Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium between the Browns and Kansas City Chiefs doesn't count for much – if anything, really -- in the big picture.
The 2-11 Browns and 3-10 Chiefs are two struggling teams who were eliminated from playoff contention long ago. As such, they are in an all-out rebuilding mode, looking to 2010 and beyond.
But there is one stark difference between the two in that the Chiefs seem set for the foreseeable future with their two top football men, general manager Scott Pioli, who got his start in the NFL with the original Browns as a personnel man and scouting assistant from 1992-95, and head coach Todd Haley, the offensive coordinator of last year's Super Bowl runner-up, the Arizona Cardinals. Both are in their first year, and chairman of the board Clark Hunt, who took over control of the team when his father, Chiefs founding owner Lamar Hunt, passed away almost three years ago to the day, on Dec. 13, 2006, seems content to let them do their work for as long as it takes to get that proud franchiser back in contention again.
The Browns, on the other hand, are in a real state of flux at the top of their football operations. They have no general manager at all, as the man hired for that position last January, George Kokinis, who worked with Pioli in Cleveland a decade and a half ago, was unceremoniously fired halfway through the season.
Per the words of team owner Randy Lerner, the Browns are looking for "a football czar" to run that part of the organization, and it could well turn out to be former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who was wined and dined by the Browns in Cleveland over the past several days.
If Holmgren is hired, or when that position is filled by whomever, then it immediately brings into question the viability of first-year head coach Eric Mangini, who had hand-picked Kokinis. Holmgren or another big-name type would probably come to Cleveland only if they got carte blanche to make any move they so desired, and it's anyone's guess as to how they would feel about retaining Mangini. For that matter, it's impossible to determine how Lerner feels about his coach, for he has not publicly said in clear terms.
Whatever the case, all of this has at least added some real interest to an otherwise drab, dark season for the Browns.
But what if things were different for the Browns? That question comes to mind this week especially since they'll be opposing the team Pioli has begun to build.
After last season, when it was known Pioli was looking to escape the safety of working for his old Cleveland boss, Bill Belichick, with the New England Patriots, the Browns were one the teams that went after him hard to be their GM in place of the fired Phil Savage, with whom he and Belichick worked in Cleveland. The Browns didn't get Pioli, of course, and instead hired a head coach first in Mangini and then, upon his insistence, hired Kokinis.
That didn't work out, as the Browns, in terms of someone to run their football operations, have been a rudderless ship since Kokinis was fired. Actually, they might have been a rudderless ship to a certain extent all along since it doesn't appear as if Kokinis, for whatever reason, ever had much say in what went on with the team.
So while the Chiefs are almost through Year 1 of their new leadership set-up, the Browns are still trying to get theirs together.
If, however, the Browns had been able to hire Pioli, and then let him hired a coach of his choosing – Mangini or whomever – would it be them finishing Year 1 of their new era?
As such, would many of the questions left unanswered with the team now – such as the status of the head coach, the search for a quarterback to go forward with, and just how the organization will be put together once the czar arrives – be foregone conclusions?
Who knows? But at least it's interesting – and at the same time somewhat frustrating – for Browns fans to think about, for while looking to future and what could be is exciting, the fact the team has had to undergo so much change so many times in this expansion era tends to water down the hoopla.
Maybe they are just a win apart with their records, but wouldn't it be better if the Browns were in the position of the Chiefs, knowing definitely where they're at, knowing definitely where they're trying to go, knowing definitely how they're trying to get there, and knowing definitely who they're going there with, and be one year through that painstaking process already?