Derry: Relate or Perish

According to OBR columnist Frank Derry, the demise of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may have had nothing to do with hard work, or knowledge of the game. Frank looks back on Browns teams of the recent past to explain...

How stupid of me! What a fool I was!! If I only had a clue!!!

For 16 weeks I sat watching my favorite football team struggle to stop an opponent on the ground or through the air.

I criticized the defensive line, pointing to the fact it was filled guys who either were running on fumes or never had a full tank of gas to begin with.

I questioned the linebackers, wondering whether Andra Davis was ever going to step up and become a premier run-stopper; whether Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson were suffering from sophomore slumps; whether it was time for Willie McGinest to head out to pasture.

I watched Eric Wright get beaten numerous times and blamed it on his being a rookie who was playing on an island in the NFL for the first time; that fellow cornerback Leigh Bodden was distracted by his off-the-field problems; that safeties Brodney Pool and Sean Jones were in their first full season of starting together at safety.

I blamed it on the lack of depth coming off the bench.

I blamed it on the fact so much emphasis was placed on building the offense that the defensive shortcomings that were evident in 2006 had been overlooked. There's no way any general manager, even one as good as Phil Savage, can fill every hole overnight, I reasoned.

I figured that come this off-season, the first thing Savage would do was to spend considerable time trying to bring in at least one solid run-stopper and either a defensive end or outside linebacker capable of consistently rushing the quarterback. I figured that adding a little more depth in the defensive backfield would also be a priority.

Boy was I wrong!

Turns out the problem wasn't with the talent level; had nothing to do with the fact big Ted Washington, the man in the middle who was expected to be the primary run-stopper, was a total non-factor due first to his being long of tooth and then to injury.

Turns out the problem wasn't with the talent level of the defensive players, but rather with the coordinator, Todd Grantham, the guy who less than a year ago was being touted as a "terrific coach" by Savage, who backed up his words by giving him a two-year contract extension this past June.

The extension came despite the fact several of Grantham's players had apparently gone to head coach Romeo Crennel and complained about a variety of things following the '06 season.

It's relatively easy to figure out what they said by reading the comments Crennel made when naming Mel Tucker as Grantham's replacement.

"He (Tucker) has a football plan, life plan, coaches the fundamentals and relates well with the players. I believe he will be a successful in his new role."

What Crennel was really saying was, "He (Grantham) had no football plan, no life plan, didn't coach the fundamentals and didn't relate well to the players. He had no chance of being successful in his old role."

If any or all of that is true, Crennel and Savage had no choice but to fire the guy who many thought would one day replace Crennel as head coach. If a coach can't relate to his players, or if he has his sights set on becoming the head coach, then he has no chance of being successful.

I remember a situation nearly two decades ago when the Browns brought in a couple of assistant coaches who were among the worst in team history. One was Jed Hughes, a defensive backs coach who was brought on board by first-year head coach Bud Carson.

Hughes immediately got into a war with Brian Washington, who was coming off a magnificent rookie season and looked like he would be a fixture at safety for years to come.

But Hughes didn't like Washington and vice versa. Carson, unfortunately, sided with Hughes and cut Washington before the end of training camp. Washington was given the opportunity to say a nose injury was serious enough to land him on injured reserve, but he wanted nothing to do with Hughes.

Washington went on to have several excellent years with the New York Jets. Hughes, meanwhile, was fired after one year with the Browns. He has gone on to be much more successful as a consultant than he was as a coach.

Also brought in as part of Carson's coaching staff in 1989 was Dan Radakovich. "Bad Rad," as he was known, had been an outstanding offensive line coach for the Steelers and New York Jets. He probably would have been a good offensive line coach for the Browns, too, but they hired Hal Hunter for that job.

So "Bad Rad" became the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. It is believed that owner Art Modell had a lot to do with the assignment. But whether it was Carson or Modell who made the decision, it was a bad one.

I'll never forget one day being in the locker room, sitting with linebackers Clay Matthews and Mike Johnson.

"Bad Rad" came over to where we were sitting and gave some football-related instructions to his two Pro Bowl linebackers. As soon as "Bad Rad" walked away, one looked at the other and said, "Take what he said and do the exact opposite."

They weren't joking and they didn't care who heard them express their feelings.

The players had no respect for the veteran coach. He was fired after the 1990 season.

Those are two reasons why I have no problem at all with Crennel firing the guy who, less than a year ago, I thought was one of the best young defensive coordinators in the NFL.

You can be the smartest guy in the world, but if you can't relate to your players, it's time for a change.

 


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