Ryan Welton

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Browns on the rise, but Haslam ownership provides doubt

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Jimmy Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns.

As a new Cleveland Browns fan, I’ve taken to consuming all-news Browns: I listen to WKNR when I can, online of course, and I subscribe to the Cleveland Browns channel on YouTube.

The firing of Hue Jackson seemed appropriate as did the dismissal of Todd Haley. For me, the firing of Haley, who appeared to be undermining his boss at every turn, was especially warranted. All of us Oklahoma Browns Baker Mayfield fanatics watched “Hard Knocks” and had come to appreciate GM John Dorsey, a proven winner.

However, I think many of us have yet to get to know Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, a man who made his billions with truck-stop chain Pilot Flying J and whose brother is the governor of Tennessee. By all accounts, as a new Browns fan, Haslam was progressive: he hired Dorsey and drafted the great Baker Reagan Mayfield.

But Jimmy Haslam also was behind the drafting of Johnny Manziel.

And he was also responsible for all sorts of chaos within the organization, as was documented this week by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. The author documented everything, from Haslam’s tendency to pit coaches against each other to his family’s own admission that they really don’t know anything about the NFL.

On one hand, I appreciate Haslam’s willingness to be vulnerable in that way. On the other hand, even with the drafting of Mayfield, the firing of the inept Hue Jackson and the hiring of the hopefully ept Freddie Kitchens, there isn’t much evidence that Haslam has for sure learned the error of his ways.

He must let John Dorsey run the football part of the business with zero meddling.

And he must be patient.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the digital marketing world is that you have to let campaigns play out before evaluating. In sports, it’s awfully easy to become impatient and execute a regime change before the plan gets a chance to bear fruit.

You’d think this is a lesson Jimmy Haslam can get behind. However, it hasn’t worked for Jerry Jones in the near three decades he’s owned the Dallas Cowboys, and they truly don’t look to be any closer to the promised land than they were 20 years ago.

So, as a new Browns fan, my confidence soars because John Dorsey appears to be in charge,

But, man, is that tempered by the fact that Jimmy Haslam’s history shows that Dorsey won’t be left alone for very long.

Cleveland Browns Blog: ‘We Hardly Knew Hue’ + Next Coach From Norman, Okla.?

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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.

Cleveland Browns: These 4 characteristics make Baker Mayfield a winner

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Cleveland 21, New York Jets 17.

That was pretty much the most entertaining Thursday Night Football game in the history of #TNF. Or that I know of. I don’t know; I don’t typically watch Thursday Night Football, but damn if I’m not a fan of the NFL all of a sudden.

Thanks to Baker Mayfield.

Down 14-0 and having lost their quarterback to a possible concussion, Mayfield came into the game and immediately injected energy into FirstEnergy Stadium. He also led them to a FG to cut into the Jets lead before the half, 14-3.

And then we got the word that Tyrod Taylor was out for the game. Baker would start the second half.

Truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive about that prospect as an Oklahoma Sooners fan suddenly devoted to all-things Cleveland Browns. Bob Wylie’s offensive line had played like trash in the first half, forgive the frankness.

Baker might get killed out there.

But he didn’t. Mayfield’s passes were quickly released, crisp, and he didn’t even really have to stretch the field. Soon-to-be new daddy Carlos Hyde took advantage of the Browns’ success through the air, racking up 98 yards on 23 carries and two scores.

Mayfield caught his first score before he threw for his first, a 2-point conversion reminiscent of Oklahoma’s play against Georgia in last year’s Rose Bowl.

The Philly Special? Naw. This is the Oklahoma Special.

But then Baker Mayfield led the Cleveland Browns on a 15-play, 75-yard game-winning drive that ate up 6:52 off the fourth-quarter clock. It’s a drive the likes of which we saw in Norman, Oklahoma, time after time after time.

Baker was clutch, effective and efficient, finishing the night with a quarterback rating over 100. And to his credit, Mayfield is not an all-heart sort of leader. His accuracy is uncanny. His release is quick. And his teammates would knock over a brick wall for him.

However, that’s not the thing that makes him a winner, and his recipe for success is centuries old.

