The message from Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was crystal clear on Monday. He was looking for a coach who would be more collaborative, and internal discord would not be tolerated.
Head coach Hue Jackson was fired, and so was offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
After a 33-18 loss to Pittsburgh, Jackson’s fate was all-but-sealed. The past seven dismissed Browns’ coaches were canned after the second Pittsburgh loss. Most of them fared better than the 3-36-1 record held by Hue. Haley’s role in stoking the flames of dysfunction sent him packing.
I liked Hue Jackson. Of course, I think any coach with a 3-36-1 record deserves to be canned. However, I had genuinely been impressed by his style and demeanor, calm and cool.
I largely disliked Haley. Thought he was kind of a jerk. That struck me the first time we saw him on “Hard Knocks,” making fun of Carl Nassib’s first name. I’d remind the former Cleveland offensive coordinator that his father’s name is Dick.
But let’s take a step back. I’m not your average Cleveland Browns fan. I’m brand new to the Dawg Pound, a baby Browns fan, if you will.
I decided to become a Browns fan in central Oklahoma for many reasons.
1. They drafted the greatest Oklahoma Sooner of all time, Baker Mayfield, and they didn’t just draft him. They had the balls to take him No. 1 despite his lack of size, amid draft experts saying they should definitely take Darnold or Rosen ahead of him. Instead, John Dorsey saw in Baker the same thing we did in Norman, Okla., and that’s greatness.
2. For me, it didn’t hurt that Cleveland was featured on “Hard Knocks.” Although “Hard Knocks” killed off more characters than Star Trek did red-shirted spacemen, we grew to like the organization as a whole. I don’t understand why more pro sports teams don’t do “Hard Knocks”-like shows all season long. It’s fantastic marketing.
3. I said “we” in point No. 2. My fiance Kristi and I started rooting for Cleveland at the same time, and so it makes it kind of our thing. She’s a Joe Montana 49er by raising, and I’m a Dallas Cowboys man per the will of the Rev. William Roy Welton, who had them on any Sunday we visited him in McAlester, Okla.
After Jerry Jones took over the Cowboys, I still rooted for them and loved Jimmy Johnson and my fellow-Henryetta Hen Troy Aikman. However, I moved away from Dallas (to Oklahoma City) in 2005, and we just grew apart, the Cowboys and I.
A lot of people bash those who have suddenly liked the Browns because of Baker, as if we’re obligated to root for anybody in particular. Jerry Seinfeld was right: we largely root for laundry. If one of my brothers or one of their kids took a scholarship to play football for the University of Texas, you know what I’d be saying? Hook ‘Em, Horns!
My fandom of the Dallas Cowboys absolutely intensified when Troy Aikman was drafted. There was nobody from Henryetta, Okla., who rooted for anybody else. The reality was that for the last half of my Dallas Cowboys fandom, I rooted for them mostly because of Troy. After Troy, I was definitely a Tony Romo guy.
And on and on.
What seems more sticky about this foray into fandom is that I find myself rooting for the entire Cleveland Browns organization, learning about their history and reliving Cleveland Browns moments not as the kid who watched the 1980 loss to Oakland or the 1987 fumble in Denver but as a fan growing to embrace the franchise’s history. The 14-12 loss to Oakland was one of the first non-Cowboys NFL games I remember watching as a kiddo. And in 1986, I watched all of Cleveland’s 23-20 win over the New York Jets, a double OT playoff game.
4. If you’re going to bandwagon a team, do it when they’re coming off an 0-16 season. What I can’t stand is those who have bandwagoned the Patriots, Red Sox or Cubs the past decade or so. The climb is more satisfying than the ultimate victory, if there is to be one. It’s apparent to me in watching John Dorsey that he’s a man who’s intent on building the Browns in the right manner. Even the press conference with Jimmy Haslam was indicative of an intent to do things the right way — collaboratively. I feel clean climbing onto this bandwagon; there’s only one way to go – up.
5. My family has some roots in Ohio. Dad was a graduate of Fenn College, 1960. That school became Cleveland State University in 1964. Bill Welton didn’t give a shit about sports though, so there’s no gridiron sentimentality. I liken this to the ‘birthright citizenship’ of fandom.
Truth is, I figured Hue might not survive the season, and it was easy to understand both from a football perspective but also a management perspective why both Jackson and Haley had to go. What’s been encouraging is what Dorsey and Haslam have said post-dismissal. What was even more encouraging is how Gregg Williams, who is no choir boy, has talked since being named interim head coach. If you’ll recall, Williams was at one time suspended from the NFL for overseeing a bounty scheme that would pay players for injuring opponents, something he learned in his days with Buddy Ryan in Houston. Williams is very much a Darth Vader sort of coach, and it’s not a surprise that he and Bill Belichick are good friends.
Williams is fiery enough to be the kick in the butt the Browns need to finish out the season strong. However, my hope is that Cleveland looks outside the organization for its next coach. I hope they look for a visionary both in terms of strategy and management style, and I hope they look younger. Our Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley has been mentioned as a candidate for the job. For some silly reason, so has Sean McVay from the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams. (Why would either leave for Cleveland?) Former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, who by the way is from Norman, Okla., has also been tied to the gig.
Zac Taylor really, really intrigues me. Currently, he’s the quarterbacks coach for the Rams. Beyond leading the team and overseeing little things like, you know, wins and losses, the next coach of the Cleveland Browns has to first and foremost oversee Baker’s development. Everything else might just fall into place if the organization grows its Mayfield. Protects him. Builds that offense around him.
But I’m personally hoping that Dorsey and Haslam were true to their word, in spirit, that a collaborative environment is what they’re most interested in. I’m a believer that it’s important for a head coach to surround himself with people loyal to him. It sounds very Trumpian, but nobody is suggesting that the coach should hire dummies. Hear me out.
Haslam and Dorsey mostly need a change agent who will work collaboratively with them.
That coach will present the vision to his staff, who will sell it to the team. Whoever is hired has to be able to count on that staff to sell, sell, sell that vision even if they don’t love it. I suspect the discord within the Browns organization was largely Haley undercutting Jackson, which is an organizational killer.
The thought is that if the head coach is collaborative in spirit, he’ll not only work well with his superiors, he won’t overwhelm or strangle the people he supervises. If you recall Josh McDaniels’ tenure in Denver, I believe it was fraught with self-induced friction. On the contrary, I read an article a couple of weeks ago detailing the success Alex Cora has had with the Boston Red Sox. It all centered around the fact that Cora apparently gets along with everybody, and I mean everybody.
He’s either hyper-even-keeled, the coolest cat in the room or both.
If everybody likes you, they’re liable to listen to you. At that point, you’d better have good information and strategy.
Anyway, that’s a lot of rambling to say that the Browns have their work cut out for them in terms of finding a new coach. I certainly hope that the Browns do well the rest of this season, but I’d prefer – long-term – that Gregg Williams not be the club’s head coach. Given the history in New Orleans, I find him to be damaged goods.
I’m just enjoying being a new fan to a largely dysfunctional organization that is desperately trying to get its act together.
They’re going to do it, you know. I’m that big a believer in Baker Mayfield.
And it’s going to be really cool to see it all come together.