Passan: Buyer Beware

There are a lots of reasons to feel good about the Browns win against the Houston Texans on Sunday. As the 2005 off-season dawns, however, Browns fans should be careful what conclusions they reach. So writes columnist Rich Passan in this week's editorial...

The Browns' unexpected victory over the Houston Texans Sunday comes wrapped with a warning label.

Warning: Do not be deceived. Do not be fooled. Do not take the team's performance seriously.

Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.

This does not mean the Browns have momentum heading into next season. It does not mean they are capable of playing like that all the time. This victory was meaningless. It was way too little and way too late.

It's true the Browns made the Texans look like an expansion team. It's true the offensive and defensive lines played unlike any other time this season. And it's true the team did not quit when it very well could have.

But it's also true that Sunday's victory was an aberration. It was nothing more than a pleasant way to end the season.  In no way was it reflective of the way history will treat this edition of the Browns.

This season will be remembered as an unmitigated disaster. It will be remembered as the season the team lost a record-tying nine games in a row; as the season the coach quit with five games left; as the National Football League's "Groundhog Day" team. The same mistakes game after game, week after week.

Sunday's 22-14 victory had a feel-good glow – although it dropped the Browns into the No. 3 slot in the college football draft – because it gave Terry Robiskie his first victory as the Browns' interim coach. In my opinion, it will hopefully be his last.

Robiskie is a nice man. He's personable, approachable, affable. He says the right things. The players like him a lot. But this is not a popularity contest.

Following the Houston game, the players' love for him flowed as Robiskie lobbied hard for the job on a more permanent basis. And he will be given a shot. That's only right, considering he took over a team in chaos and restored some order.

This week, owner Randy Lerner and President and CEO John Collins begin their quest to rebuild the football front office. Robiskie will get at least an interview. It should end right there.

I don't care if the players go up to Lerner and Collins two by two and all but plead to give the job to Robiskie. They should ignore the players. Beloved coaches are not necessarily winning coaches.

The players' overwhelming endorsement of Robiskie is more a case of being happy his predecessor was gone than him being the head coach.

And if Robiskie doesn't get the job? The players will play no matter who the coach is. They'll be there next July in training camp. The only thing they care about is the paycheck.

Robiskie is not the answer to this team's problems. I believe that he is not even close.

One solid game out of five does not jump off the pages of a resume, mitigating factors notwithstanding. Are we supposed to forget about the other four games he coached?

And let us not forget that after the Browns signed a West Coast-style quarterback in the offseason, Robiskie, then the offensive coordinator, designed a smashmouth offense.

What the Browns need now more than anything is stability in the front office and on the sidelines. Lerner must target people who have been around the NFL and experienced success. If that means bringing in a retread as a coach, so be it.

There is no hurry to get this franchise back on its feet. Baby steps must be taken before it can even consider contending for the postseason. That's how badly mismanagement has crippled this team since the NFL let Cleveland back into the league in 1999.

Murphy's Law has raged out of control here in the last six seasons. People ill-suited to be in responsible positions were exposed and eventually left.

Carmen Policy gained his reputation as a solid NFL front office executive by riding the coattails of Bill Walsh in San Francisco. In Cleveland, with Dwight Clark running the show, Policy worked without a safety net. He was exposed.

Butch Davis, another Policy move, wasn't much better as it turned out. Tripping over his ego most of the way, Davis stripped the gears of progress before slamming on the brakes and leaving town with his millions.

Now Lerner and Collins must clean up the mess. Actually, it should be Lerner because Collins is not a football man. He is a businessman who knows football people. That does not make him a football man. He should not be relied on in that area.

Lerner, devoting more time to the Browns than he ever imagined since taking over for his late father, must lean heavily on others around the NFL as he searches for a general manager and coach. But he must avoid his fellow owners while doing so.

The owners are not his friends. They might seem that way. They're not. They're his business partners. They're his enemies.

They don't want him to win. They say they do. They lie. He shouldn't listen to them.

Drink with them. Socialize with them. Have fun with them at league functions. Just don't listen to them.

Identify the smart ones with the successful franchises and study them. See what makes them so successful. Then incorporate your own ideas.

One thing Lerner needs to know: This team does not need to be torn up. A lot of the pieces and parts are in place. When everyone is healthy, this is not a bad football team. But it desperately needs direction.

Robiskie is not the man to give it that direction. Lerner should not let how the season ended cloud his judgment.

He should remember how last season ended. A 22-14 victory in Cincinnati.

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