Credit other people. You’ll regularly hear Baker take the focus off himself and praise his teammates and coaches.

Be situationally aware. It’s clear Mayfield was ready to play tonight despite the insanity of the Cleveland coaching staff giving him no reps during the practice week.

Be competitive. I don’t know that competitiveness has to be the polar opposite of contentment, which is a fine state unto itself, but I’d suggest that a nagging hunger to achieve or win is pretty much a standard characteristic of winners.

Exude positive energy, in public and in private. Brush off your shoulders and don’t let nothin’ affect you.

Will all that mean Baker leads the Browns to the Super Bowl, win Rookie of the Year and never lose again? Of course not.

Tap the brakes.

Not even Mayfield is perfect. We’ve seen the video from Fayetteville, Arkansas. That guy ain’t out-running an NFL defensive end.

But those of us Oklahoma Sooners fans also saw Baker admit his mistake, apologize, move on and not repeat it. Knock on wood. That’s part of the formula as well, to be able to overcome adversity.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying to Browns fans or anybody who will eventually get sick of an Oklahoma fan telling you that Baker Reagan Mayfield is a winner, it’s not about his Heisman Trophy or the big wins at Oklahoma (a-plenty) or the two trips to the college football playoffs.

It’s not because of the results that people say he’s a winner.

It’s because of the way he takes care of business and how he executes.

And the super sweet thing is that the winner part of this formula is something anybody can do with enough practice.

Beyond Baker: How HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ converted me to the Cleveland Browns

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When half of Oklahoma decided to become Cleveland Browns fans, we did so out of our loyalty to Baker Reagan Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and, arguably, the greatest college football quarterback of all time over the course of a career.

Stores in Oklahoma have Cleveland Browns sections now. Seriously. 

I’m a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan who has just grown apart from the franchise in the days after Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, Texas Stadium and the hole in the roof so God could see through it. I’d largely tired of Jerry and problem players and a lack of success on the field that made their troubles off it pretty unbearable.

Long story short, I started looking for other teams to support, and I landed upon the Rams, moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Aside from the remaining gold, I love their uniforms, and I love the fact that Joe Pendleton was a Ram. “Heaven Can Wait” was my late mother’s favorite movie, or one of them.

And I still support them.

But because of Mayfield and especially the HBO series, “Hard Knocks,” I fell for the Cleveland Browns. During the final moments of the Browns’ game versus Pittsburgh, I was white-knuckling it as if the Sooners were playing the Longhorns. And this week against the Saints, I was bemoaning every missed kick from Zane Gonzalez, while at the same time feeling completely sorry for him.

I’ve even made Browns friends on Twitter, which is cool particularly when you figure out that lifelong, die-hard Browns fans are at once bewildered why anybody would join their misery and completely welcoming of the commiseration.

It also feels good to start at the bottom. I don’t feel like I’m bandwagoning anything.

But I also figured out by watching “Hard Knocks” that the Browns organization appears to be fronted by good people. No offense, but I haven’t had that sense with the Dallas Cowboys for 20 years. My only gripe about the show is that all the guys we were pulling for got cut!

Devon Cajuste? Couldn’t there have been a spot for a TE who mostly receives and doesn’t block? Situationally speaking? He’s such a good soul; that kind of positivity with any inkling of ability is an asset.

Carl Nassib? As one of my new Twitter friends noted tonight, he’s got long arms and he gets after it. The 2-0 Tampa Bay Bucs know that now.

Nate Orchard? Not only are the guys not enjoying his wife’s cookies, he got picked up by the worst team in the NFL right now, the Buffalo Bills.

When I first started watching, I didn’t get the sense that Hue Jackson had the gravitas to lead an NFL team with success. By the end of the show, I figured out he had the compassion.

Two games in, and it doesn’t really matter how crusty Gregg Williams is. His defenses play hard, and the Browns have a pretty decent one.

I probably liked Todd Haley the least. Just thought he was unnecessarily mean at times. However, he sure dialed up some offense when the Browns needed it late versus his former team, the Steelers, and the Saints this past week.

And of course, I love that GM John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson saw what those of us who love the Oklahoma Sooners saw in Baker — a transformational winner. Truth be told, I’ve come to like Tyrod Taylor, too, indicative of the Browns looking for character above all else.

