Doc Gonzo: The Case for Change

Doc Gonzo thinks Butch Davis' days are numbered... and should be...

Butch Davis is finished.

Barring a dramatic turnaround in this pathetic team's fortunes -- which I would have to believe came more in spite of Davis than because of him -- he will be dismissed in the offseason.

The local beat writers have turned on him, just as they once did Bill Belichick. Cleveland's football media is not the raving, addled horde of bloodthirsty journalistic hatchetmen that one finds in New York. No, they're usually a calm, reasoned bunch that calls it like they see it.

When they take to mocking you in the public prints, your days are numbered.

The last time we saw the normally meek band of mewling scribes unleash their venom was on the oafish Belichick in 1995, and we all remember how that season turned out. Chris Palmer they just pitied as a good man in over his head in awful circumstances.

Why the ridicule and anger over Davis, which we've seen also develop into a schism among fans that marginalizes the pro- and anti-Butch factions after each victory or defeat?

Davis has lost whatever measure of control he had.

He fields a wildly undisciplined and ill-prepared team whose roster is stocked with marginal players that Davis is directly responsible for acquiring. And on Sunday, the entire world witnessed Davis and his staff utterly botch a very winnable game through disorganized sideline coaching that seemed bewildered and incapable of managing the clock and timeouts.

It's unfathomable that owner Randy Lerner wasn't disgusted and offending by that wretched spectacle.

And it became starkly evident on Sunday that Cleveland simply doesn't have enough talent to compete. Certainly, there are excellent players on the roster around which to build a championship squad – Garcia, Green, Winslow, Suggs and others -- but there are not enough. There certainly aren't enough to overcome the mistakes and ineptitude of the rest -- and of the coaching staff.

Who is responsible for this mess?

Davis. He is the emblematic face of all that's wrong with the Cleveland Browns.

After four seasons, he has not built a team capable of withstanding injuries, nor one that can compete on every down with the league's elite. The starters at many positions are of very suspect caliber, especially at both guard spots, and the drop-off in ability at the backup positions is staggering.

Davis has had four seasons in which to mold this team. What's he shaped in a faceless mass of frustrating gooey weirdness that simply cannot compete with much of the league. The team has no character or direction. Sunday's defeat underscored the gap in talent, team personality and attitude. Baltimore backs up its bluster on defense. Cleveland players write checks with their mouths they are incapable of cashing.

The Browns' record accurately reflects its talent. This team is capable of beating the lower-tier teams in the league, but is left sputtering and grasping against everyone else. Beating Baltimore in the opener and Washington and Cincinnati since, isn't exactly a grand accomplishment. Losing in overtime to Philadelphia three weeks ago will be little consolation in January.

Only the Browns' mystic karma that makes opponents play down to their level keeps them in games against vastly superior opponents, like Philly. And on some Sundays, the legitimate players on the roster can overcome, for a while, everyone else (including Davis) and keep the team in contention. We saw that Sunday at Baltimore. But it's not enough, nor should it be. This should be a good team by now, not one that had built its entire hope for a season around a single rookie tight end, then collapsed when he was injured.

Ask the Chiefs and Giants how many Super Bowls they've won because of their Pro Bowl tight ends.

There is a player around which to build a playoff run, to surround with players like Winslow, Green and Suggs. And quality blockers.

Jeff Garcia is the one man who, by sheer force of will, has this team 3-5 instead of 0-8. His gutsy performances remind me of a blend of Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe. Garcia has the ability to scramble out of trouble -- when's the last time we saw a Cleveland quarterback dart and juke like we saw Sunday? He also can quickly dissect a defense with his mind and make the correct read and throw. He doesn't make the sloppy, lazy mistakes that plagued the more mentally limited Tim Couch, who remains unemployed in a quarterback-parched league.

An awful offensive line, perhaps the league's worst, shackles Garcia. So does Cleveland's offense, which could certainly be more robust and dynamic instead of the predictable mess  of about just a dozen plays it is now. Oh, and the coaching staff game-plans scared. It was obvious at Baltimore the scheme on offense was limited and unimaginative.

Garcia, a proven player who was given almost no time to become comfortable in this oddball offense in the preseason, won't last the season. The criminal lack of serious attention paid by Davis to the offensive line will get the quarterback killed. Signing a fat, imbecilic slab of flesh like Kelvin Garmon was not an upgrade, unless you want every drive to start as a 1st-and-15.

I'll say again that Davis has made good talent moves, just not enough after four seasons to justify him keeping his job. Getting Terrelle Smith and Garcia, good moves. Drafting Suggs and Andra Davis, also good. But for all those players, you can find duds like Melvin Fowler, a wasted third-round pick.

Davis' overall handling of this team has built vast reservoirs of resentment among many fans. His post-game press conferences, which are there so he can give fans answers through the media, remain baffling concerts of the absurd that provide no real insight, but do offer a sort of strange theater of the nonsensical.

After the Baltimore game, Davis blamed Cleveland's fans, the officials and the players. Whatever the degree of truth in any of those is beside the point because the one person Davis won't blame is himself. It's growing more obvious that he's developing a bunker mentality. He ignores reality and uses statistics to vindicate his and the team's failures.

But what about Ray Lewis holding Aaron Shea?

It doesn't matter. Nor does the short punt by Frost. The team should have been in neither position. Do you recall Baltimore being in those situations? Nope. A better roster and better game management prevents those sort of avoidable situations.

Cleveland is perpetually behind the eight-ball, and it's not always because of our 40-year curse.

Blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Davis, who coaches like Don Shula one week and Don Knotts the next.

Cleveland Browns fans deserve better.

And they deserve it now.


Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Except when he doesn't. He can be reached at Look for him at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday wandering the Muni lots in his authentic No. 19 jersey. Please offer him hotdogs and soda.

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