There is no excusing what the Cleveland Browns have become in this 2008 season.
They are an underachieving team that has not displayed the discipline, focus and ability to overcome adversity.
The problems faced by the Browns organization can't be solved by minor corrections, or even major ones like replacing the quarterback. The team requires fundamental change in order to take the next step.
Looking for a Simple Answer? Good Luck
One doesn't have to look far back into history to see a Browns team on the rise, with expectations so high that TV networks fell all over themselves to schedule the Browns in prime time. Cleveland's favorite team possessed 10-6 record, a near-miss of the playoffs, a QB which came out of nowhere to lead the team, and an off-season of tinkering and talent acquisition that had the squad set to win.
The future of the Cleveland Browns was here, it was now. The name on the door said "Cleveland".
Unfortunately, not everyone in the Browns organization received the memo.
You know the one: It was the memo stating that tasting some success only means you have to work that much harder, prepare that much better and leave no stone unturned in the quest for excellence.
It also said that no one in the world's most competitive and balanced sports league ever has success handed to them for just showing up.
Perhaps that memo never went out, based on the latest news: an embarrassing focus being placed on players quitting when they are supposed to be rising to the occasion.
It's easy to look over the recent history of Cleveland sports, and mutter "only in Cleveland...". But that's not the case at all. The type of issues the Browns have faced this year have presented themselves to a number of NFL teams in 2008. There's nothing unique about them. But while there are a number of teams struggling through poor seasons, none are as shocking and telling as the situation in Cleveland.
But the team's problems are more complex than the players failing to internalize a simple message or going into cruise control at an inopportune time. They can't be traced to one player, one coach, one injury, or one series of downs. The Browns have collapsed thanks to the continued and combined effort of all involved, and expecting the current roster and coaching staff to be able to turn it around is simply asking too much at this point.
The only answer seems to be, yet again, to change within the structure of the organization.
The need to change shouldn't be assumed to mean that Romeo Crennel is the source of all the team's problems. In fact, he has brought some positive things to this franchise, and in many ways the right man for the job when he was hired in 2005. Romeo Crennel has provided a calming influence as an vastly respected veteran coach to a Browns locker room which needed stability and trust after three years of Butch Davis.
Unfortunately, three-plus years into the reclamation project, the Cleveland locker room requires a different type of personality now. Crennel has helped bring the team this far, and we shouldn't forget that he was the leader of the team during an exciting 2007 season.
But it's clear that a different voice is needed for this team, now that the calming, player-friendly Crennel era has clearly taken the team as far as it can.
The Browns now need a stronger voice, one of changed philosophy and prowess. Over time voices can become complacent, players become complacent - Crennel the coach hasn't, but his voice and players have.
At the same time, there is no escaping the inability of this team to play solid defense four years into Crennel's switchover to the 3-4 defense.
Nor are there any excusable reasons why the team often appears lackluster and unprepared. Some in the game theorize players only play with the passion as those surrounding them. Others will simply claim players are only an extension of their coach. Still others will claim that teams play at the same level as they practiced and prepared.
They are in a business that demands results, and by that measure those running the operation in Cleveland have been a failure.
Will general manager Phil Savage man-up and make a move on the head coach after he and the said coach reached contract extensions from a generous team owner?
Accountability is expected when a team in fact appears to be in the process of its third losing season in four years. Taking responsibility is anticipated when the outfit you reside over has failed, time and time again.
Can team owner Randy Lerner, again full of fire and disgust, pull the plug on those men he brought in to lead the Cleveland Browns back not only to respectability? A group he hoped would make "Cleveland Browns" once again synonymous with winning and pride?
Will he do this while eating the balance of contracts he inked his football-brain-trust to this past off-season?
The first step to improvement for the Cleveland Browns will be to accept the fact that this organization is not structurally sound from top to bottom. This is a good group of people, but they are in a business where lots of smart hard-working people are competing with them winning football games. Not everyone can be successful every time.
At this point, the Cleveland Browns as currently organized are on a downward descent. With each passing day, there is another story, another circumstance, which portrays this organization in a negative light. It needs to be reversed before the Browns become synonymous not with winning and class, but with struggling franchises like the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, and Cincinnati Bengals.
Mr. Lerner, show the passion you have as a fan of the game and the team you have grown up rooting for - it isn't too late.
Before the door that says Cleveland is closed for another season on its team and fans alike.