Another View: Now Is the Time

Browns fan Jeff Scafaro presents an opposing view to OBR Publisher Barry McBride's recent editorial.

On Friday, OBR publisher Barry McBride offered his viewpoint that the proposed boycott of the Browns next Monday didn't have any clear objective or any way to measure whether or not it was successful. McBride further argued that boycott, once an outlet for fan angst over yet-another horrible Browns season, had become hopelessly muddled, with boycott instigator Mike Randall singing the praises of Browns owner Randy Lerner and suggesting that head coach Eric Mangini simply needed more time.

McBride stressed the clarity of past fan causes and stated that next Monday night would, instead, be a good time to show support of the Browns as they face the same team whose very existence created a fourteen years of pain and struggle for Cleveland pro football.

Some of the response to the article will be posted shortly, and, contrary to claims being made elsewhere about widespread fan support of a walkout, was about 95% in favor of abandoning the boycott.

However, the OBR started as a fan site back in 1996, and we believe strongly that all fans need to be heard. In that spirit, we present a dissenting view by long-time OBR forum member Penndawg, who feels that the boycott is still justified.


Back on November 6, friend, web dork, and lover of all things beer related, Barry McBride wrote to the masses with his impassioned plea for calm fervent and continued support for the team once known as the Cleveland Browns. Several tugs at the heartstrings, and a few attempted jolts of reality later, McBride succeeds at making his point clear – that now is not the time for protests, but rather, a time for support. Barry is a good man, a dedicated follower of this team, and a consistent voice of reason and calm in the often-tumultuous waters that surround this franchise, and the fans who call it their own.

He is also, in this fan's view, wrong.

On February 28, 2007 I wrote a column for this web site in which I lamented that Browns owner and all-around nice guy himself, Randy Lerner was at something of a crossroads when it came to his team. It was a team thrust upon him under the most unfortunate of circumstances, but irrespective of how he acquired it, it was in fact his and as such, the difficulties that came with it were his to address. That column, written on the heels of a 2006 season that was, by all accounts, an exercise in failure. Romeo Crennel was head coach of the Cleveland Browns and had amassed a rather unremarkable 10-22 record over his two previous seasons, with little sign of improvement on the horizon.

His immediate supervisor, Phil Savage, served the club as General Manager. Savage had all the right things to say to fans back in those days, but seemed ill equipped to reconstruct a team without relying upon the deep pockets of its owner. His two drafts prior to my column and the two after, yielded mixed results at best, and in many cases were regarded as disappointments in and of themselves. Without question, some good came out of those drafts. Joe Thomas is regarded as a perennial all-pro at Left tackle, and few can argue that Joshua Cribbs is anything but fun to watch. Beyond that, however, a team was built with copious amounts of cash, but little in the way of a plan. Star players were brought in, Butch Davis leftovers were jettisoned, and aside from a somewhat deceptive 10-6 record in 2007, the losing continued.

Losing, under the Savage and Crennel regime, eventually gave way to an unraveling of the leadership of the club. A locker room wherein discipline and accountability seemed virtually non-existent was matched only by a General Manager who seemed to hold little grasp on the concepts of player relations and team-building, and eventually he too, fell victim to pressures, and the on-field losses which gave rise to them.

In my column that February, I urged Mr. Lerner to take hold of his team, recognize that which was becoming increasingly apparent, and become something he seemed uncomfortable with – a leader. Not exactly having the attention of the owner of an NFL franchise, I'm not surprised that Mr. Lerner chose instead to reaffirm his support for Romeo and Phil, providing each with an extension of their contracts after the 2007 season. Reality might have dictated that Randy wait for the team to show some consistency. The team's 10-6 record came as a pleasant surprise to many, myself included, but it also masked some glaring problems, including a quarterback who seemed to regress, a defense that was ranked near last in the NFL, and a coach who was unable to make game day adjustments or personnel changes that might otherwise put the team over the top, chief among them.

Randy, however, had his own agenda. He was satisfied with a 10-6 record, regardless of whatever more subtle problems lurked underneath that glossy façade. Winning was all that mattered, and even if the long term prognosis was far less impressive than the short term near-miss of the playoffs, a 10-6 team that had experienced only one winning record in its previous seven attempts was not a team he was going to overhaul.

Not until 2009 at least, when the wheels came off.

So much for the timely recognition of organizational malfunctioning.

Two years too late and a few million dollars later, Lerner, though, did act and moved to replace and refurbish his team. In so doing, he began the unenviable task of searching for a coach and general manager. That the man who gave contract extensions to Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel, and Phil Savage, exercised less than sound judgment in his procurement of a new administration, should come as a surprise to no one.

Coaching changes and GM hires normally bring about an air of optimism. It is an ‘out with the old' and ‘in with the new' approach that all concerned a sense of hope. Such changes mark the beginning of a new phase of team building, and echo the oft-stated sentiments expressions by the owner that things like tradition, winning, and accountability, matter. Unless of course you hire a man who was generally disliked by players and fans, one who lost seven of his last eight games as head coach, and afford him near-complete control of the football operations of your club, including the authority to hand select his own boss.

The only thing that marks is the bruise one gets from slamming his or her head into the wall as they wonder what would possess a man to hire another, given the latter's dismal track record. And let's face it, there's no denying that it was dismal.

It didn't take long before the object of Lerner's affection, Eric Mangini, started making marks of his own. Playing everything from interior decorator at the Berea training complex, to the overseer of all things falling under and outside of his authority, Mangini set out, according to some, on a course of iron-fisted rule and detachment. Certainly, the coach's early days were filled with film study, playbook design, and the hiring of staff, but as much as Romeo Crennel was soft on player discipline and interaction, Mangini was seemingly determined that he would take a polar opposite approach, regardless so the consequences associated with doing so.

