Heading into this season, the vast majority of Browns fans were of like mind in their thinking that this was a make or break season for Butch Davis.
We now find ourselves halfway through the season, and the vultures are beginning to circle over the embattled head coaches head. Nearly every major media outlet in this town has used their respective forums this week to make their claims that Butch is overmatched, and deserves to have the hammer dropped on him at years end. The debates over whether Butch should be retained have also raged mightily on the message board forums of this website this week, where more Browns fans come to talk shop than anywhere else on the web. For every thread discussing this week's game against the rival Steelers, there are two that debate the merits of retaining or releasing this head coach at the conclusion of the 2004 campaign.
Had a couple of plays went the other way in the Philadelphia and Baltimore games, would the vultures still be circling this week? Even if the team had pulled out one of those two closely contested games, and sat at 4-4 as opposed to 3-5, would the entire city still be angrily calling for Randy Lerner to wield the axe and lop off Davis's dome?
I'm just not ready to decide yet whether or not I want to trudge forward with this coach. If that makes me indecisive, or a fence-sitter, so be it. I told myself I needed to watch and observe Butch for the entire season before making my own personal decision on what the man's fate should be in this town.
There are a couple things that I know already. One, a general manager needs to be added to the Browns front office this season, regardless of what happens with Davis. There are select few in this league that can pull off the double dip, and Davis clearly needs a top personnel guy brought into the fray if he survives this season. Despite the savvy additions of Garcia, Terrelle Smith, and Antonio Bryant …it's obvious that this team has not built the depth in the last four years to withstand the predictable rash of injuries nearly all NFL teams sustain over the course of a five month season.
Secondly, Butch should be held fully accountable for the disaster otherwise known as our offensive line. There were opportunities to upgrade it this season, and we did not. John Tait was signed by the Bears, and was just named to the Sporting News halfway point All-Pro team. Guards Chris Snee and Justin Smiley, both second round picks, are both starting and performing well for the Giants and 49ers respectively. If the line continues to plague this offense, and the team stumbles its way to a five or six win season … I feel Lerner will be justified in making a change based on Butch's incompetence in this one area alone. The sequence this week that saw Kelvin Garmon jump off-sides repeatedly before being wheeled off the field and replaced by an amazingly even more inept Melvin Fowler was a microcosm of this franchises inability to address the inadequacies of that unit over the last six seasons.
These two items aside, I am not yet convinced that changing head coaches after this season would be in the best interest of this franchise. Possibly the last eight games will change my mind, but I've seen enough progress this season to warrant at least keeping an open mind the rest of the way out. Garcia is a winner, I love the Suggs/Green/Smith trio, and our defense is good enough to win with and is led by one of the top defensive minds in the game.
For me, it all goes back to the offensive line. If this team had a quality offensive line, we would be contending right now. So do you punish the man responsible for that mess? Or give him one more year to fix it, knowing the other parts are already in place for this team to finally achieve the success we've all been waiting so long for?
It's a tough question to answer, and one that Randy Lerner will be forced to answer at season's end.
But with eight games still to play, including an enormous game this weekend against a hated foe, shouldn't we still be focused on the season at hand? I personally invest way too much time following and observing this team in the seven month off-season to throw in the towel on the year because some bad breaks have landed us at 3-5 at the midway point.
Butch Davis deserves these last eight games to make his case for his 2005 status before fans start to throw him under the bus. I realize that is asking a lot from the many passionate fans of this success-starved town that seem to have already made their mind up about this coach. Instead of dividing ourselves over the future of Butch Davis, we should be united in trying to figure out a way to put a stop to this insane six game winning streak Ben Roethlisberger is on.
When it's all said and done, it could be a no-brainer to let Butch go this coming January. But as fans, we should all be praying it doesn't come to that.