at any point during the expansion era. While yet another coaching hire is on the horizon, at least the Browns will enter 2011 with a clearly defined front office. For the first time since the expansion era began, the process of securing a new coach will feature a definitive top-down approach, one that is a clear departure from the "continuity" of the past decade.
It's worth a shot.