After so many years of seeing a very public Art Modell, a very wise man told me that it would be nice to have an owner of the Cleveland Browns who only made an appearance to accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy, symbolizing a Super Bowl Championship. In theory I suppose that is correct. But in reality, there are times when an owner should go public.
Monday afternoon was such a time. General Manager Phil Savage, who was left twisting in the wind for a couple of days, was put out to fend for himself. It wasn't fair for Savage, the ‘football guy', to answer questions about former Browns President John Collins, as well as what else goes on ‘inside the building'. That job was for the owner, Randy Lerner.
No matter how reclusive an owner would like to be, there are occasions when only he should represent the franchise. Hiring or firing a head coach or GM would be such occasions. Especially when the owner is an absentee owner. The fans have a right to know a little bit about the owner of their team, and how he or she thinks, especially when there is turmoil in the ranks.
Since the return of the franchise in 1999, the Browns have had two owners, two presidents/CEOs, three personnel directors, and four coaches (including one interim). And one Pro Bowl participant in seven seasons. There are no signs of stability. And only the owner can address that. And he didn't have to stay very long. All he needed to do was be there, alongside Savage, to show support. He needed to make a statement, answer a couple of questions, and then leave, turning it over to football questions only.
You probably remember a press conference that Randy Lerner held---well, sort of. Prior to the start, media members were told to remove all cameras and tape recorders from the room. Many of us regret not getting up and walking out as a protest, but the sham of a press conference went on as scheduled.
Right now, the fans have very little reason to have faith in this ownership. Fortunately, Randy Lerner was able to rectify a mistake just before it happened, and Phil Savage is still here. I think it is fair to question Lerner's commitment to this team, especially considering the unfortunate circumstances which led to his ownership. John Collins' comment of ‘we renewed our vows' will make the list of memorable quotes since 1999, and one of these days we'll take a vote where it stands on the list. Other nominations include: ‘Gerard Warren was one of the nicest guys they ever arrested'; ‘Other than 5 plays, we held Jamal Lewis pretty well'; ‘Those bottles don't pack much of a wallop' and they all belong in the upper levels of the list.
After that, maybe we will rank poor decisions and PR disasters. Nominees will undoubtedly include: as a group, all Number One Draft Choices; the treatment of consultant Ron Wolf; the choosing of a long-snapper in the fifth round; the payout of $12 million to Butch Davis (who quit on his team) and then claiming that the Browns are losing money; and letting punter Chris Gardocki get away, and then struggling to find a replacement.
By the way, did you see Derrick's Frost terrible shanked punt near the end of the Redskins win at Tampa? It put the Bucs in position to tie the game, until an interception put an end to it.
It is obvious that Savage and Romeo Crennel will spend a lot of time deciding on which free agents to keep and go after, as well as what are the greatest needs to address during the draft. One thing is for sure---they will have more time to prepare for this draft than Paul Brown and his staff had to prepare to pick the greatest running back of all time, Jim Brown.
Long-time Browns fans will remember that Paul Brown actually wanted QB Len Dawson, from Alliance, Ohio and Purdue. They were genuinely upset when the Pittsburgh Steelers chose Dawson with the fifth pick, leaving Brown, of Syracuse for the sixth pick.
What's the most surprising thing about that draft, other than Brown waiting until the sixth choice (not unlike Michael Jordan going to the Chicago Bulls with the third pick)? That draft was held on November 27, 1956, with three games still on the Browns schedule, and way before the college bowl games were played.
It wasn't until 1987 that the NFL decided to hold the draft as late as it is held now. Part of the reason is to give time for teams to prepare for it, after they have gone into the free agent market. But the real reason is to keep the PR machine running twelve months a year, and the draft, in April, is a great way to keep the NFL in the public mind. Then comes QB camps, followed by mini-camps, and then training camp.
That's fine from a public relations standpoint, but the lateness of the draft also leads to PR disasters, when the top rookies hold out, and invariably miss plenty of practice sessions and exhibition games. Whatever PR advantage is gained by holding the draft in late April is taken away when players like Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Braylon Edwards aren't around when the team is formed in July.
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