Levine: The End Game

Even in the worst days of Bill Belichick's tenure, Les Levine writes, the head coach had some support from fans. That does not appear to be the case today. Still, Les feels that Butch Davis may continue as Browns coach. Here are some thoughts on how Davis' tenure may continue, and Les' prescription for how Randy Lerner can revive the franchise...<BR><BR>

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.

If you want to know why Butch Davis' word no longer is trusted by the media and general public, I can point to three statements in Monday's press conference.  Davis was asked about whether he would accept a General Manager, if that is what Randy Lerner decided.  He said that he would do anything to help the Browns win a Super Bowl, but history (Ron Wolf) shows otherwise.

Secondly, Davis said part of the problem was the internal structure of the front office, saying that eight or nine members left, but were not replaced.  What he left out was, other than Business Manager Kofi Bonner and, perhaps Marketing Director Bruce Popko, the departures, notably Salary Cap Manager Lal Heneghan and Public Relations Director Todd Stewart, were dictated by Davis himself.

But the one that stands out in my mind is the statement that several 3-6 coaches, like Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil and Jeff Fisher are as disappointed as he is right now.  That's a pretty good group, as the first two have combined for multiple Super Bowl titles, and Fisher came within a yard of another.  How can Davis, who tore apart a playoff team with a ‘gut feeling' after his second year, with a combined record of 16-17 (including the playoff loss), put himself in the same class as those coaches?  Since that time, Davis has a record of 8-17 for a career total of 24-34.

With an absentee owner, who spends most of his week in New York, a coach who is not well-accepted, and a CEO who is totally unknown to the fans, trust and confidence must be restored to this franchise. 

As of now, I can think of only one person capable of doing that, although I don't think it will be possible to get him.  That man is Ozzie Newsome.  Even if Baltimore would give permission to talk to Ozzie, league rules would force the Browns to give him a job description above a lateral move.  It would probably also cost them a first round draft choice.  That might be too hard to handle for some franchises, but based on the drafting experience of this current staff, it might not be that big of a loss.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen M-F from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15.  He can be reached at www.leslevine.com

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