The Haslams broke the Cleveland Browns’ organization. The hirings, firings, draft busts, and free agent flops have piled up over two decades. This isn’t a normal situation. Jimmy Haslam has created a toxic environment where backstabbing and shadowy power moves are the norm. Any coach stepping into this labyrinth must have experience, confidence, and a plan. Forget competence as a play caller or scheme designer, those talents should carry no weight during the search because they don’t matter. The new head coach has to build a foundation for everything else to sit. The only guy available with a shot at success is Josh McDaniels.
For the record, I’m stunned that McDaniels has interest with other opportunities available, but still give him only a 15-20% chance at winning in Cleveland. The owner’s tentacles slither throughout the organization and suffocate a once proud franchise. A never-ending power struggle lurks inside the offices in Berea.
Haslam hired Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi as team president and general manager after he bought the team. Two experienced football minds, Haslam never defined their roles. The front office was a “top-heavy, confusing mess” according to NFL insiders, and Haslam wanted things streamlined. After Banner and Lombardi fired Rob Chudzinski after one year and hired Mike Pettine, they themselves were canned, and the owner handed Ray Farmer the general manager job.
Farmer drafted Johnny Manziel, a quarterback the head coach wanted no part of. The NFL also caught him texting play calls to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during games. Shanahan, under contract, approached the front office with a 32 point PowerPoint presentation asking for release from his contract to become offensive coordinator in Atlanta. They granted it to him. Pettine and Farmer got canned after two seasons. Shanahan is head coach in San Francisco, a Super Bowl favorite.
Sashi Brown became executive vice president and de facto general manager, Paul DePodesta, a baseball executive, took a position as chief strategy officer, and the organization hired Hue Jackson (a hire raved about across the league) while the franchise strategically tanked to horde draft picks. Onboard in the beginning, Jackson grew weary of the losing and complained about the front office and the analytics driven plan of action. Haslam abandons the tank midstream, canning Brown without letting him execute the multi-year tear down necessary to rebuild the talent level in the organization. DePodesta remains, however.
John Dorsey got the G.M. job, and Jackson remained before being fired mid-season in 2018 after continued head butting with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Dorsey hires Freddie Kitchens, Kitchens bombs, and despite the massive upgrade in talent made to the roster by Dorsey, using the picks and equity obtained by Sashi Brown, loses his job. Though still early, the whispers of a loss in a power struggle with dePodesta seem to have sealed Dorsey’s fate.
John Dorsey was the champion of a total remake of the Cleveland Browns organization four months ago. He drafted Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb in one draft. Picked Greedy Williams in the second round of the 2019 draft and Mack Wilson in the fifth round. These players will all be in their 2nd or 3rd year in the NFL next year and central to a franchise turnaround.
All drafted by John Dorsey, one of the preeminent talent evaluators in the league. Fired two years after being hired.
A complete and total malfunction of an organization. Coaches and front office executives hired on different timelines with mismatched objectives. None given the proper time to overcome the stench of this franchise. All the names above had success of varying degrees at different locations. While questioned, few of the hires were considered outright disasters when made. Pettine may have been the biggest reach, but if not for his failed tenure in Cleveland, his work with Green Bay’s defense would put him on head coaching lists around the league.
Each change brings a different power structure and alignment. New figures, all uncertain of their roles, all grasping for more power. No one working together. Everyone for themselves, blaming others for the franchise’s problems, searching for selfish solutions to team specific problems.
Greg Roman would be a fine hire for any other organization. He’s proved himself at different stops in the NFL and could very well be an outstanding head coach. Robert Saleh, the 49ers defensive coordinator, is young and smart. Kevin Stefanski, Eric Bieniemy, Mike LaFleur, and Brian Daboll are all fabulous coaches, all deserving of a shot at the head of the table.
But not here.
This job is too much for a first timer. The stress and pull of an NFL head coach is overwhelming for everyone. Time constraints during the week, along with the speed with which they must make decisions on game day, take a toll on all first-year coaches. The politics within the building in Berea, the frustrations from the fans and the media of two decades’ worth of losing, and the expectations to win with this roster will sabotage them. Jimmy Haslam gives them zero chance to succeed.
The franchise needs a strong leader on the sideline, one who has been a head coach before. Mike McCarthy? He’s won a Super Bowl and coached two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. In parts of 13 seasons in Green Bay, he made the playoffs nine times. But for all his success, McCarthy butted heads with Rodgers; everything from conservative play calling to the blandness of the receiver route tree. Rumors claim that Rodgers would insist receivers run his routes instead of McCarthy’s. The coach abhorred analytics. Does this sound like the mentality needed to reinvent the organization?
Josh McDaniels is the only hope. He’s strong-willed, perhaps too much so. His desire for total control led to his firing in Denver. He seemed out to prove something. Anything. He was right, and you all were wrong. His attitude and desire for control as a 33-year-old first time head coach without a resumé to back up his brashness lead to the quick hook.
McDaniels found his way back to New England after the fiasco in Denver, holding the title of offensive coordinator for the last eight years. The success of New England’s offense under his watch is indisputable. He coordinated the best offense in league history in 2007. They scored the second most points ever (589), have the highest point differential (+315), are tied for the most touchdown passes by a quarterback in a season (Tom Brady, 50), and have the record for most touchdown catches by a player in a season (Randy Moss, 23). He’s been a member of 6 Super Bowl winning teams.
Is this success because of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? Absolutely. But McDaniels has been there. In the meetings. On the practice field. On the sideline. Making legacy changing play calls on 3rd down in Super Bowls. He’s studied the greatest coach in history his entire career. He’s called plays for the greatest quarterback in history. McDaniels isn’t the reason for the Patriots’ success. But no organization has won for a longer period on time, and he’s been a cog for almost the entire run.
Proximity to greatness is no guarantee of future glory. The organization has no choice, however. The leadership it will take to reinvent Cleveland football is not available. They have pursued every other avenue. All dead ends. McDaniels is imperfect, yet the only viable option.
Success in Cleveland will be virtually impossible. No one can overcome the destruction the Haslam’s have unleashed on a historic franchise with one of the greatest fan bases on earth. The city, the team, the fans; all deserve better. Jimmy and Dee Haslam are incompetent, however. Buffoons, clueless without a touch of self awareness. They shouldn’t be in charge of setting pins in a bowling alley. Yet here we are.
Josh McDaniels is not a perfect choice, and he will most likely fail. Ownership dooms the franchise for the foreseeable future, and it’s a sad reality. But if anyone on the market can rescue this city and franchise, it’s him. God help Browns fans.