That showed today when they said goodbye to Josh Gordon.

Participating in publicity gimmicks such as “Hard Knocks” isn’t a dumb thing to do. I just wish they’d keep it going all season. It would turn the season into a season-long drama.

They’d hate it. I’d love it.

Besides, they accomplished what they set out to do: earned a new fan.

Go Browns.

Cleveland Browns 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 21: Recap + stars + disappointments

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Our first game as official Cleveland Browns was quite the experience, and we didn’t lose!

We tied.

Cleveland battled back from a 21-7 deficit against Pittsburgh to send the game into overtime, but then offenses stalled for both teams. Not helped by a rain that was steady for all four hours of Sunday’s season-opening NFL broadcast, the Browns had a chance to win at the end thanks to a Joe Schobert interception that caused an earthquake along Lake Erie.

And in northwest Oklahoma City.

Kristi and I were out of our chairs on that one, reminiscent of Torrance Marshall’s pick against Texas A&M back in 2000. (Oklahoma Sooners) Schobert’s pick should have sealed a win for Cleveland except for a block-in-the-back penalty on Myles Garrett.

Ugh.

Zane Gonzales’ field goal attempt from 10-12 yards back was blocked.

And the Browns would have to settle for a tie, and so would we, their new football fans in Oklahoma.

The reason so many Oklahomans are now Cleveland Browns supporters? Easy. Baker Reagan Mayfield.

He didn’t play a single down against Pittsburgh, and that’s OK. The weather was 58 degrees and rainy, not ideal conditions for a newbie signal-caller. However, I’ll present this: Tyrod Taylor’s box score.

Taylor went 15 of 40 for 197 yards for a quarterback rating of 51.8.

Just sayin’.

He showed some poise at times, and to be fair, he didn’t make nearly the mistakes that Ben Roethlisberger made. Big Ben went 23 of 41 for 335 yards with three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 60.5.

What Baker Mayfield could have brought was some downfield urgency to Cleveland drives at the end of the first half, fourth quarter and overtime periods. Mayfield was used to working super fast at Oklahoma, and his accuracy is uncanny. I get that he’s new, but I’ll stand on this until my dying day: the Cleveland coaches played this week to “not mess it up” today instead of playing to win.

Kudos to Gregg Williams and the Cleveland defense, and major kudos to new cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward signed a four-year contract worth a little more than $29 million, and I think he’s got the early clubhouse lead on Rookie of the Year honors, finishing the day with six tackles and two interceptions for 26 yards.

Todd Haley’s offense failed to capitalize on momentum, I thought. In the third quarter, running back Carlos Hyde went off, leading the Browns to a touchdown and a 7-7 game. While Taylor finished off the drive with a 20-yard run, Hyde accounted for 34 yards on four carries.

And then the Browns pretty much abandoned the run.

Pittsburgh immediately made it 14-7, and while Cleveland attempted a couple of Hyde runs, Taylor threw incomplete on first down deep to Jarvis Landry. Landry finished the day with seven balls for 106 yards. Hyde lost a couple on second down, and then Taylor was sacked by T.J. Watt, who had a monster game for Pittsburgh.

I don’t believe Watt is J.J.’s brother. I believe he’s a clone. Phenomenal player. Watt finished the day with 11 tackles, including four for loss.

The Steelers opened up a 21-7 lead, and Cleveland worked a little magic to tie it up. After a fumble was recovered and then nearly squandered by Jabrill Peppers at the goal line, Hyde rammed it home from the 1 to make it 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

After a pair of quick series, Taylor did his best work with a two-play drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon with 1:58 left to play. The first play of that series was a 38-yard pass to Rashard Higgins.

Zero complaints there, and from Haley’s perspective, it was the right play-calling at the right time.

Cleveland got the ball back one last time, but Taylor was intercepted on a deep ball to Gordon.

The story of the day was: nice comeback and plenty of chances for the Browns at the end. If there was a disappointment for me as a new fan who absolutely watched the “Hard Knocks” series on HBO, it was David Njoku. The TE from the University of Miami caught three balls for 13 yards, but it sure seems like he dropped a whole bunch of easy balls. I’d also cite end-of-period game management as a frustration.

