Browns Notes: Starting Over

Player notes and commentary from NFL Scout...

Six years after returning to the NFL, it's as if the Cleveland Browns are practically beginning anew. Every significant person from the management group in charge when the Browns came back in 1999 is gone -- owner Al Lerner, president Carmen Policy, director of football operations Dwight Clark and coach Chris Palmer.

All of that would have been acceptable if Butch Davis had fulfilled his pledge to return glory to Cleveland. Instead, he has left the Browns in arguably worse shape than when he arrived in 2001.

In an ironic twist, now the Browns may turn to a coach they could have hired back then. When Palmer was fired after the 2000 season, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was placed in the awkward position of supervising the remaining coaching staff. He was interviewed for the coaching job that went to Davis, but that interview was considered almost a courtesy one.

Crennel then went to New England to serve as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator, and the rest is history.

It's conceivable that owner Randy Lerner and president John Collins have their sights set on Eagles defensive coordinator Brad Childress or Steelers assistant head coach Russ Grimm, but the smart money is on Crennel.

Interim coach Terry Robiskie and former Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates also have interviewed. If Lerner and Collins wanted either one, it's reasonable to assume they'd already have made the hire.

Hampered by the Browns' lack of talent, Crennel had modest success with the Browns in 2000, but the players had much respect for him.

That was hardly the case with Davis. Exactly when it began going south is a matter of opinion. But the playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago and the subsequent purge shortly afterward of several veteran leaders, ostensibly for salary-cap reasons, began the downward slide.

When Davis purged the front office before last season, the bull's-eye became firmly planted on his back. In what now -- and even then -- can be seen as a desperate marriage of convenience, Davis hitched his wagon to 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia. From the start, it was a bad fit. Garcia is a prototypical West Coast offense quarterback, and the Browns tried to run a meat-and-potatoes attack behind a subpar offensive line.

A season-opening victory against Baltimore gave the Browns false hope, but reality struck the next week when Garcia posted a zero passer rating in a loss at Dallas.

Compounding the defeat was the loss of defensive end Courtney Brown -- again -- and rookie tight end Kellen Winslow to season-ending injuries.

The injury wave kept coming, which players later blamed in part on Davis' intense off-season conditioning program.

The Browns were 3-3 after beating Cincinnati, but then the bottom fell out, starting with an overtime loss to Philadelphia.

Davis, who had never been fired in 30 years of coaching, began to show cracks under the pressure. He said he had a panic attack before the rematch against Cincinnati, which Cleveland lost, 58-48.

After repeatedly denying he would step down, Davis did exactly that two days after the Bengals game.

The players' mood when Davis left was practically jubilant.

Robiskie took over, but he was forced to play a horrible hand.

Kelly Holcomb, who had replaced the injured Garcia, cracked three ribs in loss to the Bengals. That left Robiskie with no choice but to play rookie Luke McCown -- with predictable results.

Holcomb was finally healed sufficiently to play in the season finale at Houston and he played well to end Cleveland's nine-game losing streak.

Still, with a 4-12 record, the Browns face a tough rebuilding task, especially considering their AFC North rivals -- Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore -- all appear on the right track.

The Browns took their first major step toward rebuilding by hiring Baltimore's director of player personnel Phil Savage to become general manager.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • Defensive coordinator Dave Campo was expected to take a job as a Jaguars assistant coach. Campo, who worked with Butch Davis in Dallas, came to Cleveland after being fired as Cowboys head coach following three straight 5-11 seasons.
     
  • Jeff Garcia felt at times like he was on trial during a difficult season with the Browns. Last week, his girlfriend, Playboy Playmate of the Year Carmella DeCesare, was on trial to face charges stemming from a fight at a bar with another woman.

    Garcia said a one-night stand with the other woman was the cause of the fight. DeCesare was found innocent of assault and guilty of a misdemeanor charge, but Garcia took some heat from the judge.

    "It's a shame," judge Anita Laster Mays told Garcia, "that two women ended up fighting each other instead of confronting the one person who deserved to have been confronted."
     
  • Left tackle Ross Verba was not a suspect in an alleged rape of a woman at his home, but it still had to come as a relief that no charges will be filed in the case. Police said there was not enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime. Verba, who got divorced last year, said he was not at his house at the time. Verba was the only offensive lineman to start every game for the Browns.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some guys want to throw a party." Safety Earl Little, reacting to Butch Davis' resignation.


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