Counterpoint: The Lerner Lesson

Browns fan Jeff Scafaro answers Barry McBride's editorial from 2/21 regarding team owner Randy Lerner. While McBride felt that Lerner was being unjustly pilloried by the local media, Jeff (aka Penndawg44) feels that Lerner has to make his mark on the franchise...

On February 21, 2007, the OBR's own Barry McBride wrote a piece supporting Browns owner Randy Lerner. Long time fan and part-time antagonist, Jeff Scafaro (Penndawg44 to those who either love or hate him) weighs in with a different view of the man charged with the restoration of Cleveland Browns football.

It wasn't his baby, that is, not until it was bestowed upon him under circumstances he would have much rather not experienced. Still, the Cleveland Browns are very much Randy Lerner's team, and what he does with this franchise in the immediate future will either result in its continued demise, or move it forward, solidifying a city treasure and family business for years to come.

Thus far however, Randy's stewardship has left skeptics of Lerner feeling empowered, while supporters find it increasingly difficult to hold onto their faith that there is a plan to turn this thing around. Despite any such optimism however, Lerner and fans alike have in the past two years seen a franchise in near-constant turmoil, witness to a tumultuous period during which the team has regressed in terms of on-field productivity, revenue and organizational stability. 2007 holds little promise to improve upon 2006. Much to the contempt of fans, the media, and sponsors, the team appears headed for yet another exercise in futility, armed with a bruised front office and coaching staff comprised of lame ducks and cast-offs. Meanwhile, the team owner has chosen to remove himself from the fray, or such is the outward appearance of the man relative to his franchise.

We are all leery of owners who treat their franchises as toys, theirs to meddle with to the point where the fixable becomes irreparable. Perhaps though, fans have gone too far in their disdain for such proprietors. Apprehensive as fans may collectively be, fearing the same Al Davis phenomena that has left the Oakland Raiders mired in world of downward spirals and disenfranchised followers, the view that Randy has all but abdicated his responsibilities as owner of the Cleveland Browns is both real and troubling to an increasing number of observers.

Mr. Lerner gets some credit where it is properly due. When asked to spend money to bolster a less than attractive roster, he has put forth the necessary funding. When confronted with the temptations of higher ticket prices, knowing full well that such a passionate fan base would, without fail, pay more to see less, Randy has been consistent in opting for a more fan-friendly business plan.

He say's the right things as well; He expressed his disappointed by recent on-field performances, and seemed genuinely angered by off-field and sideline behavior. He was born a fan of the team, stayed that way through his adulthood, and now lives every fan's dream as owner of one of the most beloved franchises in the NFL. Following in his fathers footsteps as owner, Randy's story has the potential to be compelling one, but as much as this could have been a feel-good story for all concerned, Lerner has yet to make anyone feel much of anything other than frustration and embarrassment.

55 days removed from a disastrous 2006 season, Lerner and Company have stumbled through this early off-season, the evidence mounts that no one seems to have either a plan, or a clue, at 76 Lou Groza Drive in Berea, Ohio. As the time came to deal with a coach who couldn't, and start 2007 with a renewed commitment to winning, Lerner defied all logic and decided that even though his team was broken, 2007 was not the year in which to fix it.

Randy gets no credit here being the silent owner. He is given far too much love for doing nothing, as if the CEO of this or any other organization best serves that entity by simply being a figurehead. Lerner has avoided being Davis-like in his ownership, but he has taken the theory of hands-off management to an extreme that leaves this team with a void of leadership. For not taking a more active role in this organization, and for seemingly allowing for the status quo to prevail despite a plan that is either blatantly flawed or altogether absent, Lerner must now be considered part of the problem until be becomes the impetus behind the solution.

His reluctance to bring in a ‘football man' to lead this operation is perplexing. If there is one thing this team lacks most, it is leadership. Lerner is no football guru, either in terms of talent evaluation and acquisition or overall team management Devoid of a Team President / Leader, and in possession of a General Manager who himself acknowledges that performing GM duties is secondary to scouting, is it any wonder that from the outside looking in, it appears that someone turned on the cruise control and jumped from the car? That Randy has entrusted this franchise to a novice and seemingly reluctant GM, and a Head Coach who has done little to warrant retention is, to say the very least an indictment against his style of management. A hands-off philosophy while the empire crumbles or fails to get out of its own way is a devastating sign that the owner has either checked out, or is simply in far too deep for his own good.

Despite his shortcomings, Randy is no doubt a man who wants what is best for this team. If that assumption is a correct one, Randy must make a decision as to where this franchise is headed, and he must make it quickly. He cannot single-handedly fix this, there's simply too much wrong both on the field and in the front office for one man to conquer, but only Lerner can clean house – His house. If that's not a chore that Randy feels up to, or ready for, then he needs to sell the team and move on with his life.

There will be no piling on Lerner where his soccer endeavors are concerned. Most, if not all, NFL owners have several irons in multiple fires, and Randy has proven to be no exception. It is not Randy's commitment to Cleveland Browns football in question, or his available time in addressing its needs, but rather, his level of expertise and his seemingly detached management style. The winds must blow harder and in a different direction in Berea, or Randy Lerner will lose an entire generation of would-be Browns faithful and continue to widen the gap between the team and its most ardent fans. The time to do nothing has passed; his people, and frankly Randy himself have been afforded that period of time where you wait and see, well, we've waited, and we've seen, and the future looks no more promising than the past.

Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel are men you would no doubt be proud to call friends, and each possess football-related talents that far exceed my own, neither however have earned continued presence in their current roles, each for reasons that are unique to that individual. Both are undoubtedly good men, each wants to field a winner, yet neither seems to know how to go about developing one, and thus must either find different roles within this organization, or move on. The problems associated with Savage and Crennel seem obvious; from questionable team management and player acquisitions, to a lack of control in the locker room and poor game management, neither man has risen above himself, and it seems oddly apparent that they have chosen to place their future in the hands of the other, conceivably sealing their own fate.

With the deficiencies glaring, and the problems mounting, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all though is that the one person capable of initiating a transformation of this team seems disinterested in substantive change. Appearing nearly oblivious to the avalanche of losses that have struck this team like a plague, the only direction to thus far emanate from Berea has been to tread water and hope for the best. The failure to recognize that this particular ship has long ago struck the iceberg leaves many to question whether Lerner is paying adequate attention.

As Barry wrote last Wednesday, Randy was handed a team in disarray and handed it under the least joyous of terms, but while none of us wish for the type of family-related events that Randy and his family have been asked to endure, there remains the cold reality that there is work to be done where the Browns are concerned, and no one seems either ready, willing, or capable of doing it. Cleveland has always been a roll up your sleeves and get it done kind of town, and now, Lerner must be that kind of owner.

If Randy doesn't possess the know-how or the fortitude to right this ship, he has two options; plant the "For Sale" signs on the front lawn, or start looking at available candidates who can serve this team in ways that he either cannot, or will not. For this team, at this time, a quiet owner does not necessarily equal a good owner, nor can that owner be content to allow his subordinates to fight a losing battle vs. their own ineffectiveness and incompetence. Staying the course will not work; indeed, there are no guarantees in an NFL front office, only the steadfast assurance that standing by that which has failed you time and again is not the answer.

2007 represents a most important test for Randy Lerner. Pass or fail, he is not only the decider of fates within his organization, but unto himself as well. His legacy where this team is concerned begins today, what that means to him, and to his franchise, is for him alone to shape.

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