Lerner, already having made his bed, was now forced to lay in it. Who knew that he was somehow relish in the thought of doing so?

As the draft unfolded, more mystery surrounded the team's intentions. A trade down, then another, and another. Then finally, the selection of a Center in the first round, in the first round of a draft deep with Centers. If Lerner couldn't hear the collective "what the…?" he would certainly feel them later, albeit perhaps for different reasons. Jets players came, and a talented Tight End left. Mini-camps came, followed by training camp, and slowly, along with each, came the picture of a man who wanted total control, even if his resume had not yet supported such authority.

As training camp came and went, already, grumbling was heard, though no fever pitch had yet been reached. A Quarterback derby was held, and much like the one held two years before, it too was mismanaged. The team limped through preseason, showing little. The coach, convinced that a team that was a mere 4-12 just eight months prior could gain the upper hand by hiding from the league its starting Quarterback, went into the season with a match up against the Minnesota Vikings. Like nine of the last ten opening days that preceded it, this day, too, ended with disappointment. More disturbingly, however, evidence was quickly becoming apparent that the team might not be much better than the 2009 product. Still, benefit of the doubt was free flowing, that is, until losses accumulated, and became increasingly embarrassing.

Even the team's lone 2009 victory (to date) was less a testament to the current retooling efforts than it was a poor display of what some might loosely call ‘professional football. In a battle of Lake Erie turned a battle of the inept, The Buffalo Bills proved themselves fitting opponents for a Browns team caught in a downward spiral.

Randy Lerner has now seen his latest project fall to 1-7 on the season. There is little, if any, hope for a sudden rebound to make a disastrous season look even remotely respectable. From unnamed sources in the locker room, we hear of a coach who lost his team long ago. The dictatorial style of management had come to bite, and it wasn't about to let go. Combine excessive control with professional ineffectiveness, and much like early 2009, the wheels, if not completely off, are alarmingly loose.

Chicago, November 1, the Browns go down in humiliating fashion again. Team owner stands in the tunnel, glaring at players, vowing change, resolving that leadership must and will be acquired. Then, said owner reaffirms his support for his embattled coach, fires the man his coach hired, and lets us all know that any hope of more change in 2010 is a set up in personal disappointment. Spare yourself the worry, he essentially said, Eric Mangini would return next year, even if the wheels are then completely off and the bus is in the ditch.

Reason for hope just gave way to reason for disgust.

As a fan revolts, another calls his efforts misguided. Allegiance is called for, protest is not, and this writer can no longer find it in his heart to agree. For upwards of 40 years, I've followed this team. My history with the Browns began in the late 1960's with childhood hero, Leroy Kelly. As Kelly retired, people whose names I will both recall and forget have come and gone, some leaving their mark, others leaving a trail of bitterness. Through it all, perseverance has remained. Friends and family alike questioned my sanity; but I have never begun to do so, until now. Gone now are the days of eternal optimism. I now expect losing and have found myself settling for the occasional competitive loss, and even with that low bar, have found myself let down.

As the owner sits at another crossroads, he's determined that wholesale change at the core of his team is not needed; much like he didn't feel it was warranted in 2007. He's implored us to be patient, told us that he's sold on his coach, and reminded us that his coach came in with a comprehensive plan. I'll remind Mr. Lerner that history is littered with failed plans. Just ask George Custer.

Fans like Mike Randall have had enough. Mike doesn't speak on my behalf, but I no less begrudge Mike (whom I know personally) for taking steps to channel his frustration. He's been criticized rather vehemently for doing so, and this column is neither an endorsement nor criticism of his plan of revolt, except to say that the time has perhaps come to say that his calls might not extend far enough.

Randy Lerner once stated that if he couldn't turn this franchise around, he'd just assume sell it to someone who could. At this point, I have a feeling he'd have no trouble finding help to plant the for sale sign in the front yard. Stock market theories hold that one should sell high and buy low. In the present case, Mr. Lerner would do well for all concerned if he were to abandon that advice.

If Randy Lerner wishes to preserve the legacy of the team he himself grew up with, that effort could begin with moving out of the football business. Like any successful enterprise, accountability, performance start and finish with the man or woman at the head of the table. Lerner has shown that he cares, of that I have no doubt, but care and competence are, in this case, mutually exclusive to one another, and this fan fears that while the heart may be in the right place, the ability to effectuate positive and sustained organizational change is not.

Fans like me often think of ourselves as a deserving bunch, entitled to a reward of sorts after years, whether four or forty, of fellowship and commitment to a franchise we are either born into following, or follow by choice. Fact is, we aren't deserving of much of anything, except perhaps some mutual loyalty on the part of the owner of the team we seem to want to call our own. In the case of Randy Lerner, loyalty means stepping aside, and a display of unselfish humility. Either you're capable of bringing about change for the better, or you're not, and many have become ever so doubtful that Mr. Lerner possesses the temperament or skill set to do so. Change, mind you, for the sake of change is little more than impulsiveness, but this call to move on is based on something deeper, something along the lines of two winning seasons in what will soon be the past eleven years. The Cleveland Browns have become the new Cincinnati Bengals, a thought that provides little comfort for those seeking something, anything, to hold onto.

Few if any dislike Randy Lerner the person, and there will be no deeply personal attacks here. The experiment that is his ownership of the Cleveland Browns, however, has produced a string of disappointing results, misguided decisions, and reliance on individuals with no vested interest in the success of this team. If history, legacies, and civic pride mean anything to Mr. Lerner, as I suspect they do, he'll see that the writing is now squarely on the wall before him. More of the same means more empty seats, less engagement from fans, and continued insults and jokes directed at a franchise and city that can ill afford either.

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