EXCLUSIVE: Managing the Locker Room

The Browns have made personnel moves in 2003 that have surprised not only fans, but players in the Browns locker room. Is that to be expected, or is Butch Davis - as has been reported in the some national media - "losing the team"? Here are exclusive excerpts from Lane Adkins' recent stories for Bernies Insiders magazine that have created a very loud buzz within the offices in Berea.

Leave it to this Cleveland Browns organization to find a way to generate controversy within the ranks of the roster. Quickly gaining a reputation throughout the league as a place a veteran player should avoid, the Browns have again stirred the proverbial pot.

Releasing a backup player should never become a distraction to a team - as it has became with the Browns when Josh Booty was released. Players were at a loss of words when they learned Booty had been let go and an additional offensive lineman had been added to the roster. The initial thought was that the Browns are following the lead of teams by having only two quarterbacks on the roster, but other factors may play into the equation.

During training camp head coach Butch Davis noted that Booty had made great progress and definitely was a player with a future in the league. A few short weeks later, Booty has been released.

Throughout the Butch Davis era, which started in 2001, veteran players have come and gone. While many of these players have gone silently into the night, a growing number of players released by the team have discussed growing discontent within the Browns family - which itself is a tale that has been kept relatively silent.

The locker room is an area where a player is to feel at home. In Cleveland, the locker room has become a place where a player could be most vulnerable - from what we've been told.

Not vulnerable to the media, but actually vulnerable to his own people - the organization that should have the players back. While some players in the locker room express the feeling that Butch Davis and the Browns coaching staff is generally straight-up with them, others within the ranks that believe the current head coach carries an ego which clouds his judgment.

Speaking on the grounds that we would disclose the identity of this current Browns player, we had the opportunity to discuss a wide array of topics regarding the current team and players, instances, and thoughts about the team and coaching staff from the past couple seasons.

The Josh Booty release: "Shocking, that is about all I can and want to say about this (Booty's release) right now, I don't believe anyone in this locker room saw this coming, I certainly didn't. That is why I just play the game and they (Davis) coaches the team," the player said. "This is just surprising, he has done a good job and really is one of us, hopefully he (Booty) gets a chance somewhere else, but there is some talk around here that he could be back on roster, but after talking to him, I think he feels like the team was unjustly disloyal to him and he feels misled."

"We are talking about a guy (Booty) that this coaching staff as much as told that he was part of the future, the immediate future actually. He was led to believe that he would most likely be the backup next season, he is a tough competitor and did everything asked of him here. This is another example of how it works around here. He (Davis) couldn't show him (Booty) any respect, just like the others who have left here, he called him (Booty) to tell him he was released, what a freaking joke."

The Growing Quiet: This incident with Booty is the latest in a long-line of issues that have created concern for players that remain on the roster. Even the most talkative players have become reserved in discussing the team for various reasons.

"Hey, let me make this clear to you. We have guys in this locker room that fear for their jobs, they know that if they say something, anything, there is a chance that they will be replaced, or worse released," the player continued. "This is his (Davis') team and he will do what he wants with it, with us. The best thing for a player to do here is stay quiet, play the game, practice hard, and keep his opinions to himself. If you notice, some of the players (Earl Holmes, Corey Fuller are two examples) who were either outspoken or made comments to the media are the ones that have been sent packing."

"He (Davis) has his locker room snitch patrol, we (the players) are aware of this, remember guys, this isn't college, we are grown adults here and respect is an issue."

The Decision to start Kelly Holcomb over Tim Couch: "That is a call that was popular with some of the guys and not so popular with others. Holcomb played well in the time that he got in when Couch was hurt, but did we win those games. I believe that we were 7-3 with Couch, winning is what this is all about."

Is the game played or called differently with Holcomb playing rather than Couch?

"This is something that a few of us have talked about a little, but I don't think there is anything intentional in nature to it. Holcomb and Couch see things differently on the field; Couch takes the safer route with the ball, which has been pounded into head since he came here. Holcomb is more of a gun-slinger, as you see teams are prepared for him now, they have film on his tendencies, good defensive coordinators will dissect film and find every weakness, all players and all teams have them. Exposing them is what makes a good team great; also you can also say that a good team can play under their potential if they cannot adjust to the game."

