King: Still Looking for a Leader

Since 1999, the Browns have looked desperately for a face for the expansion franchise. Is Brady Quinn the man? Derek Anderson? Get perspective from a man who tracked the team for decades inside and outside of Berea...

It seems ironic that a team that made a quarterback its first draft pick and then did everything in its power to make him the face of the new franchise, is still looking for one a decade later.

It's also a head scratcher that, despite spending all kinds of time right from the outset to find the right head coach, these expansion era Browns remain on the hunt.

More than anything else, these two facts are why the new Browns have struggled overall – with a 54-106 record -- since they returned to the field in 1999.

They are the two important individual spots to fill on any club, especially a start-up one such as the Browns were. All great teams – even all good teams – are strong at both quarterback and head coach. They might have some issues elsewhere, but in the case of the man standing on the sideline with headset on, and the man throwing the football, these clubs are well-fortified. If they weren't, then they wouldn't be winning.

Last season's Super Bowl champions, the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers, have Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. In 2007, the New York Giants had Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. In 2006, it was Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts.

The list goes on and on.

It's that way in Browns history, too. The two most recognizable figures on those championship-laden first 10 teams from 1946-55 were Paul Brown and Otto Graham, both of whom are Pro Football Hall of Famers.

In 1964, the Browns' last NFL title team had Blanton Collier, who never, ever, has gotten his due as a head coach, and Frank Ryan, who led the league with 25 touchdown passes.

The 1980 Kardiac Kids had Sam Rutigliano, who understood offense and quarterbacks completely and was pushing all the right buttons at all the right times then, and Brian Sipe, who broke nearly every team passing record en route to becoming the Browns' first NFL MVP in 15 years.

The Browns of the late 1980s had Marty Schottenheimer, who, while unable to get teams to the Super Bowl, was great at advancing them to the doorstep of the big game, and Bernie Kosar, whose arrival in 1985 signaled an immediate resurgence in Cleveland.

In 1994, when the Browns went 11-5 and went to the playoffs, fans got a preview of what Bill Belichick could do – and would do – as a head coach a decade later with the New England Patriots. They watched as Belichick coached up Vinny Testaverde. When Belichick was able to coach up a much better player, Tom Brady, the results were even more impressive.

But it's not been that way at all with the new Browns.

It started with Tim Couch, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft, and Chris Palmer. Coach was eager to learn the pro game, and Palmer was good at teaching it to quarterbacks. But both were overwhelmed by the fact they had no help around them.

In came Butch Davis as coach in 2001. He praised Couch whenever possible to build his confidence, and it worked as the team made the playoffs the following year. But Davis was not completely honest with his players at times, and his tenure in Cleveland began to unravel when he told Couch and Kelly Holcomb, who had a career day against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the postseason that year, that they were both his guys. When the two passers got to talking with one another, they realized they were being snowed.

Jeff Garcia, who had already proved he was a good quarterback, arrived in 2004. But he was a bad fit – a rollout passer in a conventional offense. The Browns never did anything to contour the offense to his talents. It's why neither Garcia nor Davis made it to 2005.

That's when Romeo Crennel, a first-time head coach at any level and a man who had built his resume exclusively on defense, arrived. His quarterback was Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens because of a stifling defense. Then it was Charlie Frye, a likeable kid from Willard, Ohio and the University of Akron who did the best he could for as long as he could.

Derek Anderson came out of nowhere in 2007 to look like Graham, Ryan, Sipe and Kosar with one of the best passing seasons in Browns history, and the club just barely missed the playoffs. He did an about-face last year as the Browns did the same, causing Crennel to get fired.

That brings us to where we are now, with Eric Mangini taking over and immediately having to make a choice between Anderson and Quinn. It will not be an easy decision, since no one knows what those two can do – what they really can do. Is Anderson more like the player he was in 2007, or more like the one he was in 2008 and also as a lowly sixth-round draft choice of the Ravens in 2005? Quinn was a great college player at Notre Dame but has not been given a chance in the NFL through two seasons. Can he make it?

Actually, is either one of them the answer? We don't even know that.

Mangini has something to prove, too. He was on the fast track when he got the New York Jets head coaching job in 2006, when he was just 35. In three years with them, he had a good year, a bad one and one that was in between. Just a few short weeks after they fired him, he received a second chance to prove his worth and get back on that fast track when the Browns hired him.

So it is a big training camp and preseason – and a big regular season – for all three.

Mangini will not be successful here, at least over the long haul, until he finds a championship-caliber quarterback. He can coach up a so-so one, as Belichick did with Testaverde in 1994, but that will get him only so far. He has to do what Belichick did with Brady – find a player who has the capability to be great and then coach him up.

At the same time, Quinn and Anderson will need Mangini's backing – his confidence, his trust – to blossom here. The mental aspect is such an important part of the game, especially for a quarterback. And it can't be false praise, either, such as what Davis handed out to Couch and Holcomb. It has to be legitimate, believable.

So they all need each other. If there's a rift between the coach and quarterback, as there was between Belichick and Kosar from 1991-93, then the whole thing will eventually blow up in their faces.

Yes, the Browns have a lot of other questions to answer, a lot of other needs to fill. It's uncertain as to how any of them will turn out. However, the Browns have to solve at least some of them to have a chance to be competitive.

But the biggest questions and needs involve the coach and those quarterbacks. They have to emerge. They simply have to. Watch that process unfold and you'll have the best read on where the Browns, as a whole, are at, and where they're going, and whether that destination is worth waiting for.

Mangini has the ability to be good. He proved it with the Jets in 2006 when he completed a rags-to-riches journey by getting them to the playoffs.

Anderson has the ability to be good. Do you remember 2007?

And Quinn has the ability to be good. It's why he was drafted No. 22 overall in 2007.

Can they – Mangini and one of those quarterbacks -- be good together, though, now – beginning this season? That's all that matters. What's past is past.

The Browns have been trying to make something like this – a two-headed success story at the very top of the organizational chart -- happen for 10 years. Getting it done finally is the key to making the second decade of this re-born era a lot more palatable.

And that's what everyone wants – Eric Mangini, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and particularly the fans, the only constant in this whole equation from way back when.

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