Back to the Future: 1999

Would another ownership group have brought a championship to Cleveland?

A couple of weeks ago Randy Lerner told me that he really wanted Butch Davis to succeed in his role of head coach and all football operations of the Cleveland Browns.  He then went on to say that if it didn't work out, then "I guess I'll have to write a pretty good sized check". That check turned out to be about $12 million for the remaining part of the contract. 

Randy didn't have to do that because of the ‘resignation', but, like his father, who paid Chris Palmer more than he had to, he is what we call a ‘mensch'---a guy who does the right thing, or at least what he perceives to be the right thing, at all times.

As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, let me take a revisionist look at the Cleveland sports scene, and do a little ‘what if?' 

In 1999, before Al Lerner and Carmen Policy got together to make a bid for the new Cleveland Browns franchise, the leading contender was a group comprised of current Indians owner Larry Dolan, his brother Charles, Don Shula, and entertainer Bill Cosby.  When Lerner's group got the team, Larry Dolan turned his attention to the purchase of the Cleveland Indians.  For further information on Lerner's purchase and cost of the team, you can read all about it in Terry Pluto's ‘False Start'.

What if it happened the other way around? 

History tells us that Dolan, with his organization skills, would probably thrive in the NFL environment, with all of the salary cap restraints.  I would think that Don Shula could put together an organization better than Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark.

Lerner, on the other hand, who has probably overspent on facilities, front office salaries and perks, along with other expenses that are not legislated, would probably spend whatever it would take to keep up with the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels.  He would have taken over before the franchise was taken down to bargain basement prices, and it is fair to assume that Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome would still be here, along with a couple of the other top free agents in the game. Like George Steinbrenner, Randy Lerner has been known to outspend his mistakes.

This is the sixth season of football (and baseball) since 1999.  I don't I'm going out on too much of a limb by saying we might have celebrated a championship or two for either or both of these franchises if the ownerships had been reversed.

It may not be fair to Terry Robiskie, but I don't think there is any chance that he will remain as head coach next year, no matter how well he performs in the final five games. I know the league will want Randy Lerner to have a serious minority candidate for the position, and Robiskie might just be the right guy. 

But, once a General Manager is picked (which is the most important choice that Lerner must make), he must be able to bring in the person that he wants, without being tied to the interim coach. I realize that if Robiskie pulls off a miracle and wins two of the remaining five games (Davis won just 3 of 11) and isn't given the job permanently, there will be howls of protests from African-American interests.

I totally agree with their complaints in the past, but they would have to understand the circumstances around this hiring. That is not to say that there aren't other qualified African Americans out there (Romeo Crennel). It is just that the new GM must be totally sure of the person that he hires. By most accounts, Robiskie is an excellent assistant coach, who might not be qualified as a head coach.

Besides, even if Lerner is able to convince (and pay the right price to the Ravens) Ozzie Newsome to come here as a Vice President/General Manager, there is no guarantee, nor should there be, that he would hire an African American for the position, either.

Whoever comes in as General Manager or coach will have to deal with a quarterback controversy, without any experienced quarterbacks on the roster.

As of now, I can't see Jeff Garcia back here next year, as his four-year contract is not guaranteed. And Kelly Holcomb recently turned down a contract extension, probably waiting to see who would be the coach next year. 

Rookie Luke McCown hasn't seen any action since the exhibition (he might start this week, if Holcomb's injured ribs won't allow him to play), and it's doubtful a new coach would want to go with him as a starter.

Stick around---the fun is just beginning.

‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen Monday through Friday from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15.  E-mail at

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