Doc Gonzo: Time to Rebuild

The now-vindicated doctor offers his thoughts on how to rebuild the Browns...

 

This is disgraceful.

Years ago, we'd be getting ready today for a family Thanksgiving feast that would invariably culminate in a discussion of the Cleveland Browns' upcoming game and their chances in the playoffs.

Today, we're dining on roast vulture and talking endlessly about a feeble Browns franchise that dishonors the memory of all those that came before it. The guests at the table are reporters, bloggers, commentators, broadcasters and obsessed fans, with a few clueless team officials tossed in for black humor.

We're spectators to an embarrassing, degrading media circus that's part funeral, part theater of the absurd. The blinkered optimism of September has finally given way to sober realism that Cleveland is a poorly-led football team rife with players unfit to wear the orange and brown.

While the pundits and fans dissect Butch Davis' still-warm corpse, the product on the field continues its grim, ignominious slide into much-deserved obscurity. The football simply no longer matters.

This season can't end quickly enough. Nor the nauseating drama surrounding the fate of Butch Davis, who in my estimation has completed his transformation for many from savior in 2001 to Judas Iscariot today. Anymore, I pity the man and wish him and his disciples gone with no ill-will.

Quite honestly, I'm no longer salivating at the prospect of Davis' removal, for which I've advocated for months. Instead, it's time the process played itself out and all eyes turned toward the future.

The past is too cheerless to think much about. There's too much work to do, and no amount of navel-gazing from the current Berea administration is going to markedly improve this team's immediate fortunes.

Let's not kid ourselves: This isn't the Cleveland Browns of 1946-1995. That team isn't even in Baltimore. It's gone, and all that's left are films, photos and memories.

What we have in its place is a disorganized rabble led by snake oil salesmen and empty-suit dingbats whose sole purpose is to part us from our dollars while convincing us to watch these wretched games.

Quickly and quietly dismissing the coaching staff and most of the front-office is the first step to actually remaking the Cleveland Browns franchise that left in 1995. Despite the warts of the Modell-Belichick era, it was the real franchise and its bloodlines could be traced to Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown and Otto Graham.

What plays by the lakefront now is not that team.

The next step in constructing the real Cleveland Browns is a move already advocated on BerniesInsiders.com by Rich Swerbinsky: Find a role in the organization for Bernie Kosar. (See Swerb's thoughts at www.fanmonster.com/blogs/swerb/index.asp)

Not as general manager, however. Kosar is noted for his intellect, common sense and savvy but he has no experience running an NFL franchise. That's not to say he couldn't eventually, but he's as inexperienced as a general manager now as Butch Davis was as an NFL head coach in 2001.

Instead, a position of authority within the administrative side of the operation that allows input without pressuring the general manager would be ideal. I don't know exactly what it would be or how it would work, or even if Kosar would be interested in such a job, but it would go a long, long way toward mending fences with fans.

And fans remain the sole reason for the NFL's existence.

Obviously, such a move is filled with risks. Failure would tarnish the reputation of the one man that walks on water for Clevelanders. No one wants to see the prodigal native son fall on his face. Nor, I would imagine, is Bernie interested in failing.

My other suggestions are to address the obvious needs of the team on the field. The foundation of this team is structurally unsound: The offensive line cannot pass or run block.

Without the ability to block, the team might as well not even show up on Sunday. Many afternoons, it looks as if they haven't.

The offensive line was not a priority under either Chris Palmer or Butch Davis. Both shared the philosophy that a line is built through free-agent acquisitions and late-round draft picks. That's not, by the way, how Paul Brown, Blanton Collier, Sam Rutigliano nor Marty Schottenheimer built their lines.

After the last six years, it should be painfully obvious to everyone that such a philosophy isn't appropriate for this franchise, especially with the suspect talent evaluation we've seen from both coaches since 1999. The bottom line is that we don't get the good players, and the marginal players we do get, get hurt.

The priority in the off season must be to field two NFL-caliber offensive guards, one of which could be Ross Verba if a franchise left tackle is signed. With the guard positions secured, the play of the other linemen will improve dramatically. So will that of the skill positions.

The defense simply needs speed and playmakers. The younger players also need experience. A stud pass-rushing defensive end and a run-stopping pig of a defensive tackle would make a night-and-day difference in the perceived level of play by the linebackers, corners and safeties.

If the quarterback never gets time to set up to pass, Art Modell's grandmother could play cornerback. It's that simple: Pressure the quarterback and stop the run, the other team doesn't score. That's a fundamental truth about this game taught at the Pee-Wee level, but never seems to have been mastered in Cleveland, at least not since 1999.

So, once those suggestions are met -- Randy, are you reading this? -- then this franchise will begin to win football games. They'll win blowouts and they'll win the close games. They'll win.

They could win under Butch Davis, but he's failed to master anything but absurd excuses. He's certainly been the unfortunate victim of a team ravaged by injuries, but one has to wonder where the quality depth is after four seasons -- and why no other team sees so many injuries. His record of mismanaged games and botched decisions also grows each week.

But talking much now about Davis is pointless. His fate is sealed, and it's only a matter of when he's fired, or impressed upon to resign.

For Browns fans, the time draws near when this process begins anew. A new coach and a general manager will be hired, and we can do little short of pray these men prune the roster of the physically and intellectually deficient players acquired by Davis. There is a core around which to build, for which Davis must be given credit. The new administration must build the framework of a Super Bowl champion around them, and they must make us believe this is the team Paul Brown unleashed upon the NFL in 1950.

The best we can do now is watch these remaining six games in 2004 and remember them for when the day comes that the real Cleveland Browns give us something to talk about and appreciate during Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. He'd normally make a witty comment in this spot, but a 3-7 record has drained his reservoir of good humor. He can be reached at docgonzo19@aol.com.


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