James A. Haslam, Owner
100 Alfred Lerner Way
Dear Mr. Haslam,
I, like many of my friends, am a long-time, long suffering Cleveland Browns fan (are there any other?). I have lived through Red Right 88, the Drive, the Fumble, the Move, Dwayne Rudd’s helmet, the great Couch-Holcomb debate, bad draft after bad draft, bad coaches after bad coaches, and all the embarrassment of embarrassments that this team has served up to the paying public for the last 40 years.??I know these mind-numbing, soul-crushing moments are not all on you, but unfortunately it is impossible for me legally to take these matters up with Mr. Lerner, and to do to Mr. Modell’s body what he deserves requires a court order, legal standing that I don’t have and a herd of rabid wildebeest with dysentery that I don’t own.
You are a multi-billionaire business success story rivaled by few. Your brother is one of 50 Governors and a popular one at that. You are owner of one 32 NFL Franchises, a member of note in one of the most exclusive clubs of like business success stories. You, Sir, are the American Dream.??You are a business man of action, reactive to trends both in marketing and results, and to you, results are Wins and Losses. But like that one Flying J on the Grapevine in Frazier Park, CA you just can’t seem to get the bottom line to work out. (Hint: That place is filthy). I think the new uniforms are nice, and the TV deal you get must be pretty nifty, but if you really want to score points, let’s see if little ol’ me, a multi-hundredaire living across the country as one of the millions of expat Browns fans across the globe can give you some good advice.
HOW TO FIX THE BROWNS IN SIX EASY STEPS
This isn’t going to be easy, this isn’t going to be painless. However I believe that it will be successful, and it’s going to take time. People will tell you that you can turn around a football franchise with one hire or one draft pick or one this or that. It isn’t true. It’s never happened. You can catch lightning in a bottle for a year or so (See Colin Kaepernick, Bill Callahan) but long-time sustained success, as you know, requires a firm foundation, and that, Mr. Haslam, is something that this franchise has not had in 60 years.
Even when the Browns were winning, the purchase of the team by Art Modell signaled the end of stable ownership with the Browns. The 1964 Championship, the last one the fans of the team and the Citizens of Cleveland have enjoyed, should have been the crowning achievement of the greatest coach in the history of football, Paul Brown.
When Art bought the franchise, players were beginning to weary of Brown’s regimen, and Modell began further sabotaging the players relationship with the coach. Brown was forced out following the 1962 season. Thus began a history of Modell’s relationship of meddling ownership, fighting with coaches such as Forrest Gregg, Marty Schottenheimer and players such as Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe and finally Bernie Kosar. Modell was a successful advertising executive but a poor businessman, and an even worse football owner. His ownership/business acumen can be summed up by the oft-repeated tale of moving the Browns in 1995 for millions in bailout money from the city of Baltimore to pay non-football business debt, and eventually losing the team anyway.
When the team returned in 1999, Credit Card Bazillionaire Al Lerner took control of the team and handed it over to two guys who built their reputation on Eddie DeBartolo’s popularity and checkbook in the pre-salary cap era with the uber-successful San Francisco 49ers. Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark came aboard as President & General Manager. The two and handpicked Head Coach Chris Palmer were an unmitigated disaster. I’m not going to call them out for some personnel decisions that in hindsight were horrible (ignoring the offensive line, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, even taking Spergeon Wynn over Tom Brady) because Couch and Brown were injury victims, no one saw anything in Brady but Charlie Weis, and there weren’t a lot of offensive line options at the time.
But the team lacked a plan.
It lacked a short-range focus on long-term goals. It seemed to meander from idea to idea, from personnel package to personnel package without much thought to what will this effect down the road. We began a downward spiral of upper office personal, coaches, GMs, Coach/GMs, changing horses every year. In the end, Randy Lerner, the ultimate non-interfering owner, a guy who just didn’t seem to give a damn one way or another if the team won or lost, the “anti-Modell” so to speak, decided he’d rather play with his new toy, English Football Team Aston-Villa, than his American one, the Browns.
That’s where you walked in, my friend. Perhaps Cleveland wasn’t your first choice (you owned a chunk of the Steelers after all) and this is why I have hope for you. Perhaps you’d rather own the Titans or the Steelers or one of the 30 other teams, but you got stuck with us, and us with you. But there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
Your first NFL experience came with the Steelers. The Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969. In contrast, Cleveland has had three head coaches in four years. Ask yourself why have the Steelers been as successful as they have over the past 30 years? What do they have that the Browns lack? Stability. They have a stable owner, a stable coaching staff and stable front office support.
