Coachwatch: Wait, It Gets Weirder

Down is up. Up is down. Butch Davis is resigning. Butch Davis is staying. Randy Lerner has his firin' hat on. Randy Lerner wants to stay the course. The only thing we know for sure is that it's late Tuesday night, Butch Davis is still coach, and we need a drink. Barry looks at all of today's Butch Davis-related weirdness in the media....

11/23/04 EVENING: After heating up for 36 hours after the Browns loss to the Jets, the Coachwatch bubbled over with frantic flocking of vultures, false leads, and general weirdness on Tuesday.

To start with, we have ESPN, who are a bunch of guys in New York or Connecticut or wherever, falling over each other to report what's happening in Cleveland. The monolithic mega-network first gives us Chris Mortensen late last night reporting that Butch will get fired next time he fails to re-fill the Berea coffee pot after taking the next cup (see last night's Coachwatch).

Then, this morning, we get Lenny Pasquarelli from the same network reporting that Davis will stick around the rest of the season. So, Mortensen and Pasquarelli cancel each other out, and we just conclude that ESPN doesn't have regular meetings, email, or those nifty walkie-talkie phones that the guy from NYPD Blue uses.

No day of Browns-related rumors would be complete without Pro Football Talk, which is sort of the Weekly World News of the NFL media scene, offering a report that Butch Davis and Randy Lerner were going to mano-a-mano to straighten out this mess once and for all.

It appears that didn't happen. Perhaps Randy Lerner needs to sell the team first, which Pro Football Talk told us was in the works months ago. Whatever.

Around 6PM, according to this thread in the Watercooler, local TV station, WKYC-3 in Cleveland went live with a story that Butch Davis was going to resign today (Tuesday) before the end of the day. This story appeared on their website and on their evening news. About five hours later the website was changed to say that, er, um, Davis is still the head coach of the Browns.

With the chaos reaching levels of silliness normally reserved for Ricky Williams, the Browns then decided to spin the "nothing to see here" line via their website and an email to everyone and their brother which read as follows:

The Cleveland Browns organization is acutely aware of our fans' passion and share in their desire for a championship team. We acknowledge the disappointment and frustration with this season's record.

In response to a variety of media reports, we reiterate that we are keeping our organization intact in order to focus our efforts toward winning our remaining football games.

Our commitment to Cleveland, and to winning, remain our only priorities.

All I can really say about that statement is that it was about seventy words or so.

Even though nothing happened, Tuesday November 23rd closes with several moments of Zen, including Cleveland Live simultaneously running stories that had Butch resigning (WKYC) and staying the rest of the year (AP) within about 20 pixels of each other, and WTAM afternoon drive host Mike Trivassano being the most responsible purveyor of information in the evening hours.

Just when things couldn't get weirder, they did. The mind boggles at what Wednesday will bring.

Meanwhile, we here at Bernie's Insiders, via the Ask the Insiders forum and elsewhere, have been saying that Davis will stick around as coach unless the wheels come completely off.

Mega-props to the dawgs in the Watercooler who have been tracking this story fanatically. If you want to know any rumor that pops up, that is the place to hang. As long as the rumors stay rumors, I'll be talking about them here. When rumors become news, we'll have it on the front page. 

11/22/04 EVENING: Three media entities have published stories claiming that Butch Davis is done as coach of the Cleveland Browns in the short or near term. The Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi, according to folks in the Watercooler, said in his chat earlier today that the Butch Davis era in Cleveland was over and done with, and that it's mostly a matter of "when". I've tried listening to the chat, and it crashes my browser, but it's quoted pretty effectively in the Cooler thread. Later in the day, tips on the tipline started flowing in that Fox Sports Jay Glazer said on Sirius radio that the decision has been made to fire Davis and that it would likely happen before the end of the season. Later in the day, Chris Mortenson of ESPN offered more detail, saying that Davis was nearly fired on Sunday night, but that his status is week-to-week. Thanks to the dawgs on the tipline for bringing these reports to our attention.

One note of caution. When you start seeing these reports from national columnists, it normally means that they have picked up the phone and talked to someone who may have an axe to grind. No sources were named, only that they were "league" and "team". While these sort of reports might make Davis' fate a self-fulfilling prophecy due to the distraction they cause, we advise you not to assume that they are a complete picture of the story behind closed doors.

