The Browns have played three games. While there are obvious problems with this team, there has been marked improvement each week going back to the preseason, with the possible exception of the Bengals game. While enthusiasm is rampant among fans, and this optimism is perhaps merited in some quarters, there is reason to have hope. It doesn't have to do with blocking or tackling per se. It isn't about what scheme the Browns employ or third down conversions.
A mentor of mine taught me a principle in life that I have found to be true in whatever endeavor I have been involved: Success always hinges on good leadership.
The leadership of former head coach and stand-up guy Chris Palmer was aptly demonstrated via his infamous "runaway train" analogy. And the front office had Carmen Policy, a person I would not trust to tell me the sky was blue.
It was no secret that I had soured on Butch Davis at the end of 2002. His leadership style set a tone for the organization, one of mistrust, inequitable treatment, and ignoring the counsel of the people working he supposedly hired to advise him. I won't rehash all of these things. They've been discussed to death on this site.
However, general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel have done a lot over the last six months or so to turn that upside down. My best reason for optimism is that the Browns seem much better off in their leadership, at least from what we have seen to date. The tone set by an organization's leaders tends to radiate through that organization and establishes a tone, a modus operandi for others to follow.
Are these guys perfect? No. I haven't agreed with every move they have made. For example, while the backup quarterback market was admittedly picked over, I was not sold at all on Doug Johnson. The Browns eventually reversed that decision. But, agree or not with a particular move, I do trust the people and process that are in place to make the decision.
Let's face it, to a large extent, the NFL is dealing with players. Players are human beings. Dealing with human beings isn't an exact science. You'll guess wrong sometimes. But, listening to your scouts, going with the percentages, taking a chance on local products that have potential and fan support are things that have a proven track record of success in the league.
Sure, innovation can be good, but a lot of times, simply doing what most people do and have done makes the most sense. The reason others have done these things is because they have had a track record of success. In life, as well as the NFL, seldom is the amazing new approach really better. Unless you are that rare genius, you aren't going to figure out a way to suddenly beat the system.
Romeo Crennel has showed some great leadership so far. Look at the way he talks frankly about being a loser until you win more games than you lose. He didn't tell you how great the team was when it played a close game with the Colts. I love the fact that Crennel benched LJ Sheton after a couple of penalties in the Detroit preseason game. How about the way he got into the face of Antonio Bryant and Braylon Edwards were guilty of taunting? I love the fact that he tells it like it is when the team doesn't do something well. His quiet, no-nonsense style sets a tone that radiates through the entire team.
In turn, Savage and Crennel have brought in leaders like Trent Dilfer. While Dilfer has shown flaws as a player, he is a solid human being, one that it is hard not to root for. He says all the right things. He is a leader. He is tough. He's been through the fire of trials in life and on the football field. And on top of that, he's looked pretty solid in the scheme the Browns are running so far, and I think he has rewarded their trust with a performance that has exceeded the expectations of most of the pundits.
I think Charlie Frye has some of the same qualities as Trent Dilfer, which is probably why the Browns drafted him. The comeback Frye led at Akron from a 28-7 third-quarter deficit to defeat Marshall last year was one of the most amazing I have seen, and showed good leadership and grace under fire. The preseason looked promising.
This season will likely still have a lot of bumps. Despite the fact that the Browns seem to be playing with a lot of heart, the defense is not going to match up well with a lot of teams. Even with good game plans, the talent on the team might not match up with some opponents. This will test the leadership on and off the field. But if you hang with this team, I predict that sometime this season, perhaps sooner than many expected, we'll be seeing some things that will make us proud. The team may not always win, but so far we've seen great effort. This team will strive to get better. We'll see the fruits of good leadership, and we'll finally begin to shake off the spectre of the poor leadership of the new Browns up to this point.
The season is short, bark hard!