With the 2007 season for the Cleveland Browns barely in the rear-view mirror, controversy and change has again found its way to the Cleveland Browns. The departure of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will come as no surprise to readers of this column, as we noted issues between the former coordinator and players throughout the season.
Promoting defensive backs coach Mel Tucker into the role of defensive coordinator could very well prove to be a great move. The Browns sought a trusted voice and knowledgeable presence, and Tucker brings both. It doesn't hurt that Tucker also has a strong belief in the type of defense favored by the Browns head coach.
And now, onto the show...
Q: I find it hard to believe on a professional level a coach could do the things the OBR (you and John Taylor) wrote about over the past week. How could a coordinator that had the respect of the team and was believed to be the head coach in waiting suddenly change his colors and become a negative influence?
LA: There was nothing sudden about the changes within Browns camp. We stand by what we have reported on the Orange and Brown Report regarding Grantham/Crennel and state of the team.
Yes, Todd Grantham was viewed by many as the head coach-in -aiting, and within that simple statement lays the issue.
Crennel was on the hot seat going back to the 2006 season, while Grantham was receiving an extension to match the length of Crennel's contract. The organization watched how Grantham conducted himself and evaluated his readiness as a head coach. Vice president and general manager Phil Savage noted that Grantham was a candidate to be a head coach at some point in public comments last year.
We've been told by more than a couple of well-placed sources that the demeanor of the former defensive coordinator changed and that there was friction between the head coach, the defensive coordinator, and his staff. While all indications are Savage attempted to rectify the situation, it was the input of players which ultimately led to Grantham's demise.
From what we've heard, some players and coaches discussed the state of the defense at the end-of-the-season meetings. A theme from those discussions was that the team's defensive problems weren't due to a lack of overall talent, but rather due to questionable utilization of talent within the team's defensive scheme.
Not all the players on the defensive side of the ball either felt or relayed the same message, but some leaders within the core of the locker room voiced their concern. Issues arise when a player loses faith in the coach or scheme or simply does not have the ability to discuss with a coach.
Allegedly, a lack of communication and respect was felt by some of those speaking out. Grantham was a focal point of the situation.
Q: If Grantham was the problem with the Cleveland defense, why didn't the organization make a move during the season and possibly provide this team a chance at making the playoffs?
LA: The defensive unit played better in the second half of the season. The Browns organization preaches continuity and I am fairly certain that their first thought was to keep Grantham in place. After having time to reflect on the season and listen to the voices within the organization, it was decided to let Grantham go.
I believe the defensive coordinator is responsible for having his unit ready to play. Early in the season, this was often not the case. There were a lot of mistakes in positioning, recognition and productivity. That was more so the case at the beginning of the season, before this was a known issue, than at the end.
While the state of the roster and depth plays into the equation, the coaching or lack of, as well as questionable communication was an issue.
Q: I followed along throughout the season I remember reading a bunch of comments you made regarding the defense and what the players were thinking. When players talk, I would think the player would have an agenda or something was just wrong on the team. Where do you stand on this?
LA: When I heard of the initial complaints, I was curious and wondered if there was something to there. I was told to pay attention to a few specifics on game-day, such as situational scheming and coverage packages, and watch the trend. When doing so, I was sold on the notion something was not quite right. When players two and three told me much of the same, the problems were etched in my mind.
In the long run, I do believe the organization made a decision it had to make. While I will refrain from noting any issues within the staff, but when the players lose confidence in the scheme and coach, a change has to be made.
Q: Do you believe that Crennel basically wanted Grantham gone as he was viewed as the head coach in waiting?
LA: I believe there were some philosophical (scheme, implementation) issues between the two men. While I am far from certain this was enough for the organization to relieve the defensive coordinator of his duties, players voicing their displeasure was ladled on top of existing problems. I also believe that the organization created some of the problems with how they handled the situation, such as voicing a belief in the defensive coordinator as capable of being a head coach after a 2006 season (training camp 2007) that left the existing head coach on the hot seat.
Q: With Grantham gone and Mel Tucker named the new defensive coordinator, what changes do you expect to come into play for the 2008 Cleveland Browns?
LA: I'll start with my belief that Mel Tucker is qualified and a good fit to lead this defensive unit. Tucker is a solid teacher, a great communicator, and has the ability to get players to play. What makes average coaches great is the ability to listen and believe in players. Tucker is his own man and he will let players play to their strength, as long as it fits the overall scheme of the defense. I know he has great faith in his positional players (defensive backs) and I expect him to carry this onto the next level. If he feels he has enough talent to support it, a Mel Tucker defense will get after the opposition.