11/22/04 MORNING: As the Browns losing streak hits four games, Davis' few defenders in the media turn quiet and the vultures start circling a little lower.

Local Media Continues to Bang on the Browns: Despite a weathered Butch Davis attempting to stay positive, the News-Herald's Jim Ingraham uses a rolled-up t-shirt bouncing off of empty seats as a metaphor for the Browns moribund state, begging Randy Lerner to take action.  Sheldon Ocker, filling in for a vacationing Terry Pluto, permanently assigns "embattled" as an adjective to describe the Browns head coach. The Canton Repository's Todd Porter, who called for Davis' head last week, can't even do it again, preferring just to document the misery of Browns fans. Acerbic Plain Dealer columnist Bud Shaw, part of the Cleveland colossus' cadre of grumpy old men, piled on as expected. As of this overcast Cleveland Monday, the exit of Davis from the Browns appears to be a fait accompli in the eyes of the local press.

The Lerner Watch: According to a contribution from Mark on the tipline, the Fox pre-game show on Sunday reported that the Browns have already turned to a headhunter to attempt to secure a general manager for the 2005 season. Scott Pioli is assumed to be at the top of the Browns list, as he is highly regarded and will not require compensation in the form of draft picks. BTW, we've learned that the pay-off amount for Butch Davis if he is let go after the season is $12.5 million.

Elsewhere: Fox Sports reports that the Miami Dolphins have already decided not to part with draft picks to land Denver's Mike Shanahan, and that Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress is being pushed at Miami as a possible new head coach. The Dolphins are also interested in LSU's Nick Saban, who is presumably a candidate in Cleveland. Despite Ron Zook's win against Florida State and a likely Peach Bowl bid, he was fired four weeks ago and Urban Meyer looks like the first guy in line to replace him, although Davis' name continues to come up. Yesterday, Tony Grossi named the obvious front-runners for a Browns GM job to be Ozzie Newsome and Scott Pioli. With Newsome requiring either guilt for their thievery on the part of Baltimore (yeah, right) or compensation in the form of draft picks, Pioli looks like the top contender. Grossi doesn't mention Ravens' Phil Savage, however, who wouldn't require compensation if he jumped to a GM job.

11/21/04: The change in tone from the local media, which began in earnest following the loss to the Steelers, remains in full bloom prior to the game against the Jets. Most writers are rejecting any possibility for the 3-6 Browns to make the playoffs, and are instead making Davis' future with the team the focal point of reports and commentaries.

Lane Adkins has been reporting about conflicts between John Collins and Butch Davis for a while now in Ask the Insiders and Browns Uncensored chat. Reading between the lines of John Collins' remarks to the Northeast Ohio Celebrity Luncheon Club earlier this week, it's not hard to read a lack of enthusiasm for his head coach. 

At the luncheon, Collins mostly says the proper things, but pushes off questions about Davis' reign, saying simply that owner Randy Lerner is committed to winning and one shouldn't talk about such things in the middle of the season. The long-time Manhattanite turned Browns President talks about Lerner's being "a passionate fan, just like us". That's probably true, plus or minus a 90-minute plane flight, or a couple billion dollars here or there.

Elsewhere in the real media, the News-Herald's Hal Lebovitz speculates in his Sunday column (not on the web) that owner Randy Lerner is unlikely to dismiss Davis during the season, pokes at Davis' closing of practice, and gently criticizes the head coach's handling of comments made by Gerard Warren and Jeff Garcia. The Beacon-Journal's Marla Ridenour talks about Butch Davis being in "survival mode" and making CYA comments every other day to the press. In the "For What It's Worth" department, PD columnist Roger Brown says that "sources" are informing him that LSU Head Coach Nick Saban might be interested in the Browns head coaching job and that Butch Davis' Patton-esque rah-rah speeches are wearing thin. Inside sources*, by the way, tell me that Roger Brown has the sweetest gig on the planet., like a bunch of other sites, talks about Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis as being two strong head coaching candidates.

*These sources are inside, in that they are voices inside my head. They tell me that other people have great jobs, and that I must seek revenge against all the dark, evil forces (and squirrels, oddly) which are out to get me. 

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