FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE NUT HOUSE
"For Brutus is an honorable man; so are they all, honorable men."
- Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2
In Cincinnati, they're preparing for the playoffs, a city awash in a giddy football atmosphere for the first time in 15 years.
In Pittsburgh, they're regaling themselves with fresh memories of embarrassing an ancient rival while licking their chops because only the inept Detroit Lions stand between them and the postseason.
In Baltimore, the fraud of a coach sits newly secure in his job as his embattled quarterback has morphed from bumbling fool to Bert Jones clone.
Lastly, in Cleveland, things are as usual: Pandemonium swirling around a sputtering, rudderless franchise drifting out of control, out of contention and without a clue.
I'm not privy to the palace politics at 76 Lou Groza Blvd., but it's obvious to even the casual observer that the humiliating nonsense and frustrating mendacity that were the trademarks of the Carmen Policy era are alive and well.
The blame, however, doesn't fall at the feet of any of the players in Friday's pathetic drama. No, it's entirely the fault of Randy Lerner. The buck stops with the owner, and this team remains a shambles. At the end of the day, the ultimate success or failure of the Cleveland Browns is Lerner's, and Lerner's alone.
It's unclear if he grasps that, or cares. Being a fan who once wore Browns jammies to bed doesn't qualify anyone as a manager and leader in the NFL, and even an owner who prefers to delegate team operations to others has to show leadership and management skills. Right now, those are lacking in Cleveland. Alarmingly so.
The NFL Channel's Six Days to Sunday series profiled Lerner the Younger this season, and the saccharine feature shed some unintended light onto the team owner: He's filthy rich, has a lot of free time and spends much of it away from Cleveland.
And when the big dawg's away, the puppies play. Admittedly, there's little public information available to permit much of an analysis of the man, but it's becoming distressingly evident that he's allowing his subordinates to run amok. Without becoming an egomaniacal schmuck like Dan Snyder in Washington, Lerner needs to exert his authority as owner and crack down on these knuckleheads.
Turmoil and speculation such as what we witnessed in real time on Friday is not attractive to free agents. It makes the rest of the AFC North look well run. And it comes on the heels of a 41-0 loss at home to the friggin' Steelers.
I can't believe Phil Savage will stay in Cleveland after this disaster. His loss would be a devastating blow, a clear signal to the rest of the league that the Browns remain a shambles and have neither the clear vision for improvement nor the leadership at the top to make it happen. This team isn't 35-77 since 1999 by accident. There is evidence Savage has the ability to eventually assemble a winning team. Collins will be remembered only for being the dunce in charge of the Super Bowl Nipplegate affair.
All that's left to complete this sad comedy is a loss to Baltimore followed by an increase in ticket prices.
I've never been shy about my distaste for empty suit John Collins. His cagey and coy comments on Friday belied the obvious: The team has maneuvered to put the ball into Savage's court. He wouldn't be fired, but the option was left open for his resignation, a buy-out or something else. The team wants to make Savage the fall guy.
No one yet knows what occurred in Berea to prompt the rumors of Savage's imminent dismissal, but it just didn't spontaneously develop in the ether of the Internet. Something happened, and the media, as usual, fell all over itself to report the story and, as expected, got it wrong. Or the Browns' brass was sent reeling by the public reaction, and was forced to concoct the gibberish we read and heard Friday.
In any case, the promise of a season that saw steady improvement instead of grotesque blowouts degenerated into a pitiful soap opera straight out of Policy, Clark, Palmer and Davis, Inc.
The fans are left to sit home, yet again, to watch, most gallingly, the Bengals in the playoffs, with only the steaming excrement of excuses out of Berea to keep them warm. Maybe better days are ahead, but all I can see is more of the same.
Meanwhile, outside my window, the snow is coming down from a fading Michigan sky, blotting out the blackened slush. It's not enough, however, to hide my disappointment, and never will be.
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column each week for Bernies Insiders, a.k.a. The OBR a.k.a. The Team Turmoil Daily News. He's currently seeking federal funding to build a time machine, so that he can go back to the 1940s and `50s to see when the Browns weren't such a disaster. Visit his uncensored and, frankly, silly blog at www.livejournal.com/users/docgonzo19. He can be reached at email@example.com.