So, let’s see if we can follow the path. On December 31, 2012 -- 13 months ago -- the Cleveland Browns fired football coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert Jr.
Shurmur had been the coach for a little less than two full years -- he apparently was fired because nobody seemed entirely sure how he got hired in the first place. Nobody had really heard of him before he got hired, and nobody really understood him while he was coached. Maybe it was like Kramer from Seinfeld and he never actually WAS hired. I wonder if the exit interview went something like the Kramer one:
“There’s just no way we can keep you on,” the owner says.
“But I don’t even work here,” Kramer/Shurmur replies.
“That’s what makes this so difficult,” the owner says.
Heckert, meanwhile, had been GM quietly for almost three years. He had come to be general manager while Mike Holmgren was president, which is a bit like being hired to be Richard Sherman’s spokesman. So when Holmgren was shoved out the door, you almost get the sense the Browns forgot Heckert was still there. When they tried to give away his office, he was in it, so they fired him.
This was 13 months ago. The Browns had gone 5-11. They had some promising young talent. It did seem like a beginning.
They hired Rob Chudzinski last January to be coach. The thing about Chud was that he was an Ohio guy, a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan. That, of course, didn’t mean that he could coach. But this was truly his dream job, and he had banged around for a decade or so as an assistant coach (twice for the Browns) and he was someone to root for.
The Browns had already hired a CEO named Joe Banner, who then hired his decision-maker, Michael Lombardi. He was not someone Cleveland was eager to root for. He was a longtime football guy, already had a long history with Cleveland. He had been GM of the Browns just before the team moved from town. He also had been a television analyst who made a point of utterly blasting the Browns' 2012 draft that featured running back Trent Richardson.
It was no surprise when, just after the season began, the Browns traded Trent Richardson.
But, hey, this was the direction. When you are a fan of a team, you don’t get any say. You just follow along and hope for the best. The Browns’ season was quirky and lousy, not necessarily in that order. The Richardson trade had signaled that the Browns were throwing in the towel on the season. Then they improbably won three games in a row. Then they predictably lost their last seven, which included a loss to New England that Mozart could write operas about. There were a few bright spots, many more dark spots and the season mercifully ended.
OK, well, what did you expect? When you go into rebuilding mode, you then need to rebuild. That’s implicit in the phrase “rebuilding mode.” It was a lousy season, but with a first-year coach and a first-year GM, what you need is patience and calmness and equilibrium and ...
Bleep that. The Browns canned Chudzinski the first minute they could. Man was that a stupid thing to do. Look, I have no idea if Chudzinski can be a successful NFL coach. He had a rough first year. But that’s the point. It was his FIRST YEAR. Bill Belichick went 5-11 his first year in New England after four losing seasons out of five in Cleveland. Pete Carroll had losing records his first two years. Jimmy Johnson’s first Cowboys team went 1-15. I mean, you have to give the guy a chance.
Well, actually, no, you don’t HAVE to give him a chance. And they didn’t. That’s what bad organizations do.
But, credit where credit is due, while I and some others disagreed with the Chudzinski firing, we do have to give the Browns their due when it came to a thorough and intensive plan for bringing in a new coach which ... no, I’m sorry, I can’t even keep a straight face through that much sarcasm. The coaching search that followed was, best I can tell, the same plot as “Grown Ups 2.” So many people turned down the Browns that in Bizarro World, the Bleveland Crowns have more coaches than Luxembourg has people.
And, yes, I did strain my neck a little making that last crack.
The Browns finally hired Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who did coordinate the 20th ranked defense by points for the third year in a row. But, hey, at that point -- what difference did that make? He got hired. He was in. Mike Pettine? Fine. Just hire somebody, anybody, and stop being a laughingstock.
You know that feeling you have after you make a major move? You sit in your new place, exhausted, irritated, surrounded by boxes, and you think: “I am never, ever moving again.” That’s what it’s like rooting for the Browns. Only the boxes never get unpacked. And the instant you begin to feel just slightly at ease, you have to move again.
So now, it’s Mike Pettine, maybe he will be a good coach, maybe he will be a train-wreck, but either way just keep things the same for a little while and see what happens. A little stability. Just a little stability ...
Right. Tuesday, the Browns announced that Lombardi and Banner were leaving the team. Of course they are. Banner, in one of the greatest ever misuses of a word, called his departure, “bittersweet.” This would suggest that his departure was a little bit bitter and a little bit sweet. You tell me, what was sweet about taking the job, firing the old coach, hiring a new coach, trading a player many regarded as the team’s future star, losing a lot of games, firing the new coach, hiring a new-new coach and then getting shoved out the door? What was sweet about that? The food? The company car? What?
The new, new, new Browns GM is Ray Farmer, who I knew a little bit in Kansas City and who is, best I can tell, a fine guy and a fine football guy. But what difference does that make? At this point, he’s only even odds to make it through Valentine’s Day.
The Browns owner JImmy Haslam is the man behind this fiasco. He explained Tuesday that this latest bit of lunacy, like all the other bits of lunacy, was meant to “provide our fans with the winning organization they have long deserved.” And this is the point. Jimmy Haslam, like all dreadful owners, has no earthly idea what a winning organization looks like. He just knows what one doesn’t look like.