CoachWatch: The Sound of Scratching Heads

The media doesn't seem to know what to make of Sunday's game... yet.'s Barry McBride is scratching his head as well, an action which means either that he's confused or is suffering from the heartbreak of psoriasis. Reach your own conclusions as your webmaster tries to cut through the noise to help seperate the fact from the speculation in Monday morning's Coachwatch entry...

11/29/04 MORNING: Browns fans are likely still scratching their heads to figure out what the 58-48 loss to the Bengals means relative to Butch Davis' future. So is the media, it seems.

The Toledo Blade decided that the Browns "showed plenty of life" and that Davis "delayed his exit". The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston grumpily doesn't seem to be able to figure out what it means. The Canton Repository's Todd Porter, one of Davis' toughest critics over the last several months, watched the same game and feels that it indicates that the Browns head coach has lost the team.

If Randy Lerner has reached the same conclusion as Porter, it would likely mean that an interim head coach is in our very near future. In fact, Channel 19's Kendall Lewis is first to the gate with "sources" telling him that Davis will be canned on Tuesday (thanks for the tip, Dave!). Keep in mind that WOIO said this last week as well.

While the gang at the Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon-Journal don't seem to have digested yesterday's activity yet (Terry Pluto talks about Kelly Holcomb today, not Butch Davis), the PD offers a Davis quote that seems eerily familiar. To me, at least, Davis saying "It's tough to explain sometimes how bizarre our games can become" sounds a lot like Chris Palmer despairing about a "runaway freight train", and probably belongs in the same grouping of quotes from head coaches gripped by losing streaks and the accompanying despair.

Elsewhere, the Canton Rep has a brief "Rumor Mill" item from something called the "News-Star". This is actually the same story we linked and discussed in the 11/27 Coachwatch entry. It was inaccurate then, and it's inaccurate now, other than the quotes from the LSU rep.

The piling-on continues apace, however. The Orlando Sentinel today gives Davis the "Pinocchio Award" for something he said four years ago. Since meaningless awards are free to hand out, we'll give the Sentinel today's "Kicking a Guy While He's Down Award". Congratulations!

On the Scott Pioli-watch, Browns fans noticed reports from local radio station WKNR and FoxSports cue-card reader Howie Long about Scott Pioli staying with the Patriots in New England. These reports actually originated with a story yesterday which appeared on the annoying registration-obsessed Providence Journal site. The Boston Herald repeats them this morning, without the frenzy to get personal information, so I recommend clicking this link to get the real info.

Basically, Pioli offered up a statement saying that "If I have my way, I will be staying with the Patriots until the end of my agreement.".

To me, this doesn't mean a lot, although the Boston papers are reading it as if Pioli just signed a new contract in blood. He didn't. If Pioli refuses a meeting with the Browns after the season, then it's a story. For now, though, Pioli's comments just take attention away from the Patriots' GM while they continue their chase for another Super Bowl. Smart move by Pioli. Perhaps the Browns should still make that call, eh?

11/28/04 MORNING:
The Browns play the Bengals at 1PM, making this the calm before the storm (if the Browns lose). Alternatively, this may be the calm before the calm (if the Browns win).

There's lots of terrific stuff in the Sunday papers, as we get the bad taste of bad journalism out of our mouths from earlier in the week. Hal Lebovitz (not on the web) is particularly cranky about the inaccurate reports from ESPN, Fox Sports, WKYC, and WOIO earlier in the week, saying that they have "egg on the face", but will "wipe it off and enjoy the ratings".

Throughout the chaos earlier this week, urged caution regarding accepting the reports, which later proved false. Our sources inside Berea did not confirm them at any time.

Elsewhere, Roger Brown tosses out Al Groh's name as a possibility for the Browns job if/when Davis heads south. Not sure why Roger tossed that name out there other than he thinks it makes sense.

The Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi offers, via the PD's predictions page, a take that is getting increased acceptance in the local media, namely that Randy Lerner and Butch Davis are involved in a "staredown" regarding his future role with the team.

I've heard this a couple times over the past week, and have yet to see anything other than speculation suggesting that there's anything to it. It's a logical interference based on the $12 million that Davis would be owed as a severance if fired, but there's been no evidence presented to back it up. If there has been, I haven't seen it.

More logical, based on what I've heard, is what Lebovitz again presents this morning via his column: Lerner is hoping that Davis can salvage his job based on the remainder of the season. The Browns have taken a close look at the Eagles and Patriots organizations as a possible model. One of the voices in Lerner's ear is New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and we hear that Kraft is a fan of Davis. 

Elsewhere, some of the media is getting a bit vicious now that Davis is down. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain offers his take that Davis is a power-hungry control freak. Nice. The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston, that nabob of negativism, offers that Davis is "doomed" and compares him to Scheherazade of 1001 Arabian Nights, postponing execution with endless macabre tales. Ugh.

Ponder this question. Would you take $12 million to have people savage you in the press and then present your firing in loving detail?

Yeah, I would too. ;-)

11/27/04 MORNING: Things have calmed down just a tad in recent days, following the damage control efforts of the Browns and the fortunate intervention of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Peace and calm is dull, though, so leave it to the media to twist some things around a little. We read this little excerpt this morning:"Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis, who reportedly will be fired after the season, said last week he is interested in the Florida and LSU coaching jobs. Florida has an opening. LSU does not, at the moment."

Erm, um. Uh... no. No, he didn't say that.

In fact, he said that he hadn't contacted anyone else. Of course, Davis said that through the safe and cozy confines of the Browns spin-o-matic official site, which didn't leave room for follow-up questions about whether any of his buddies had inquired for him. But, be that as it may, Davis most certainly hasn't said that he's interested in being anything other than the coach of the Browns. In fact, the Orlando Sentinel talks about the believability of said remarks.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the Browns beat writers actually talked with Davis yesterday and found him in a more reflective mood following the holiday, even going so far as to quote the philosophical mutterings of ex-Brown running back Ben Gay.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Ravens "consultant" Jim Fassel ponders his next move. Stay tuned.


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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