There seems to be a feeling that members of the local sports media are happy when the local teams struggle. That couldn't be further from the truth. It is a proven fact that when the local teams are winning, more people read (buy) the newspapers and watch and listen (ratings) to sports than when they lose. In addition there is the misconception that writers and sportscaster write and sound better when the team is winning. I know that, from personal experience, people thought I did a much better job on the play-by-play of Cleveland State broadcasts when they won. That's pretty ridiculous---but true.
When Butch Davis was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns after the 2000 season, the overwhelming majority, myself included, thought it was a great move for the franchise. And after his first two seasons, the second one resulting in a playoff experience, the vast majority were still on his side.
The turning point for me was the phony quarterback controversy leading into the 2003 season. What happened then should have been an indication of things to come. To me, Butch Davis' gut feeling about the quarterback situation was the definitive moment of his failed tenure in Cleveland. Eventually it led to the Ron Wolf fiasco; Carmen Policy, Lal Heneghan and others leaving the team; Davis getting full control of the football operation; and the realization that Davis' strong suit was not in personnel evaluation. Similarly, the ‘Vinny/Bernie thing' was the definitive Bill Belichick moment.
Now that Davis is gone, most previous staunch supporters---mainly from the radio or TV stations that are ‘partners' with the Browns---have gone to the other side. You'll notice they waited until Randy Lerner and John Collins made their decision about Davis before they told you they ‘knew Davis was the wrong guy all the time'. Surprisingly fans haven't made these people aware of their lack of credibility.
Butch Davis never went out of his way to court the media, something that is almost mandatory in the NFL these days. He had an obvious disdain for certain members of the media, and didn't hide it very well. Even the unpopular Bill Belichick had certain media members on his side at all times---Hal Lebovitz, Casey Coleman, and Pat McCabe to name a few. As a result, he did have quite a bit of backing from parts of the media, who believed that Bernie, in fact, had ‘diminished skills'. When things turned against Davis here, he had nobody (except the paid partners) to help him out. As things stand today, there is absolutely no fan base or media members who think that Davis got a bad deal here. What bothers most of them is that Davis left the franchise in shambles and walked away with $12 million dollars (after making at least that much in the four years that he was here), and showed no remorse.
The list of successful college coaches who achieved similar success in the pros is much smaller than the list of failures. The Browns are proof that being a successful NFL assistant is guarantee of success either. The Browns have NEVER hired a coach with NFL head coaching experience---other than Nick Skorich. This is mostly due to previous owner Art Modell, who never wanted to be second-fiddle to a coach. When Modell fired Paul Brown, the list of coaches included Blanton Collier, Skorich, Forrest Gregg, Sam Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson, Belichick, Chris Palmer and then Davis.
Not only did they have no pro head coaching experience, only Gregg, Schottenheimer and Belichick went on to other head coaching positions when they were finished here.
In a related matter, the Cleveland Indians have a similar managerial history. Since the 1960's names like McGaha, Strickland, Adcock, Lipon, Aspromonte, Robinson, Torborg, Garcia, Ferraro, Edwards, Hargrove, Manuel, and Wedge got the first (and for the most part, only) managerial opportunities.
It seems to me that Randy Lerner does not have the same concern that Modell had. He doesn't want the limelight, and would be thrilled if the coach thrived in it. Hopefully that will work in his favor in his all-important selection of General Manager and coach to lead the Browns in the near future. After all, who would have thought, after a three year hiatus from football, that the Cleveland Browns would be in such a sorry condition after the 2004 season?
‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen Monday-Friday from 6-7pm and 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or www.leslevine.com