Too Big a Job?

With the Browns disappointing start, "the wolves are already appearing" at the head coach's doorstep, according to columnist Les Levine. Les takes a look at Butch Davis' role within the Browns organization and asks some questions that may soon be echoed throughout the independent media. Here's our regular Wednesday offering from Cleveland's "Voice of Truth and Reason" - two things in short supply these days...

Specialization has become a major factor in filling out a 53-man NFL roster. 

It has been years since a kicker has filled both roles as punter and place kicker.  Some teams even use a different place kicker for kickoffs and long field goals than for kicks under 40 yards. 

Often, as in the Browns loss to Dallas, a longer throwing quarterback will come off the bench to throw a Hail Mary pass because the regular QB doesn't have the arm strength.  The Browns have resorted to using wide receiver Frisman Jackson in that role in recent years. 

The importance of specialization is clearly the only reason Butch Davis used a fifth round draft pick on a long-snapper last year.

While specialization is important on the field, the trend has been to consolidate roles within the front office, led by coaches assuming the roles of personnel directors or even General Managers. 

Nobody can argue that a coach, who ultimately will be judged by his won/loss record, feels the need to be totally responsible for the product put on the field.  The obvious downside of that is that coaches sometimes make personnel decisions on the field, based on the business side of things, as opposed to just trying to deal with the hand that is dealt to them. 

It is not uncommon for coaches, including Butch Davis, to take on responsibility for everything that goes on within the organization, all the way down to setting up menus for team meals throughout the week.  Bill Belichick, with two Super Bowl championships under his belt, has earned the rights to call the shots in New England, while he wasn't ready for the dual role while in Cleveland.  Mike Holmgren had the dual role in Seattle, but the GM position was taken away from him so that he could concentrate on coaching, the reason that he was hired.

It is not too early to ask if Butch Davis has too many things on his plate in Berea, without doing enough in the NFL to deserve that status as of yet.  

He may argue that his long time associate, Pete Garcia, is calling the personnel shots, and Terry Robiskie and Dave Campo are responsible for the offense and defense.  But I don't think anyone believes that Davis only puts his stamp of approval on their decisions. 

How else can you explain an offensive game plan that looks eerily like previous years?  You can argue that the loss of Kellen Winslow, Jr., has damaged the offensive potential (as much as 50% according to a Robiskie quote), but I could argue back that the offense didn't have Winslow at all last year, and somehow had to find a way to be productive.

With a poor 1-2 start the wolves are already appearing at Davis' door.  Now in his fourth year, and going from a 9-7 playoff season in 2002 to last year's gut decision 5-11 year, Davis hasn't built up enough trust or support from the fan base to withstand another bad season. Owner Randy Lerner, who gave Davis a two-year extension, may feel differently about it, but another non-playoff year will not go over well with the long-suffering fans around here. 

The easy way out, if the season continues poorly, is a compromise---take the GM job away so Davis can concentrate on coaching.  But that is not as easy to do as it appears.  Lerner has no real background in the NFL, and as a result, few contacts within the game, so he has no real file of resumes to choose from.  His father, Al, was able to use Carmen Policy for that purpose, as Policy knew his way around the league.  Policy is gone, and so is Ron Wolf, the ideal person for a vacant GM job here.  Lerner went with John Collins to lead the business side of the operation, but he is totally lacking, at this point, in the ability to make football-based decisions. 

This discussion would not be taking place if the prospects for the remainder of this season weren't so dismal. 

While Butch Davis correctly says that injuries are part of the game and the Browns have to find a way to work through them, he doesn't hesitate to remind us that the team has more than their share of them, perhaps setting up his defense if the heat continues through the end of the season. 

Despite having former head coaches on the staff, Campo and Robiskie, Lerner doesn't feel comfortable enough with either of them to make a mid-season change, and rightfully so. 

If Davis can stave off the desire to get rid of him after the season, if things don't turn around, his only choice might be to give up the General Manager/Personnel Director position, and work with somebody above him. 

We got an inkling of how that would work, or not work, when Davis and Policy sat at the same interview table after last season.  Policy said he would go down to Florida to ‘recruit' Tim Couch back to the Browns, while Davis didn't support that decision.  The power struggle was on---and Davis survived.  Whether he will be able to survive the next power struggle is something to watch for over the next several months.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen nightly Monday through Friday from 6-7pm with replays at 11pm on Adelphia Channel 15.  ‘More Les' is aired after selected Cleveland Indians games on FSN OHIO.  You can or reach him via www.leslevine.com

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