Almost 3 years ago, as the Cleveland Browns were nearing the end of the Phil Savage/Romeo Crennel era, I looked back at the 40 years since my Dad took me to my first game. The Browns were on their way to a dismal 4-12 record, but there were hints of an organizational shakeup after the season, giving fans a ray of hope just in time for Christmas.
What's happened since?
The revolving door at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard kept spinning. Out went Savage and Crennel, in came Eric Mangini and George Kokinis, who wouldn't last through his first season. In came Mike Holmgren, an experienced, credible football guy, who retained Mangini after a strong finish in 2009, and hired Tom Heckert as General Manager.
Mangini posted identical 5-11 records in 2009 and 2010, and Holmgren sent him packing. There were glimmers of hope (there's that word again), as the Browns shockingly beat the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots in back-to-back games, so perhaps the talent cupboard wasn't so bare after all. After all, it looked like the Browns had found a big-time RB in Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis, and a promising young QB in Colt McCoy.
Holmgren then hired Pat Shurmur as the team's 13th full-time head coach, despite having no head coaching experience at any level. Holmgren believed Shurmur was a sharp guy who would be on the same page as the rest of the organization. The team assembled an experienced staff that included long-time Holmgren aide Gil Haskell, and former NFL head coaches Dick Jauron and Ray Rhodes. With the new staff would come new schemes – the "West Coast" offense, and a return to the base 4-3 defense.
The roster needed re-tooling to fit with the new schemes, so Heckert made a blockbuster trade on draft day with the Atlanta Falcons, who paid a king's ransom to trade up from the 26th to the 6th spot in the first round to select coveted WR Julio Jones. The Browns hoped to use the extra picks, including Atlanta's first round pick in 2012, to revamp the roster. The team was rather quiet in free agency, opting to round out the bottom of the roster instead of finding starters.
So, where are the Browns after 12 games of this latest regime?•
4 wins, 8 losses (0.333)•
The defense is 31st against the run, allowing 151 yards per game (4.4 avg. per carry). The overall defense ranks 8th in total yards per game, 25th in points allowed, but 1st in passing yards allowed. (The pass defense rank is deceiving. Since opponents can run the ball at will, they have attempted the second fewest number of passes in the league.)•
The offense is 31st in yards, averaging 290 yards per game, and 28th in points scored.•
The offensive line has been terrible, gaining only 3.6 yards per rush (31st), while allowing 30 sacks (11th) and 68 QB hits (28th).•
Colt McCoy's passer rating is 76.9, good for 23rd in the league. He has completed 57.7% of his passes, for 14 TDs and 9 INTs, and has been sacked 29 times.•
Phil Dawson is having an outstanding season, no thanks to his pal Ryan Pontbriand, whose poor snaps on field goal attempts cost the team, wins against the Rams and Bengals. Pontbriand, who had been outstanding before this year, struggled all year, and was cut after the second loss to the Bengals.•
Peyton Hillis became the latest victim of the Madden Curse, as he and fellow RB Montario Hardesty have missed most of the season due to illness and injury.•
CB Joe Haden has had a good year overall, but has dropped at least four interceptions that could have been game-changers.
There's a lot more, but I'll spare you the rest of the details. It's awful, and it was pretty bad even before last week's thorough dismantling at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.
But that's just one season, right? You can't look at it like that, you say? OK, let's look at the body of work.
In the 12¾ seasons (204 games) since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have a regular season record of 68-136 (0.333). They are 0-1 in the playoffs, when they had the Steelers on the ropes, but couldn't put them away. Even when they posted a 10-6 record in 2007, they didn't make the playoffs.
Since 1999, the Browns have had two owners, five full time head coaches, at least as many general managers (de facto or otherwise), and countless assistant coaches and players. Berea appears to be the entry point for head coaches and GMs, as only Mangini had previous NFL head coaching experience, and none of our GMs held that position before. The Lerners tried splitting the head coaching and GM positions between two guys, and tried letting one guy run the entire show, with similar results. Extra draft picks in 1999 and 2000 were squandered on players who were out of the league two or three years later, and the draft success has been spotty ever since.
The only constant since 1999 has been failure.
Oh, they'll occasionally give you something that keeps you coming back for more, like those wins against the Saints and Patriots, or Jerome Harrison rushing for 286 yards against the Chiefs. The same thing happens to golfers on the golf course that get a shot or two each round that keeps them coming back. It doesn't change the fact that they're still duffers. Nor do those occasional great plays or games change the fact that the Browns are failures.
I left Cleveland 30 years ago, settling in Georgia a few years later. Between Browns Backers bars, the NFL Sunday Ticket and this Internet thing, I've followed the Browns obsessively, remaining a loyal and ever-hopeful fan.
I've had enough. It doesn't seem to matter who the owner, team president, GM, head coach, coordinators or players are. The Browns lose. It's just what they do. I'll give them credit…They manage to find some very creative ways in which to lose. If it's not Dwayne Rudd tossing his helmet, it's Jamal Lewis rushing for 295 yards, or missing a game-winning field goal because a Pro Bowl long snapper botched the snap. Though they talk a good game every offseason, building up the hopes and dreams of their faithful fans, they still fall flat on game day.
Yes, this year's labor situation prevented the new coaching staff from teaching their players new schemes, and they were behind the proverbial 8-ball when training camp finally opened. I get that. Really, I do. But how is it that San Francisco (10-2), Tennessee (7-5), Denver (7-5) and Oakland (7-5) were able to succeed with new head coaches, despite the same offseason constraints?
They're not the Cleveland Browns. And there is no hope for the Cleveland Browns.
I don't believe in jinxes or karma. If they were real, the Ravens would have been winless since 1996, and a rogue asteroid would have turned Pittsburgh into a rather large crater. And no, I don't know what the problem is. Believe me, if I did, I'd be a one-man "Occupy Berea" gang, setting up camp in Mike Holmgren's presidential parking space until he listened.
All I know is that I'm done.
No longer will my ever-dwindling disposable income on the NFL Sunday Ticket and Browns merchandise. Done are my wistfully planning trips to training camp and home games that never seem to transpire. Done being in a lousy mood every Monday (or the occasional Tuesday or Friday) after the Browns lay another egg. I have given the Browns too much of my life over the past 43 years with little in return. My Sunday afternoons would be much better spent playing with my little grandson, raking leaves in the middle Georgia fall, or watching paint dry, than watching the hopeless, hapless Browns go through the motions once again.
The Browns are going to have to earn my loyalty from now on. If you continue being this inept, I won't be watching. I'll check the scores and shake my head when you get blown out again by a division rival, or find another astonishingly bizarre way to lose a game. And I won't be surprised at all a few years from now, when yet another multi-year rebuilding process begins.
Merriam-Webster defines hope as, "to cherish a desire with anticipation." Since I was a young boy, I held to the hope that the Browns would once again become a dynasty, and finally win a Super Bowl. The Browns organization says that's what they want, and they may indeed be sincere in that hope.
But, as my company's CEO likes to say, "Hope is not a strategy."