Echoes of Collier

The Browns new leader echoes one of their great coaches. Can the Browns stick to the ideal? Steve King provides the historical perspective...

The late, great Blanton Collier, the head coach of the Browns' last NFL championship team in 1964 and someone who maybe should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, understood football – and people – like few have. He said a lot of thought-provoking things during his four different stints with the Browns – an assistant on the first eight teams from 1946-53, then in 1962 and finally in 1975 and '76 before retiring, and as head coach for eight seasons from 1963-70 – but one comment really stands out. And speaking of standing, it has stood the test of time. It is as applicable today as it was decades ago. "As long as no one cares who gets the credit, it's amazing what you can accomplish," Collier once remarked.

Phil Savage, a great admirer of Collier, invoked the quote a number of times during his four seasons as Browns general manager from 2005-08. And now new Browns team president Mike Holmgren has basically done the same. "We're going to discuss things as a group," Holmgren said the other day. "We'll have give and take on it. We'll argue about it. But at the end of the day, we'll come out of there with a decision.

"Now, it won't be a Mike Holmgren decision, or an Eric Mangini (head coach) decision, or a Tom Heckert (general manager) decision. Rather, it will be a Cleveland Browns decision." Of all the interesting and important things Holmgren said during a conference call with the Cleveland media earlier this month, and then again a short time later during a press conference that also involved Mangini, Heckert and new executive vice president of business operations Bryan Wiedmeier – and he said a lot of interesting and important things – this was at the top of the list.

If Holmgren means what he said – and there's no reason to believe otherwise – then this regime will give itself the best chance to succeed. We brought up a former Browns head coach in Collier, and now we'll bring up another one in Bill Belichick. People in Cleveland bemoan the fact Belichick was not successful here during his five-year stint from 1991-95, yet has gone on to have incredible success over his nine-season tenure with the New England Patriots. Why did it not happen in Cleveland as it has in New England? Was it because the original Browns, and their successor, the Baltimore Ravens, gave up on him too quickly?

No, not at all. The answer lies in the fact that, to his credit, Belichick re-made himself when he got to the Patriots. Whereas in Cleveland it was his way or the highway on most matters, in New England Belichick made a former personnel man with the Browns, Scott Pioli, his right-hand man. Belichick respected Pioli, and as such, the coach allowed Pioli to have a major say in what went on. They would go behind closed doors, scream their lungs out at each other and then, after they had arrived at a decision they both could live with, they would emerge and say, "This is how the Patriots are going forward."

And most times, as evidenced by the team's accomplishments, the decisions that Belichick and Pioli made were the right ones. The same thing went on in Pittsburgh for years when Bill Cowher was head coach. It's the way it's done in every successful organization.

Holmgren said it will be his job to break ties when Mangini and Heckert, or others in the organization, can't come to a decision, which is just the way it should be. You can't have complete communal leadership. You have to have a chief who has ultimate power. But the catch is that the chief has to know when to exercise that power, and when to back off and let others settle it, or let the issue settle itself. Ever hear the term, "Water will find its own level"?

On too many occasions in the past, that hasn't happened with the Browns – and, in fact, wasn't allowed to happen. As a result, the team made a lot of critical errors.

It struggled to happen during the aforementioned tenure of Savage, because he and head coach Romeo Crennel were polar opposites of one another and seldom were on the same page in their heart of hearts. In most cases, Crennel was forced to give in – sometimes for the best for the Browns, and sometimes not. No matter if those decisions were good or bad, it's simply not the way they should have been made.

On the night before the 2001 NFL Draft, the Browns scouts went to bed believing that a decision had been reached to take Georgia defensive lineman -1 at No. 3 overall. But when everybody assembled the next day, first-year head coach Butch Davis, who had complete authority in the organization at the time, announced that a change had been made and now the Browns were instead going to take another defensive lineman from the Southeastern Conference, Florida's -1. The scouts were stunned.

That story came back to mind Dec. 27 when the Oakland Raiders, with Warren and Seymour as teammates for the first time, visited Cleveland Browns Stadium in the next-to-last game of the season. In the new Browns' first draft in that 1999 expansion season, it's still not clear, all these years later, if then head coach -1, who liked the vertical passing game and ran that scheme during his two-season tenure here, was on board with the decision to use the No. 1 overall selection on quarterback Tim Couch, who had excelled at Kentucky in a short passing game.

What if the Browns had taken -1 instead?

Just ask Heckert, who came to Philadelphia several years later just as McNabb was starting to really come into his own and lead the Eagles to power. Now, if a similar situation happens again – and it could somewhere in the draft since the Browns still aren't sure who their quarterback is – Holmgren, Heckert and Mangini will lock horns in the meeting rooms and then lock arms on the podium in the press conference room at team headquarters. Just the way Blanton Collier, a brilliant and perceptive man for the ages, would have liked it.


The OBR Top Stories