Even as the Browns made a late-season run to the playoffs, all was not happy within the coaching ranks of the rising club.
Inconsistency, injury, and communication breakdowns were issues surrounding the play of the team throughout the season. It now appears that a couple of these issues also resided within the coaching staff.
A source close to the team, a former coach, and one unidentified player tell Bernie's Insiders some of the problems that the Browns organization, its players, and selected members of the coaching staff encountered in 2002.
The Browns, a tight-lipped organization, kept under wraps what had been eating away at the core of the defense. Not all was as it may have appeared.
According to our source, defensive coordinator Foge Fazio did not have true support from his peers on the coaching staff. Browns head coach Butch Davis and Fazio did not see eye to eye on Fazio's defensive scheme and play-calling, especially during the 2002 season. Davis, seemingly annoyed with the disappointing defense ultimately placed the focus on Fazio for the lackluster effort and inexcusable poor execution the team displayed.
But the story does not end there.
Early in the season, many of the misgivings on the defensive side of the ball were related to new players in the system, namely safety Robert Griffith and linebacker Earl Holmes. As the season wore on, some players became discouraged by the perceived double standard that coaches on the staff showed in their treatment of players. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren was given as an example of a player who had a sub-par season, but was never held in the same regard as others on the roster.
Citing a lack of communication and trust between certain coaches and defensive players, it was evident that there were issues between the head coach and some defensive coaches.
From what we've been told, Fazio wanted to run a more aggressive defense. Fazio's desire to be more aggressive was true not just in the Browns playoff loss to the Steelers, as has been reported in the local press, but also earlier in the season. Our sources tell us that it was Head Coach Butch Davis who stopped Fazio in his tracks. Davis' reasoning is that he did not have the confidence in the defensive backs to cover when the team would attack using defensive backs and linebackers.
Additionally, the consistent communication issued weighed heavily on the team. On numerous occasions, players would 'jaw' at one another due to the lack of execution or simply misreads defensively.
There were also philosophical differences. Fazio wanted the team's defensive tackles to attack the line of scrimmage and penetrate. According to an unidentified player, Davis wanted the tackles to be aggressive, but not to the point of becoming predictable in shooting the gaps, which he feared could either create a big offensive play or expose an already suspect run defense to further failure.
To make matters worse, Fazio and defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano also appeared to have conflicts. One player tells us that there was a definite lack of respect, almost to the point of undermining the scheme and authority that Fazio presumably had. Team sources indcate that Pagano insisted using more of the four-across defensive back formations, particularly during the second-half of the season. The theory is to minimize the potential of the big play, as well as keeping everything in front of the defensive backs.
Issues with the linebacker position, the defensive line positions, and the defensive coordinator existed throughout the season. The organization wasted no time in removing the issues.
Fazio retired before he could be fired and Dave Campo was hired. Campo, of course, has a long history with Davis. Also let go was defensive line coach Ray Hamilton, who was recently hired for that same position by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hired to the Browns staff was Andre Patterson, who uncoincidentally happens to have coached under Campo in Dallas.
Finally, linebackers coach Keith Butler was released and quickly snatched up by the Pttsburgh Steelers to mentor their linebackers. In is Clancy Pendergast, another disciple from the Dallas Cowboys under Campo.
The excuses should be minimal heading into the offseason and 2003 season as Davis is getting ‘his' guys on the coaching staff. Lets only hope that means an improved chance at winning.