When it was announced that the Lerner/Policy/Kosar team had won the bid to purchase the "new Browns", I was ecstatic. And why wouldn't I be? The team was comprised of an incredibly wealthy owner without a huge ego, a savvy CEO who had won four Super Bowl titles in San Francisco, and a local legend with a phenomenal grasp of the game, a great business mind, and a deep love for all things Cleveland Browns.
However, over the past five years, things unraveled. Al Lerner passed away, Bernie was phased out of the teams' plans, and Carmen Policy made a series of decisions that resulted in shoddy play on the field, a disassociation with the past, and a lack of connection with the fan base.
Carmen Policy does have many fine qualities as an executive. He's an incredibly charming, well-spoken individual that brought instant credibility to this franchise upon their return to the league in 1999. He led the rebuilding of the Browns from the ground up in a six-month time span, when Carolina and Jacksonville were given eighteen months to do the same. He displayed a passion to bring winning football back to the state he grew up in, and has a fine mind for the business end of the game.
But the bottom line is this: In five years, we had just one winning season and just one Pro-Bowler, a tenure which included a 5-11 season in year five from a team that was stripped down due to salary cap issues.
The lack of a connection between the Browns of the past and the new team was glaringly evident, and not what fans expected with a guy that grew up in Youngstown as our CEO. And as each year passed, these "new Browns" and the experience that engulfs being a crazed fan of this team, seemed less and less like what I grew up watching.
It all started with Policy's hiring of his old buddy Dwight Clark from San Francisco as the general manager. Clark was woefully outmatched in that post, and his bunglings in the draft and free agency periods of 1999 and 2000 are mistakes the team is still paying for. Chris Palmer was hired to coach the team, and promptly ousted after just two seasons and a 5-27 record.
Also, during this same time period, Bernie Kosar's role with the team dwindled down to nothing. Kosar's passion for this city and team, and understanding of what Browns football means to us as fans has been sorely missed. Policy blamed the parting of ways on Kosar's insistence on having a high profile position, while Bernie has publicly said numerous times that nothing could be farther from the truth. The Kosar Debacle was just one of a series of missed opportunities to connect the new team with their roots of the past, and left many fans wondering who this new team really was.
As Clark and Palmer were phased out in favor of the Butch Davis regime, the football got a bit more competitive, climaxing in an exhilarating yet ultimately crushing playoff loss to the Steelers after the 2002 season.
Yet, the experience of attending a Browns game continued to sway further and further away from what this city became used to during the Modell era. Former secret service czar Lew Merletti was brought in as head of security, which triggered a number of changes for fans who would come down to the lakefront to watch Cleveland Browns football on Sundays. Signs were disallowed and the security became increasingly overbearing as the years passed. Fans were discouraged from standing to cheer their team. Tailgating in the Muni Lot led to a crackdown from Cleveland police, while at the same time fans were being funneled into the teams "official" Barking Lot tailgate party, complete with $6 beer. Fans were forced to turn their "Pittsburgh Sucks" shirts inside out. And a tattle-tale phone line was created for uptight fans to call in and report whatever they viewed as inappropriate behavior.
The tradition of the team always seemed to be sacrificed at the expense of the almighty dollar during Policy's tenure. Policy took it upon himself to create a new "B" logo for the team that, naturally, opened the doors to an additional streams of merchandise revenue. The tradition-rich Browns uniforms weren't above tinkering with as well. This climaxed last season when we saw the team wear five different combinations of orange and brown simply to allow the peddling of those new jerseys in retail outlets. And a series of Dawg Pound mascots were developed, making a mockery of one of the most intimidating fan atmospheres in all of sports.
Throughout all of this, we were constantly reminded, through pending litigation, of Policy's violation of anti-tampering laws and "circumvention" of the salary cap while in San Francisco. We were force-fed press conferences that sounded more like opening statements from the defense in a criminal trial. We just never felt like we were getting the whole truth on the direction of the team this city so desperately adores, and were confirmed of that when informed of the secret plan Policy and Randy Lerner hatched eighteen months ago that involved Policy phasing himself out of the picture.
It remains to be seen if we are in better hands now with a more-active Randy Lerner, a more-powerful Butch Davis, and a new CEO. That CEO happens to be a New Yorker who has never played football, worked for a football team, and has only been to Cleveland once in his life before he appeared in front of Browns fans and the Cleveland media.
Regardless, I'm glad Carmen is gone.