Team leadership was lacking for the Browns in 2008, and that was reflected in the 4-12 record. Consequently, general manager Phil Savage was fired the day before the season ended with a 31-0 loss to the Steelers, and coach Romeo Crennel was fired the day after.
Team owner Randy Lerner wasted no time trying to repair the damage, but so far his attempt to restructure the football side of the Browns is not going smoothly. Lerner met with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher in New York on Saturday. Cowher told him he isn't interested.
"He made it very clear from the moment we sat down he doesn't anticipate coaching in 2009," the Browns owner said. "It wasn't a dance. He wasn't coy. He spoke very clearly. He was very well prepared to describe his position. He is very focused on his kids and his life in North Carolina.
"I would like to have had the chance to dig in deeper and see if it was a possibility."
Lerner might have better luck with his first choice to replace Savage, which he said is his top priority after being rebuffed by Cowher. He has received permission from the Patriots to interview their vice president of personnel, Scott Pioli. Pioli has worked for the Patriots the last nine years. He got his start in 1992 with the Browns under Bill Belichick. While in New England, Pioli has had a hand in winning three Super Bowls.
Lerner planned to interview Pioli before the end of this week.
Pioli, 43, like Savage in 2005, does not have prior experience as a general manager, but Lerner is not concerned.
"I think he's very well trained," Lerner said. "I think he has a very attractive football demeanor. It's the right time of life for him. I think he's a fundamentally good guy."
Lerner also alluded to a mystery executive working in another NFL front office as well as three former general managers looking for work -- Floyd Reese, Tom Donahoe and Charley Casserly. He would prefer replacing Savage first so the new executive could lead the coaching search, but he will continue to hunt for a coach in the meantime.
Lerner said he is not interested in hiring a college coach and said the new coach doesn't necessarily need head-coaching experience in the NFL, although Lerner said he would likely contact Eric Mangini, who was fired by the Jets on Monday. Mangini was the secondary coach and then the defensive coordinator of the Patriots with Pioli in the New England front office. The Jets, 8-3 with five games to play, finished 9-7.
The Lions are wasting no time looking for a replacement for their fired coach, Rod Marinelli. They have received permission to talk to Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and are seeking permission to talk to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
"I'm looking for a head coach who is very, very organized, who has a very clear system and has a very strong and understandable approach to discipline and organizational structure," Lerner said.
The door might not be completely closed on Cowher. Lerner smiled slightly when he was reminded how in 2001 Butch Davis said there was no way he would leave the University of Miami, and then lo and behold, Randy Lerner's father, the late Al Lerner, and former team president Carmen Policy were introducing Davis as coach of the Browns.
Still, when asked whether there is still a chance Cowher will coach the Browns next season, he answered resignedly, "I'd say not really."
The announcement on Crennel had been expected for weeks, but Lerner promised him a face-to-face meeting first. The announcement was made after the meeting.
"You have to win," Lerner said, summarizing why Crennel was fired.
Crennel was 24-40 in four seasons. He was 0-8 against the Steelers and 5-19 overall in the AFC North.
--The Browns made NFL history when they were held without an offensive touchdown for the final six games of the season. The last team to go six consecutive games without a touchdown was the 1936 Eagles in the era before the forward pass.
--This stat illustrates how bad it got at the end: Bruce Gradkowski relieved Ken Dorsey at the end of the 15th game and played the entire final game. His passer rating of those two games added together was 9.3.
--QB Brady Quinn said his surgically repaired right index finger is healing well. The pins Dr. Thomas Hunt inserted are scheduled to be removed on Jan. 15. Quinn's finger was fractured on Nov. 17 in Buffalo.
--Here are the Browns' 2009 opponents with their 2008 records in parentheses: Home opponents: Steelers (12-4), Ravens (11-5), Bengals (4-11-1), Raiders (5-11), Chargers (8-8), Packers (6-10), Vikings (10-6) and Jaguars (5-11).
Road opponents: Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Broncos (8-8), Chiefs (2-14), Bears (9-7), Lions (0-16), Bills (7-9).
--Fans want Bernie Kosar to become part of the Browns front office, but team owner Randy Lerner said at this point there is no plan to offer the former quarterback a front-office job, specifically the opening for a general manager.
"I haven't discussed one with him, but I'm sure I will talk to him and something like that could easily come up," Lerner said. "I've had on and off conversations with him over the years, depending on what's going on. They've been very informal, which is consistent with the nature of our relationship."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Brady Quinn had a record of 1-2 when his season was cut short because of a fractured index finger with five games to play. Romeo Crennel declared Quinn the starter for 2009. That declaration doesn't carry any weight with Crennel fired, and since the Browns did not score an offensive touchdown in any of their last six games, the new coach might not keep offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Quinn said he is looking to the coaching change as a new opportunity. He also said if Derek Anderson is not traded, they could work together as they did this season.
"A lot of people look at change in a negative way," he said. "All the encounters I've had with change in my life have been in a positive manner. I've been through changes in high school, college and now the NFL. It allows people to start anew. I've been through a lot of different offenses, and I feel comfortable in every single one."
COACHING CAROUSEL: Former Ravens coach Brian Billick is not on team owner Randy Lerner's short list to replace Romeo Crennel, perhaps because Billick spurned his father, Al Lerner, in 1999. Lerner said he might call former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer and plans to contact Mike Holmgren, even though Holmgren has said he will take a year off from coaching.
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are coaching candidates.
Schwartz is one to keep an eye on if Scott Pioli is hired as general manager. Pioli was in the Browns' personnel department when Schwartz was an assistant coach with the Browns in 1995. Pioli also is very familiar with McDaniels from their eight years together in New England.
FREE AGENT UPDATE: The key free agents are all on defense, starting with SS Sean Jones. The contracts are up on OLB Willie McGinest and ILB Andra Davis. Re-signing Jones would be a priority. S Mike Adams and RB Jason Wright also will be free agents.
FEELING A DRAFT: The Browns have the fifth pick in the draft. No matter who is hired as head coach, the Browns have to find a pass rusher. They wanted to improve the pass rush, and their sacks dropped from 28 in 2007 to 17 this year.
End/linebacker: Whether the new coach plays a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense will determine which position has to be filled first, but a pass rusher is the top need by far.
Running back: Jamal Lewis did not have a burst this year, and it might be time to replace him.
Right tackle: The Browns need an upgrade on the right side of their offensive line.
MEDICAL WATCH: For once, the Browns will not be lined up for postseason surgeries. This will be the first winter Kellen Winslow Jr. is healthy.