Was it a power struggle that led to the surprising resignation of director of football operations Dwight Clark?
Many stories have been printed and rumors persist of a power struggle, an internal rift and a conspiracy against the former Director of Player Personnel. There were issues, most organizations have a difference of opinion, the Cleveland Browns are no different.
The departure of Dwight Clark was expected by may to come at some point, the timing was a surprise, the parting was professional.
According to several people familiar with the situation in Berea, technically, yes, it was a power struggle that led to Clark's "unforced" ouster. However, it was not the stereotypical power struggle, but rather a gradual diminishment of Clark's power within the organization over the course of the last year and a half.
Clark's authority and standing in the organization changed when Davis was brought on board following the 2000 season. In what could be construed as surprising, Davis and Clark were able to coexist in the Browns organization, but a Davis guy has been portrayed into the center of the Clark departure.
Oddly enough, the struggle for personnel power had little to do specifically with head coach Butch Davis. Instead, it was Davis' handpicked right-hand man, Pete Garcia.
Garcia came to Cleveland along with Davis in January 2001, without a specific title in the organization, but came to Cleveland none-the-less to jump-start a floundering Browns organization. Known for his diligent work and a keen eye for talent, Garcia was the man who worked closely with Davis at the University of Miami, turning the football program around despite severe NCAA sanctions placed upon the school due to violations during former head coach Dennis Erickson's tenure at the university.
There was no malicious attack on Clark's position within the organization, there was no conspiracy to push Clark out the door. What there was is a genuine trust and working relationship between two football men that have fought the battles together for the past six-years. There is a comfort level that takes time to develop, Clark had a voice within the organization, but he wasn't the close, reliable confidant that Garcia is.
Clark was far from being outside the loop, he just wasn't comfortable not having the ear of the coach. Davis heavily leaning on Garcia for personnel advice and opinions, leaving Clark and his underlings more than mere figureheads in the organization, but not calling the shots as they had been accustomed.
Garcia worked on the college-end of the organization. Scouting players, utilizing the numerous contacts that were established from his days in Miami, Garcia is at the top of his game, having an uncanny ability to communicate and gain tremendous relationships with football coaches throughout the country.
Such abilities and relationships kept Garcia a call away from knowing what player had turned the corner and what player could really help a team, such as the Cleveland Browns. The drafting of defensive back Anthony Henry was clearly due to the extensive work done by Garcia.
Another player that Garcia's work brought to Cleveland was running back Ben Gay. A high school phemon, Gay was in and out of trouble throughout his young life. Seeing the tremendous amount of talent in the young and troubled man, Garcia and Davis brought in Gay, with hopes to tap that potential. Considered a longshot when signed, Gay made the team and was on the roster for the entire 2001 season and helped the Browns during the second half of the season when starting running back James Jackson battled ankle and rib injuries.
Gay was released after the 2001 season and quickly signed by the Indianapolis Colts. Depth at the running back position was cited as the determining factor in his release.
An obvious progression for Garcia was to become involved in the pro player aspects of the team. Garcia became increasingly involved in player personnel matters throughout the 2001 season, as was another member of the Browns front office, Lal Heneghen.
Gradually realizing that what power he did have was being stripped away by the mere presence of Davis' close confidante, Clark contemplated resigning from the organization on more than one occasion. He had began to feel like a third wheel, or a man with a title and nothing more.
There were unsubstanciated rumors of discontent and turmoil between Garcia and Clark. The relationship between Clark and Garcia ultimately was described by several sources as "professional" and "relatively tension-free". There was mutual respect on both ends of the relationship.
His pride pushed Clark to leave the organization, a friendship is what kept him in Cleveland for as long as he stayed.
Sensing that his input wasn't as important, as necessary and not being the front-man on many decisions in personnel matters over the past 18 months, Clark spoke on more than one occasion of resigning and expressed his discontent with the organization. According to sources close to the team, Clark spoke with Browns President and CEO Carmen Policy during training camp in 2001 and again after the 2001 season.
While Clark told the assembled media via conference call that he began questioning his role in the organization as early as the middle of the 2001 season, and that there was not an isolated incident that led to his decision to leave, there were two incidents in the past three months that helped him grease his own skids.
These two incidents also provide a crystal-clear microcosm of the evolution of the front office structure since Davis' arrival in January of 2001.
The first occurred earlier on this off-season, during the now-infamous "Ricky Williams Watch". With the talented running back placed firmly atop the trading block by the New Orleans Saints, the Browns, with Clark as the lead, initiated trade talks.
At some point during the talks -- roughly early February according to one source -- Clark offered the Saints a package that included a first-round draft pick in exchange for Williams and at least one other draft pick.
Now this is where it gets murky.
There are three schools of thought as to how it came to be that nearly every major and minor media outlet -- including Bernie's Insiders -- reported that the Browns had offered the Saints a package that included a first-round pick, a deal which was later vehemently denied by the organization:
1.) Clark, without the knowledge or prior consent of Davis, went to the Saints and offered a first-rounder.
2.) Clark, through a miscommunication with Davis, offered the Saints a first-rounder, believing that he had the backing of his head coach.
3.) Davis initially agreed to send a first-rounder to New Orleans, but got cold feet after the package was offered.
Regardless of how the debacle played itself out, Clark was left with egg on his face and, more than ever, armed with the knowledge that he and his coach were reading from the same organizational book, but were on different pages. In the San Francisco model imported by Clark and team president Carmen Policy from the West Coast, it is a must that the head coach and director of football operations read from the same sentence of the same paragraph of the same page in order to be successful.