He challenged them. He appealed to their pride.
Interim coach Terry Robiskie said all the right things as he prepared the Browns for their first game under his guidance.
Leading up to the game Sunday at Browns Stadium against the New England Patriots, the players spoke glowingly of Robiskie. How happy they were for him after owner Randy Lerner named him interim coach following the "resignation" of Butch Davis. How excited they were to play for him.
And they responded with a game like that?
Welcome back to the head coaching ranks, Terry.
Didn't take him long to find out just how bad the team he was handed really is. Like about 14 seconds. Long enough to watch Bethel Johnson of the Pats bust the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
The psychological ploy with the shovel and bucket earlier in the week. Everyone pitching in and doing his fair share. All that back patting. All those wonderful words of encouragement and praise.
Robiskie said he wanted the players to put the past where it belongs. He said he wanted to get the train back on the track. Start fresh. He implored the players to step up and be accountable. The only thing missing was a bonfire and a chorus or two of Kumbaya.
Yeah, all that really turned the trick.
All week long, the effusive utterances of the players in Berea got our attention. OK, so the Browns probably won't beat the Patriots, but at least they'll go out and be competitive.
Sure the Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions. Sure, they came here with a 10-1 record. But this is essentially the same team the Browns played tough last season only to lose, 9-3. What a difference a year makes.
After the 42-15 pounding, the Browns appeared surprisingly upbeat and positive. They were slaughtered – it could have been a lot worse had New England coach Bill Belichick not invoked his personal mercy rule – and were upbeat.
Upbeat about what? Probably that Davis was no longer their coach. Positive about what? Now that one is hard to figure out. They just got the snot kicked out of them and they're positive?
The players are clearly in Robiskie's corner. He's hard not to like. He's a players' coach. He says he loves it here in Cleveland.
He says he has "fallen in love with the Cleveland Browns, fallen in love with the fans of Cleveland. For some reason, my heart has become full."
Robiksie said there was electricity in the air before the start of the Patriots game. Here's a team riding the crest of a five-game losing streak, on the fast track to nowhere and a top five pick in next April's college draft and there's electricity in the air?
Well, the Pats quickly found the plug and pulled it.
The fans, out of adjectives to describe their disgust with what has gone down this season, left in droves shortly after the second half began. They couldn't take it anymore. Can't blame them.
Midway through the third quarter, the Stadium was half empty. Disgust and anger prevailed. Apathy lurked around the corner.
Lerner had to notice.
Following the game, we heard the same sad litany from Robiskie that his predecessor spewed. "We've got a lot of things we have to fix," he said. Well no kidding. You mean four exhibition games and 12 regular-season games don't provide enough time?
Defensive end Tyrone Rogers said, "I thought we had everything corrected." Guess not.
"We didn't execute (on defense) today," Rogers said. "That's two weeks in a row. That's not like us." After giving up 79 offensive points in the last two games, oh yes it is.
There are those who honestly believe Robiskie's future here depends on what happens between now and the end of the season. If Lerner is as smart as I think he is, that is not the case.
Sure he said Robiskie would be considered for the head coaching job at the end of the season. What did you expect him to say? No?
Robiskie will fail because of one indisputable fact: The Browns are not very good. They're well shy of mediocre. They have just about locked up the basement in the AFC North. Only San Francisco and Miami have worse records in the NFL.
In many ways, this is worse than the first two expansion seasons under Chris Palmer.
This is not an aberration. The Browns have played to the level of their talent. That cannot be argued. Anyone who chooses to do so ignores the 3 on the left and the 9 on the right in the standings.
The erratic and unpredictable manner in which they play the game is stupefying. Last week, they put up 48 points. Sunday, they squeezed out 15. Go figure.
Robiskie's coaching life, at least as the interim guy here, flickers slowly. Only four more games left. And three are on the road, where the Browns are winless this season.
It'll be interesting to see just how upbeat and positive the Browns are following the Jan. 2 season finale in Houston. Losing has a way of wearing down even the most upbeat and positive athletes.
Robiskie's biggest concern now should be preventing his team from quitting on him. Once a large dose of quit invades a team's atmosphere, it spreads and infects like a disease.
It happened to the 1990 Browns when Jim Shofner took over for Bud Carson with seven games left. That team gave up 227 points in those games. It flat out quit on Shofner, a popular interim choice at the time.
Robiskie eventually will find out that in the end, when it really matters, the players care about only thing. Themselves.