A Blunder for the Ages

<I>Bernie's Insiders Magazine</I> runs a Top Ten list each month, highlighting great (or awful) performances or players of Browns history. Frank Derry gets into the act today, as he offers his look at the Browns worst decisions of all-time, and contends that Butch Davis made one earlier this year...

Butch Davis's signing of Jeff Garcia might not be the biggest mistake ever made by someone in the Cleveland Browns organization, but it definitely deserves Top 10 consideration.

The first mistake regarding Garcia came when he was somehow able to convince Davis that there was a bidding war going on for his services, costing the team millions of dollars that might otherwise have been used to upgrade the offensive line.

If being swindled out of millions of cap dollars wasn't bad enough, Davis soon had to realize that Garcia couldn't adapt to the offense designed by offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie. That undoubtedly was a key factor in Davis's "panic attacks" and his eventual decision to quit on his players, the owner and the fans.

Now it is interim head coach Robiskie who has to deal with Garcia on a daily basis and answer what seems like endless Garcia-related questions.

Sometimes I think Robiskie's nose will soon grow to the size of Davis's ego if the former offensive coordinator has to keep skirting around questions about Garcia, who has, thankfully, been benched in favor of rookie Luke McCown.

For example, Robiskie asked the players who considered themselves to be leaders to stand at the team's first meeting after Davis quit. When asked his reaction to the fact Garcia didn't get off his butt, Robiskie said with a straight face: "I didn't have any reaction to it at all. It didn't bother me as to the guys that did not stand up. I was thrilled by the number (22) that did."

That group included McCown, who had never even taken a single snap in a regular-season NFL game at that point in time.

Whether he admits it or not, Robiskie should have been VERY bothered by Garcia's decision to remain seated.

If I was Robiskie, I would have pulled Garcia to the side and said, "You sure acted like you thought you were a team leader when you criticized Kellen Winslow for not signing his contract in time to be in for the start of training camp.

"And you sure acted as though you thought of yourself as a team leader when you criticized me on a regular basis for your problems with our offensive game plan. And you definitely acted like you thought you were a team leader when you criticized your offensive linemen for jumping off-sides.

"What happened? Did your leadership skills diminish with the departure of your former coach? If your leadership skills have diminished, so have your chances of having a future with this organization!"

Of course, Robiskie didn't say those things. But if you read between the lines, he might as well have. 

I loved Robiskie's answer when asked why Garcia, who is now healthy enough to play, did not start against the Bills.

In part, Robiskie said, "The kid (McCown) was very poised (in his first-ever start against the World Champion New England Patriots). He did a great job of going out there and handling the offense. There were no delay of game penalties. With his cadence, I don't remember any of the linemen jumping off-sides."

That was a two-fisted knockout punch of Garcia if ever there was one. Delay of game penalties and linemen jumping off-sides were commonplace with Garcia at the helm.

Garcia may not consider himself a leader, but don't be the least bit surprised if he becomes one this off-season. He'll be the leader of the pack getting his walking papers.

Owner Randy Lerner wasted enough money on coach Davis. He doesn't need to throw another $4 million down the drain by bringing Garcia back for another season no matter who the coach is. Garcia has alienated far too many of his teammates with his critical remarks when, in reality, he should have been accepting the blame for the shortcomings of the offense.

While signing Garcia has undoubtedly proven to be a terrible decision, where does it rank with the team's all-time blunders?

I can quickly think of nine other horrible moves made by the team.

In no particular order, they are:

  • Former owner Art Modell's decision to fire Paul Brown as the head coach following the 1962 season. Brown was one of the greatest and most innovative coaches in the history of the NFL. Modell was a public relations/advertising person who didn't want to share the spotlight with the man after whom the team was named. Brown was fired and, as his players eventually retired or were traded away, the Browns went from being one of the elite organizations in all of football to one that has not won a World Championship in 40 years. 
  • In 1971, trading Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for their No. 1 draft choice, which was used to select quarterback Mike Phipps. Warfield had many great years for the Dolphins and eventually wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Phipps was the Browns' starting quarterback for four seasons (1972-75), during which time the team made the playoffs just one time, losing to the undefeated and eventual World Champion Dolphins in 1972.
  • Sam Rutigliano's decision to allow Brian Sipe to leave for the United States Football League, thus opening the door for Paul McDonald to take over as the starting quarterback in 1984. Rutigliano didn't survive the season. McDonald never threw another pass for the Browns following the '84 campaign.
  • Trading Chip Banks and the first and second round draft choices to San Diego in 1987 for the opportunity to move up and draft Mike Junkin, and then trying to switch him from middle linebacker to outside linebacker. Junkin couldn't carry Banks' jock strap and quickly became an easy target for the media and fans.
  • Bill Belichick's decision to release Bernie Kosar in 1993, citing "diminishing skills." Hey, maybe Bernie wasn't the same quarterback he was when he arrived in 1985.  But the way it was handled was all wrong, as was the timing. Belichick learned from that mistake while Bernie earned a Super Bowl ring as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Modell's decision to hire Bud Carson to replace Marty Schottenheimer. Modell thought that Carson was a Blanton Collier clone and would succeed at replacing the very successful Schottenheimer the same way Collier succeeded in replacing the even more successful Paul Brown. Unfortunately, Carson, a genius as a defensive coordinator, never could adapt to his role as a head coach. Lack of organizational skills, combined with a horrible staff of assistants that included Jed Hughes and Dan Radakovich, made for a forgettable, and very short, head coaching career for Carson.
  • Carmen Policy's decision to bring Dwight Clark with him from the 49ers. Some may argue that the choice of Policy as the team president was also a mistake, but in the role for which he was hired, Policy wasn't a bad choice. He was able to put a positive spin on just about every bad thing that happened to the Browns from 1999 thru 2003. Policy realized he knew nothing about decision-making when it came to judging players and, for the most part, avoided that role. Unfortunately, Clark's ability as a talent evaluator was nearly on par with Policy's, which led to terrible drafts at a very delicate time in the infancy stages of the new Browns.
  • Trading Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins for the draft rights to Ernie Davis following the 1961 season. No one knew that Davis was going to be diagnosed with leukemia and be dead within a year without ever having played in a regular-season game. Mitchell, of course, went on to have many more great years for the Redskins as both a receiver and running back, resulting in his being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
  • Trading Doug Atkins to the Chicago Bears following the 1954 season in exchange for third and sixth round draft picks in 1956. Those picks were used to select Larry Ross and Sherman Plunkett, neither of whom ever played for the Browns. Atkins, meanwhile, went on to have 12 splendid seasons for the Bears and was one of the most devastating pass rushers in the history of the NFL, resulting in his being selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

Obviously, there have been a lot of other bad decisions made in regards to draft picks, including Gerard Warren, Clifford Charlton and Tim Couch, just to name a few from the past couple of decades

But all teams make bad draft picks. When combined with bad trades, it makes them even worse.

Fortunately, the decision to sign Garcia will likely turn into just a one year mistake, which means it probably doesn't rank above any of the previous nine blunders. But it certainly isn't far behind.

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