Even in the worst public relations disaster---not including the move to Baltimore---in the recent history of the Cleveland Browns, participants on both sides of the debate had support.
When ‘The Vinny/Bernie Thing' arose in 1993, the division among the fans was clear. Despite the release of one of the most popular players in the history of the team, plenty of people bought into Bill Belichick's characterization of Bernie Kosar's diminished skills, to the point where they overlooked the fact that he was replaced by Todd Philcox, not the injured Vinny Testaverde. Rather than looking back at Belichick's two Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots, Cleveland fans point to the ‘Vinny/Bernie Thing' as the defining moment of his tenure here.
But as much as Belichick was disliked throughout his five-year occupation of the Browns, he still had support among certain members of the media and a significant amount of fans.
Revisionist historians, including two different talk show hosts on the flagship radio station of the Browns, claim that the fans are trying to run Butch Davis out of town, just like they did to Belichick, who later went on to show he was among the elite coaches in the league, let alone history. Those hosts need to be reminded that Bill was not run out of town by the fans. He was fired by Art Modell, AFTER the team moved to Baltimore. Modell felt it would be a PR disaster to bring Belichick to the new city, but the Cleveland fans can't be blamed for that.
That being said, I sense almost no support among fans or media for Butch Davis, who clearly has drawn a line in the sand. It is not the bunker mentality of the early 90's, but it is more of denial and a feeling that ‘the public and the media have no idea what they are talking about'. Legitimate questions from certain members of the media are scoffed at, and when rare interviews are granted, the questions must be delivered in advance to the head coach.
But despite the prevailing feeling that Butch Davis will be fired at the end of the season, that may not be the case.
Randy Lerner has let it be known that he wants Davis to succeed, but the first step probably will be to suggest the hiring of a qualified General Manager and Personnel Director. The next step will be up to Davis, whose contract calls for complete control of the football operations.
In Monday's press conference, Davis said he would welcome anything that will help bring a Super Bowl title to Cleveland, but his treatment of Ron Wolf doesn't suggest that is the case. Davis would probably also have to throw long-time confidant Pete Garcia ‘under the bus' to keep his head coaching position.
Davis has the luxury of invoking his contract, knowing that Randy Lerner would have to write a check worth two years of salary, which is where things appear to be going. But if Davis wants to see this thing through, he must make some changes.
Knowing he has little support in the media, he must sit down one-on-one with his critics---even Belichick did that after the 1993 season, and most involved thought it was a worthwhile idea. Davis, who had total support from the fans and media when he was hired prior to the 2001 season, has to try to regain that support.
The fact that the sellout crowd for the home Pittsburgh loss didn't boo the Browns out of the stadium, shows that apathy might be more of a problem than anything else.