Much has been reported recently regarding the Cleveland Browns by some in the media. I'll leave those media members unnamed because I deem their reporting approach and delivery of information as being excessively irresponsible toward the state of the Browns organization.
That isn't to say that some of what has been noted within the national media isn't of merit. There is some truth to reports of unhappiness within the organization, but to the degree described is categorically incorrect.
Unlike last season, we do not see a CEO undermining a hand-picked general manager, nor are we seeing a CEO, GM and head coach with differing visions for the team, while sabotaging one another when the opportunity presents itself.
The Browns front office is not dysfunctional and the GM (Ray Farmer) and head coach (Mike Pettine) have a very solid working relationship to date, as do Farmer, Pettine and team owner Jimmy Haslam.
Things are not always rosy when it comes to the inner workings of the Browns or any other NFL team. Front office personnel and coaches will disagree at times. Head coaches and assistant coaches will disagree at times. Coaches and players will disagree at times. This is a natural occurrence and one that breeds open thinking for the betterment of a structure, such as the Cleveland Browns.
As we here at theOBR have indicated on numerous occasions, there has been discussion, debate and disagreement within the organization on various topics. The Browns have been structured to entertain the discussion various topics. Departments and coaches have a voice in specific areas, with the general manager having the final word on personnel/roster and the head coach having the final word as to who plays on game day.
Farmer, a first time GM, and Pettine, a first time head coach, were paired together and a learning process ensued. Throughout the early days of the 2014 league year — prior to free agency and the draft — Farmer and Pettine discussed talent within the roster, talent needed to improve the roster and coming to an understanding how the team would be built.
Simplifying the situation was the core belief each man shared. Hard-nosed, physical, aggressive and effort were adjectives each man believed in and relayed into sculpting a football team. Farmer and Pettine would discuss players endlessly, when it came time to make a roster move the two men would discuss the merit of the move.
Going back as far as training camp, Farmer and many within the organization would have liked to have seen rookie QB Johnny Manziel play a bigger role. Due to Manziel not endearing himself to the staff and his play, recognition and mental readiness being pedestrian, the front office was supportive of Pettine’s decision to start Brian Hoyer.
As the season started and the Browns were competitive, Farmer and Pettine were proving to be a solid tandem. As the Browns offense deteriorated following a season-ending injury to center Alex Mack, Pettine remained steadfast in his support of Hoyer, despite the quarterback not playing well.
In the weeks leading up to Pettine replacing Hoyer with Manziel, Farmer did inquire on more than one occasion whether Manziel could provide the team a spark, while gaining some actual game viewing to help evaluate his progress.
Pettine remained firm that Manziel was not ready for many reasons, but acknowledged they may not know exactly what they had without playing him. Due to the state of the Browns offense, Pettine struggled in the notion of making a change, but he knew they were in trouble.
Following a resounding 30-0 loss to Cincinnati in Manziel’s first start, Farmer and Haslam were unbelievably shocked with how ill-prepared Manziel appeared. The reality of the situation and all the quiet talk within the organization about Manziel’s study habits had come to fruition.
More than one member of the locker room told theOBR that putting practice squad quarterback and rookie Connor Shaw on the field would be a better option than Manziel.
One week later in Carolina, Manziel and the Browns offense looked slightly better before Manziel suffered a season-ending hamstring injury late in the first half. Hoyer replaced Manziel and rallied the Browns to a 13-10 lead before the team succumbed to the Panthers 17-13.
Hoyer was injured late in the Carolina game and would not play in the Browns season-ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the failure at QB, arguably the two most important members of the Browns organization were now on the same page at the ever-most important QB position.
The issue within the Browns organization isn’t the direction or vision of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine.
Recently it had been reported that the front office pressured the coaching staff on which player or players to play, how they would be played and even to the extent of play-calling/utilization of talent.