* * *

In any organization where there are multiple personalities, some conflict can be expected. In recent weeks, Bernies Insiders Magazine has revealed some of the conflict within the Browns locker room. Recently, we had the opportunity to discuss the team with a member of the Browns organization we'll call "Simply Speaking":

Bernies Insiders: Heading into training camp, Butch Davis commented that he did not believe having three basically untested linebackers starting would deter or become a hindrance to the progress of the team. Now that the season has started and we see these young guys (Ben Taylor, Andra Davis, and Kevin Bentley) on the field, what are the thoughts on the play of the linebackers?

Simply Speaking: "Andra Davis may be the one of this group of linebackers that has exploded onto the scene. Our evaluations on him were that he could be a physical force in the middle of the defense, a player that could make plays. We were a little concerned about his quickness initially, but he has played very well and instinctively. We'll see some of the other guys (Taylor and Bentley) rotate in and out throughout the course of a game, we want to keep them fresh and we have a couple talented players in Brant Boyer and Chaun Thompson that we want to get on the field."

Bernies Insiders: Recently we talked about the state of the team (see 9/22 print issue of Bernie's Insiders; The Magazine), mainly the locker room with a couple players. There were questions and concerns about the handling of players and situations, what are your thoughts about the state of the team, and the leadership of head coach Butch Davis and are their any signs that the coach has lost the team?

Simply Speaking: "In the professional team environment there is going to be some sense of discontent, it is to be expected. We are talking about personalities here, when you have say 70-different personalities, there will be talk, especially when someone may have an issue with playing time, etc. It's unfortunate when a player feels that he has to air out his thoughts in a public forum, but that is his right, that is not necessarily the best scenario for the team."

"It's obvious that Coach Davis wants a certain type of player on this team. We look for athletic players that are standup young men on the field and in the community that possess speed, quickness, physical attributes that can enhance our team. You can call them type of players that he (Davis) has brought here as "his guys" or whatever. For this organization, it is all about winning and we are clearly on that course."

Bernies Insiders: And has the coach lost the team or in danger of losing the team as it has been reported by some in the national media?

Simply Speaking: "(Laughing) No, we certainly do not believe that to be the case, not at all. If anything, the way we have played has brought this team as a whole closer. We are probably coming off some of the best practices and film sessions that we have had here in the past couple years. We have guys coming in early, staying late, studying film, and working with the coaches to improve on some areas that we have noticed as areas we need to improve upon to be a good football team. Also, one player can create that type of report, some in the media tend to sensationalize and seize the moment."

Bernies Insiders: It's a little ironic that it appears the team may be living with a similar situation at the quarterback spot again this season, as they did in 2002. What can we expect to see now that Holcomb is trying to work through a fractured fibula and sprained ankles, how does this change the plan for the team and its direction?

Simply Speaking: "If Kelly (Holcomb) can play, he will, that is the truth and bottom-line. He is our starting quarterback and he has done nothing to lead us to look in any other direction. This isn't a knock on Tim (Couch), but we committed this opportunity to Kelly and the team and we intend to stick with it. What Kelly did in San Francisco was huge for this team and this organization, if we don't win that game we are staring at a 0-3 start, which is an enormous obstacle to overcome."

"Realistically, it may be best that Kelly (Holcomb) does not play against Cincinnati, but knowing what a competitor he is, if he can walk, he will tell us that he can play. We're very comfortable with Tim (Couch) playing, if we go in that direction and we expect that he will play well, we don't have a issue of drop-off at the quarterback spot, these guys are pretty equal in what they can do."

Bernies Insiders: And what happens if Couch steps in against Cincinnati and the team performs very well offensively. Seeing how the team has struggled on the offensive side of the ball thus far, could a performance like that change the thoughts of the coaching staff on who the quarterback should be?

Simply Speaking: "Butch (Davis) will go with the player he believes will give the team the best chance of winning. You can never say never in this league, we started hitting and capitalizing on our opportunities during the San Francisco game with Kelly in there, but if Tim plays a lights-out game, it would certainly have to warrant some consideration."

"Remember, this is all about winning."

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