The Cleveland Browns made official on Friday what we’ve all known for nearly a week, formally announcing their new coaching hires. Though additional tweaks may be made regarding other assistants and specialists, the main skeleton of the Browns’ 2016 coaching staff is in place.
Ray Horton returns to serve as the team’s defensive coordinator, a role he held under former head coach Rob Chudzinski in 2013. Pep Hamilton, most recently the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator, will be an associate head coach and will share control of the offense with head coach Hue Jackson. Al Saunders will be a senior offensive assistant and receivers coach. Kirby Wilson comes aboard as running backs coach and run game coordinator. Greg Seamon will coach tight ends, Bob Saunders will be the offensive quality control coach and Hal Hunter will serve as offensive line coach. They join the already retained special teams group helmed by coordinator Chris Tabor.
These new hires are exciting. These are experienced and often decorated coaches with well over 150 years of NFL experience between them. There is reason to be optimistic that this is the group to turn the Browns’ fortunes around.
But this optimism needs to be tempered by realistic expectations for Cleveland’s new staff in its first year and by the knowledge that high-level coaching experience alone won’t be the only key to a drastic improvement, whether quickly or over the span of two, three or five seasons (granted they are given that wide a berth). This isn’t the first time the Browns have made coaching hires that seemed impressive and qualified for the job. And given what we know about the nature of owner Jimmy Haslam’s patience (there in word, though not [yet] often in deed), it’s possible it’s not the last set of coaching moves and changes we’ll see this decade. The pressure to win now is high—rapidly fading are the days where teams are committing to a five-year plan, for better or for worse—and getting results right away could be an uphill battle.
Think of all the coaching changes the Browns have faced, not just since 1999 but since 2010—Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Chudzinski and Pettine have all had cracks at the job prior to Jackson’s hiring. And think of all the players who have come through the doors—many are gone, but others remain, including cornerback Joe Haden, who is on his fifth coaching staff, or Mitchell Schwartz and John Hughes who are on their fourth. There are numerous disparate parts who remain in Cleveland as holdovers from other coaches’ visions and plans, who have already adapted to new systems numerous times already and will have to do so again. That’s a lot of learning and unlearning and re-learning that these players have had to deal with in their young careers and more is undoubtedly on the way.
This isn’t to throw cold water on the potential for Jackson and his staff to make a positive difference for the Browns. This isn’t to say this won’t work. History and precedent don’t matter much when it comes to prognosticating whether this latest attempt to fix the Browns will succeed or fail—there’s not much worth in saying “well, it hasn’t in the past, so it won’t now,” because that’s not realistic. But it’s also not realistic to think that these hirings, however impressive they are, are a magic wand or an instant fix for what ails this team. With many months ahead before the Browns take the field again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for a big, positive change—that’s what the offseason is for, after all. But until and unless the players can buy into, understand, master and execute their coaches’ visions, we’ve yet to know what miracles, if any, Jackson’s highly experienced, well-regarded staff will be able to work.