TheOBR had reported on numerous occasions as a whole, the front office of the Browns wanted to gain a better perspective as to the development and readiness of Manziel. Manziel has been at the center of many discussions within the organization, with wide-spread thoughts on his ability, readiness and future being questioned.
The front office did want to see Manziel on the field at some point in 2014 to gauge his development. Pettine was steadfast in his belief that Manziel was not ready to play. Pettine’s reasons varied from what Manziel showed on the practice field, to how he behaved in the meeting structure, as well as a general belief that Manziel did not display the qualities Pettine believed were essential for this specific team and locker room.
What we are seeing within the Browns organization is a differing mindset on how to handle specific players, what role will some specific players have, whether specific players should have a role in the future for the Browns and whether specific members of the organization have an agenda based on some of the aforementioned issues.
Due to differing opinion at the quarterback position, along with the development of Manziel, questions about the play-calling and utilization of talent, QB coach Dowell Loggains and OC Kyle Shanahan are two members of the coaching staff which could have issue with the organization as a whole.
Loggains, as you may remember, was the member of the coaching staff that openly admitted he received a text from Manziel during the draft for which the QB coach forwarded to team owner Jimmy Haslam. From there the ball was rolling on selecting the QB. Loggains disclosure of the series of events that led to the Browns selecting Manziel created questions regarding Haslam’s involvement in the personnel selection process, a process with which the team owner has no professional experience.
The issue led to continued dysfunction issues in Cleveland. TheOBR has learned that Haslam did play a role of influence in the selection of Manziel at last year’s draft. Whether his role was direct or indirect is the question, though the Browns did have Manziel rated as a first round talent on their draft board and Farmer made the pick.
Manziel and his lack of work ethic created issues within the organization and locker room throughout the season. His lack of development and readiness has cast a questionable shadow around Loggains.
TheOBR has learned the road through the 2014 season was at times rocky for Shanahan. Shanahan and Pettine’s relationship is sufficient, but not in unison. Pettine and Shanahan didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the play-calling and utilization of talent, especially when it came to Shanahan’s reliance of the passing game and the position Hoyer was placed in on game-day. The two coaches had differing views regarding the talent within the Browns offense.
Some of the issue with Hoyer can be attributed to the quarterback not being the easiest person to work with, especially because of his inexperience in the specific offensive scheme Shanahan installed with the Browns. Hoyer and Shanahan often disagreed with how plays were being run and/or developed. Some of the issues became increasingly evident during stretches when Hoyer and the Browns offense went into the hurry-up. Hoyer basically made his own calls when the Browns were in hurry-up and Shanahan took issue with the quarterback changing “his” plays unless directed to.
Shanahan and Hoyer did not have a good relationship throughout the 2014 season and the OC was not high on starting the season with him. Shanahan was a very strong proponent of the Browns adding Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and was verbally distraught on numerous occasions prior to and into the 2014 season because of the Browns quarterback situation.
As the season progressed the offense played less hurry-up and more within Shanahan’s offensive structure, something that was also embedded within members of the coaching staff and front office. Players within the offensive have indicated to theOBR that they were generally indifferent about Shanahan, which isn’t a positive for the coach.
It is not uncommon to learn a front office executive questions the direction of a unit or player. The Browns front office did question strategy, which included play-calling and player utilization. Asking such during a game isn’t uncommon between staff, especially when a unit or player had become terribly inconsistent, stagnant and/or displays inadequacies that should be addressed.
The so-called friction between the Browns coaching staff and Shanahan can be attributed to the aforementioned issues, as well as the belief he had become apprehensive of Manziel after being a proponent of him early on in the process.
Don’t think for a second Shanahan wasn’t looking to escape Cleveland. With the quarterback situation in shambles, the organization unwilling to acquire his hand-picked quarterback (Cousins), questions surrounding his play-calling and some players put off by his demeanor and communication skills, the path for Shanahan was clear – he wanted out and the Browns weren’t panicking.
With a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach coming to Cleveland for the 2015 season, the Browns locker room isn’t shed a tear for the departed.