Much about being a fan has to do with hope and optimism, sentiments hard to come by these days amongst followers of the Cleveland Browns. One has almost to remind oneself this was a season to which many looked forward with significant anticipation, owing to the installment of a new regime.
Wasn't it just about this time last year that fans were forced to endure the lame-duck situation that was Romeo Crennel's demise, a painful investment of patience ending with six weeks during which not a single offensive touchdown was managed? Here we again find ourselves, the GM already canned and the head coach hanging by a thread only because changing mid-year would be pointless since no one of substance would step into the breach.
Those of us who've displayed relentless loyalty for the seal brown and orange sense such favorable emotions are now misplaced and inappropriate, particularly inasmuch as pass completions, first downs and touchdowns are things that happen to us far more than for us. Victories seem as foreign as driving on the left side of the road. Excitement is reserved for special-teams' returns.
Nearly numb are we these days to embarrassments such as the dismissal of GM George Kokinis constitutes. This was a man hired but ten months ago.
By all accounts, he is an honorable man, a real up-and-comer in the industry, a hard worker who'd paid his dues while climbing the ladder with the much-respected Baltimore Ravens under Ozzie Newsome. Heralded as especially gifted in the area of pro personnel, he nonetheless was reportedly outside the loop when the Braylon Edwards trade was negotiated.
If ever there was a team that needed inspired contributions from someone astute in the area of pro personnel, it has to be this year's edition of the Browns. No one disputes this is among the most talent-bereft outfits in the sport. Yet only obscure former Pats Ray Ventrone and Billy Yates, along with the Jets gotten for Edwards—Jason Trusnik and Chansi Stuckey—have come aboard since training camp, save for the recently released duo of Billy Cundiff and Anthony Madison. A discriminating eye would recognize most as special-team pieces. This fuels the contention the GM was neutered by the head coach who hand-picked him.
How do such reports reflect at all favorably upon the Cleveland organization, the supposed plan, the confidence one is to have in one's front office? How are fans to believe this is an franchise about to soon right itself?
The owner is again supposedly out to find for himself, his club and his fans a strong, experienced, proven leader for the organization—a course he apparently disdained last off-season, when virtually every voice in the region reminded him of the proper sequence of hires: "Get the Director of Football Operations first. Let him hire the GM. Then have the two conduct the coaching search, thereby assuring direction will be clear, philosophies in-sync and chain-of-command explicit."
Randy Lerner refused to honor such a time-honored NFL course, however, nabbing first the coach and forsaking the operations director altogether. Hence, he deserves what he's got; the fans do not. How are they to believe in the man again, to support his pathetic product, to invest with both their trust and their dollars?
Imagine what the right hires might've done with what presented itself to those Lerner empowered—the fifth-overall selection in April's draft or the four choices eventually had among the top 52. Status among the first with claims on players waived. The capacity to raid other clubs' practice squads. The potential to deal (or optimize) such a commodity as Edwards.
Instead, a litany of personnel weaknesses seem to be going ignored, as if the objective were to prune payroll and assure oneself the chance to spend a huge signing bonus on another unproven draftee taken among the top three next spring.
Other than the ten former Jets who played for the coach most of the prior three seasons when they were together in New York, the Browns added very little to what was clearly a deficient roster coming off a 4-12 campaign.
Eric Mangini inherited a QB situation that begged for clarity. Both QBs regressed. Clarity eludes, with trade values ruined. The team still can't score. They can't even move the chains. A slow defense is possibly even slower, still can't cover and doesn't tackle all that much better, either, whether confronting an oppositional RB or a rambling pass-catcher. If this was not the year to experiment with daring auditions and aggressive personnel adjustments, such a season will never arrive.
If the foremost criteria for a football coach is whether he brings out the best in his players, this one can scarcely be considered successful.
So, once again, even before Thanksgiving is celebrated, the Cleveland Browns are NFL irrelevant, a complete after-thought, except when providing yet another reason to heap ridicule upon a community already struggling to maintain its dignity and self-esteem.
It was liberally expressed that Lerner needed to get right his hires for 2009, so jeopardized was the legitimacy of his organization, so extended was fan patience, so shaky was the morale in his locker room, so unlikely was it anyone of genuine accomplishment would freely elect to sign-on from outside.
Lerner did not, most evidently.
Hence, it is more difficult than ever to suspect the club, under his administration, will recover what had once been true of Cleveland's Browns. The NFL's Official Encyclopedic History of Professional Football, on page 56, carries these words: "In the hotly-competitive, up-and-down world of professional football, the Cleveland Browns are a model of consistency. Put simply, they win. The Browns have always won, and it seems they intend to continue. During the first five years in the NFL, the Browns were in the championship game each year, winning three of them and compiling an overall record of 58-13-1. Throughout these and subsequent years, the Browns have been conspicuously successful in two departments—coaching and running. The Cleveland Browns represent one of the NFL's most successful stories."
But those assessments were published in 1973, at a point in history when the Browns led all of football with a .698 winning percentage (206-87-7), more than sixty-percentage points superior to any other organization's. That was, as they say, then. This is now.
Sad it is to have to resort to such dated realities for solace.
Perhaps Lerner should look to page 236 in Terry Pluto's 1997 book, Browns Town 1964. There former Browns' CB Bernie Parrish is quoted: "A good GM is worth a helluva lot more than an owner."
In the interest of hope and optimism, it is reckoned that all we fans of the Browns can do is wish that Mr. Lerner gets it right this time. We've about had it.