Team leadership was lacking for the Browns in 2008, and that was reflected in the 4-12 record. Consequently, general manager Phil Savage was fired the day before the season ended with a 31-0 loss to the Steelers, and coach Romeo Crennel was fired the day after.
Team owner Randy Lerner wasted no time trying to repair the damage, but so far his attempt to restructure the football side of the Browns is not going smoothly. Lerner met with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher in New York on Saturday. Cowher told him he isn't interested.
"He made it very clear from the moment we sat down he doesn't anticipate coaching in 2009," the Browns owner said. "It wasn't a dance. He wasn't coy. He spoke very clearly. He was very well prepared to describe his position. He is very focused on his kids and his life in North Carolina.
"I would like to have had the chance to dig in deeper and see if it was a possibility."
Lerner might have better luck with his first choice to replace Savage, which he said is his top priority after being rebuffed by Cowher. He interviewed the Patriots' vice president of personnel, Scott Pioli. Pioli has worked for the Patriots the last nine years. He got his start in 1992 with the Browns under Bill Belichick. While in New England, Pioli has had a hand in winning three Super Bowls.
Lerner interviewed Pioli on New Year's Eve.
Pioli, 43, like Savage in 2005, does not have prior experience as a general manager, but Lerner is not concerned.
"I think he's very well trained," Lerner said. "I think he has a very attractive football demeanor. It's the right time of life for him. I think he's a fundamentally good guy."
Lerner also alluded to a mystery executive working in another NFL front office as well as three former general managers looking for work -- Floyd Reese, Tom Donahoe and Charley Casserly. He would prefer replacing Savage first so the new executive could lead the coaching search, but he will continue to hunt for a coach in the meantime.
Lerner said he is not interested in hiring a college coach and said the new coach doesn't necessarily need head-coaching experience in the NFL, although Lerner did meet on Tuesday with Eric Mangini, who was fired by the Jets on Monday. Mangini was the secondary coach and then the defensive coordinator of the Patriots with Pioli in the New England front office. The Jets, 8-3 with five games to play, finished 9-7.
The Lions are wasting no time looking for a replacement for their fired coach, Rod Marinelli. They have received permission to talk to Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
"I'm looking for a head coach who is very, very organized, who has a very clear system and has a very strong and understandable approach to discipline and organizational structure," Lerner said.
The door might not be completely closed on Cowher. Lerner smiled slightly when he was reminded how in 2001 Butch Davis said there was no way he would leave the University of Miami, and then lo and behold, Randy Lerner's father, the late Al Lerner, and former team president Carmen Policy were introducing Davis as coach of the Browns.
Still, when asked whether there is still a chance Cowher will coach the Browns next season, he answered resignedly, "I'd say not really."
The announcement on Crennel had been expected for weeks, but Lerner promised him a face-to-face meeting first. The announcement was made after the meeting.
"You have to win," Lerner said, summarizing why Crennel was fired.
Crennel was 24-40 in four seasons. He was 0-8 against the Steelers and 5-19 overall in the AFC North.
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