No, we newbie Oklahoma fans of the Dawg Pound have nothing to complain about. We haven’t suffered like you guys in northeast Ohio, but I wish you would have seen us when Schobert intercepted that ball in OT. We damn near brought the house down.

And you’d best believe we’ll do it again for Cleveland-New Orleans next week.

Go Browns!

Featured photo by Erik Drost

 

Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns debut was about what I expected

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It’s tough being a Cleveland Browns fan.

I’ve been one for only one game, so maybe it’s not so tough. The Brownies are 1-0 on the young preseason thanks to a good first drive by Tyrod Taylor and two super solid quarters from No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield, resulting in a 20-10 win over the New York football Giants.

For the record, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan by birth, but I’ve wandered like Jimmy Swaggart over the years. I’m currently following the Los Angeles Rams because I like their uniforms, the Jacksonville Jaguars because of their unis and the fact that they nearly dethroned the Patriots last year.

And the Browns.

Because Baker.

Because I’m a Sooner, and that dude was the greatest Sooner of them all.

Was he a better quarterback than Sam Bradford? Don’t know about that.

Was he a better passer than Jason White? Don’t know about that.

But Oklahoma fans had prayed and prayed for somebody with a transformational spirit about him, somebody whose energy was as contagious as Tim Tebow’s — and we got him in Baker Mayfield. I’d guess that 95% of all Cleveland Browns fans are in Ohio (where Baker’s flag is already planted, ha ha).

The other five are in Oklahoma. Seriously. There’s Browns gear in every sports store in the Sooner State.

What makes Baker a hell of an NFL prospect was on display tonight. The dude can place the pig where nobody else but you can catch it, and he can do it in a way that doesn’t risk your body and that leads you into the clear.

Mayfield’s first touchdown pass came with 6:43 to go in the half, a 10-yard strike to David Njoku, who caught two touchdowns against the Giants. The tight end from the U was all about the scores Thursday night, finishing with 46 yards on two receptions, both scores. However, it was Mayfield’s pass into triple coverage that attracted all the attention.

He put it where only Njoku could have gotten it.

It was the same deal when Mayfield fired an across-the-middle strike to Antonio Callaway for a 54-yard touchdown with 13:37 left in the game to give the Browns their final margin of victory, 20-10.

Sure, Baker showed off his legs a couple times on crucial third downs, but he didn’t look like Cam Newton running the ball.

And it’s hard to tell the extent to which Baker has the ear of the rest of the club. At Oklahoma, Mayfield had a way of getting everybody around him on board with the plan, and those guys would have taken a bullet for him.

That very well could happen in Cleveland.

Having watched HBO’s first episode of “Hard Knocks,” I’m not 100 percent sure Hue Jackson is the type of coach who’s going to turn around an organization like Cleveland. He’s not rah-rah enough. I recall watching the Cardinals’ season on “Hard Knocks” and thinking, “Bruce Arians is a guy who can affect change.”

We’ll see.

What’s particularly exciting for Browns fans and even me, a first-time Cleveland Browns rooter, is that if they could get Josh Gordon back (and keep him off drugs) and if they could somehow lure Dez Bryant to the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland would be set up quite nicely at the receiving corps.

Njoku is solid, and Jarvis Landry is already fantastic.

I’m sure Tyrod Taylor is a talented dude, and he seems to be a terrific guy.

But Baker Mayfield demonstrated throughout his college career an uncanny ability to place a football precisely where it needs to go. And then he turns around and does it for two scores in his NFL debut, albeit preseason.

What will eventually separate Mayfield from his competition, however, is that he’s a transformational leader. People flock to him. They want to play with him, play for him and will get on board (eventually) with whatever he wants to do on the field.

Even though it was just a preseason game, tonight’s effort against the Giants was a fantastic start to the NFL career of Baker Reagan Mayfield.

I’m not crazy. I don’t have him booked for Canton already.

But of all the people on planet Earth, Mayfield is probably the last dude I’d bet against.

Cleveland should be very excited to have this guy on their team.

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