- First thing we need to do is establish some stability. Call a Press Conference. and tell the world that Mike Pettine is your head coach for the next five years, win, lose or draw. If Pettine is always looking over his shoulder wondering if he’s going to get fired or not, he’s not going to necessarily make the best long-term decisions for the team. This will have the added benefit of letting the assistant coaching world know that they have some secure job opportunities. Right now we have an assistant staff of coaches who have never developed anyone. It shows on the field. But guys aren’t going to come here if they think they are going to get fired at the end of the season. Hue Jackson is considered one of the best as assistants in football right now, he is in Cincinnati because he has a good situation and knows that Marvin Lewis isn’t going anywhere. Lewis has been a head coach for 13 years, and only five of those has he finished over .500. But he was kept on year after mediocre year. Besides, the last time we hired a head coach, nine people declined the job or even be interviewed. Do you really want that black eye again?
- The key to any team is finding the right players and developing them (see above). Cleveland has about as dismal a record in this department as the UN has in Humanitarian Relief. We need a General Manager who is given all the right tools and info to make these decisions and make them correctly. I had a discussion with a friend of mine from this site about this. I don’t think Farmer is the right guy, he does. I suggested finding the best football guy that will talk to you, and throw lots of money at him, more money than he deserves, at this point we are going to have to overpay for everyone and everything (this is that part where I said it would hurt). People will say Jon Gruden or Urban Meyer or whatever. Those guys aren’t going to come here, if they take a phone call, consider yourself lucky. Maybe hire Chucky as a consultant who can help you find the guy, but right now the Browns are toxic and no one is going to touch us if they have another opportunity. Perhaps the best bet is standing pat, but you are going to have make the same promise to Farmer that you did with Pettine, but whoever you choose gets the same window. Win Lose or Draw.
- Scouting, Scouting, Scouting. Sometimes it feels like we inherited the old Bengals draft staff, which consisted of a handful of old drunks who picked up a couple of Mel Kiper draft guides at Kroger’s on the way to draft. Kiper would tell us every year how great their draft was, and somehow they’d morph into Akili Smith, Peter Warrick, David Pollack etc. Our run of draft picks is arguably worse. Trent Richardson (at least he got us a first back), Brian Robiske, Greg Little, Brandon Weeden etc. We need to reinvent scouting for the next 20 years. Double the scouting staff (yeah, double) I assume these guys work year round, but make it more interview intensive, increase film study, measuring adaptability, watch how they play instead of how they measure. It never ceases to amaze me how some guys increase in value after the games stop. When they suck in games people are shocked. Yeah I’m looking at you, Ryan Mallett.
- Quarterback. This one is going to be the controversial one. I love what Josh McCown has brought to the team, he’s been so much better than advertised, he is the team guy that Brian Hoyer wasn’t. He’s the kind of guy that every team needs, a steady hand, a captain. But he needs to be benched. Not for anything he’s done, but because we have an asset on the bench that we need to know if he’s worth what we are paying him. I know some people have hated Johnny Football since his name was called. He’s done nothing to change their mind, in fact most of what he’s done has reinforced their visceral emotional feelings. He’s a bonehead, to put it politely. But he’s also a football player on our team and we need to show what, if anything, he brings to the table. Many people who hate JFF never saw Brett Favre play at Southern Miss. To be honest, I hadn’t either until I looked online at old video. They look a lot alike. Now am I saying that Johnny is going to be Favre? No, he isn’t. But can we gear the offense to his strengths and let him win us some games? The season is over already, Austin Davis isn’t the future and neither is Josh McCown. Our best chance on the roster right now is Manziel, give him shot to sink or swim. If he can’t make it, cut him, let Jerrah Jones deal with him.
- The Manziel point goes to the next point, we need to establish our identity as a team. I remember in training camp Pettine talking about how we were going to be a tough running team. Did he not realize our best running back is a 5’9 scatback that had just been taken in the third round? If you are going to be a running team, it’s always helpful to have an every down running back. I love Duke Johnson, he’s probably my favorite pick since Joe Haden. Is he going to carry the rock 30 times a game? Not if he wants to live. If you want to go the old school route, we need an old school RB. Not Crowell, not the other two guys on the team no one has ever heard of either. This is what happens when you don’t have a plan.
- Player acquisition. This goes to the GM, but also the identity and scouting point. We need to get players that not only are players, but mentors. Guys like McCown, Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and others. Not just names. Again, we are going to have to identify these players through scouting, guys that are not the prototypical me-first guy, but the guy that wants to help bring the next generation into the NFL right. Again, you are going to overpay for them, deal with it, every year we end up with tons of money unspent on the cap, and it’s easy for me to say spend it, but you knew what the NFL was when you got involved, and I assume that you got into the NFL not to be the punchline to the joke.
Well Mr. Haslem, there you have it. One man’s ideas to help you grow your investment and make your team, our team, better than it is now. It boils down to stability, from the top, to the bottom. I know you can do it. You haven’t gotten as far as you have just resting on your father’s laurels. Take the ball Mr. Haslam, take it and run it in. You could own not just this team, but the town if you do.