By In Stuff

Patience

The Cleveland Browns are 0-10 which sounds just about right if you are someone who believes that the better football team should win the game. The Browns are never the better football team. There are days, of course, when the Browns have a little mojo going or when they face a better team that flounders due to overconfidence, injury, boredom or simply because a healthy percentage of players and coaches woke up on the wrong side of the bed. This is how inferior teams usually win. So far the Browns have lost on those days too.

Even so, the Browns tend to get a lot of praise from national announcers during games. Their 0-10 coach, Hue Jackson, is often said to be exactly the right man (perhaps even the only man) to help the team escape its 17-year malaise. Their 0-7 rookie quarterback Cody Kessler — taken in the third round ahead of at least a half dozen other quarterbacks presumed by the mock-drafting masses to be better including Dak Prescott — is often celebrated for his accuracy and remarkable poise. Their 47-107 left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the best offensive linemen in the game’s history,  is praised for his patience, which announcers assure us should pay off any time now.

And, more than anything, they tell us: Don’t look at the 0-10 record.

Look instead at the bright future that awaits.

Outside of the bravo world of football announcing, however, it appears that things are not so cheery in Cleveland. There was a report by Jason La Canfora over at CBS Sports that hit all of the angles you would expect from an 0-10 team that has not won a playoff game in its modern history. Let’s see:

— Front office frustrated with the coach? Check.

— Coach looking to protect a defensive coordinator whose defense can’t stop anyone? Check.

— Talk of low morale? Check.

— Ownership taking a more active role in the team? Check.

— Anonymous person ripping owner for taking a more active role in the team? Check. “You basically have a husband and wife in charge of various areas they really don’t understand,” the anonymous source said while hoping, I can only assume, to stay anonymous.

All of this static and white noise. As a Browns fan — and I write this specifically as a Browns fan — I think there are only two real issues to consider.

1. Is this team heading in the right direction despite the record?

2. Would making significant changes be beneficial?

For the first question: There are no easily identifiable indications that the team is heading in the right direction. The sunny announcers talk about how the team hasn’t quit despite its woeful situation which always leads me back to Kansas State coach Bill Snyder’s classic line: “They don’t let you quit.” Anyway, the Browns have lost their last two games by a combined 7 touchdowns. That might be what quitting looks like.

Then again, this roster is so deprived of talent that I’m not sure what progress would even look like. This has been marked as a throwaway season for a long time.

I suppose the best case scenario of a winless season,would be finding a handful of promising young players who might contribute. And? Well, Terrelle Pryor seems to have made a promising transition from quarterback and rookie Corey Coleman has shown a few flashes of talent. Young linebacker Christian Kirksey has made a lot of tackles, though it’s unclear if he’s made them because nobody else could, and second-year defensive tackle Danny Shelton seems to be playing at a pretty high level. Their young running backs are pretty good.

I have no earthly idea if that’s a decent crop of young talent. I suspect not.

And as for Hue Jackson — I’m torn. I like the guy a lot. I liked him a lot when he was coaching the Bengals, and I like the no-excuses attitude he has taken with this team. For someone to turn this mess around the most important quality, I think, is clarity of thought. You look at what Theo Epstein and company did with the Cubs. He had a very clear idea of where he wanted the Cubs to go. That philosophy — acquire hitting, develop consistency through the organization, focus on the strike zone, on and on — was their North Star. And though they ran into waves and wind and sharks and unexpected trouble, the Cubs stayed on course.

I do think Hue Jackson has some of that clarity of thought — it sure seems like he has not allowed bad breaks, bad calls, and a stunning lack of talent knock him off stride. He has continuously devised interesting offenses that might be more effective if there was enough talent. He has not made excuses.

But the question is: Are the Browns following the North Star or some firefly that happens to be buzzing around? I don’t know the answer to that. The scariest thing about Hue Jackson’s Browns is how terrible they have been in second halves. In the first half, the Browns have only been outscored 144-124, which isn’t all that bad. They’ve actually led four of their 10 games at halftime, and they were right in it most of the time.

In the second half, however, they have been outscored 157-51. Put another way, in the second half this year they’ve been outscored 22 touchdown and a field goal to 7 touchdowns and a safety.

Or put it another way still: The Browns have been outscored in the second half EVERY SINGLE GAME THIS YEAR.

That’s stupefyingly bad football.

So — why? Is it because Hue Jackson is terrible at halftime adjustments? Maybe. Is it because the Browns are in worse physical condition than their opponents? Maybe. Is it because the Browns talent is so sparse and inexperienced that they need gimmicks to keep the game close but, sooner or later, the gimmicks run out?  Maybe.

One thing we know for sure: It’s difficult to spin the Browns’ second half miseries so that it looks GOOD for Hue Jackson. If we were playing Magic 8 ball, the Hue Jackson future would come up, “Outlook not so good.”

Then, this leads to the second question: Would making significant changes be beneficial?

I feel very confidence answer that question like so: NO!

Please, please, please, please don’t make any big changes. Fight over defensive coordinator Ray Horton, that’s fine. Tinker with your offensive coordinator structure, that’s OK. But, in the name of Paul Brown, Lou Groza and Marion Motley, PLEASE leave the core in place.

I have mentioned before that I keep an active spreadsheet of all of the Browns starting quarterbacks (a staggering 27 in almost 18 seasons). On the second page, I keep a list of the ever-changing Browns braintrust — owner, general manager, coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator.

Jimmy Haslem became owner in 2012. He didn’t do much that first year.

In the last four years, he has hired:

— At least three general managers (Michael Lombardi, Ray Farmer and whoever the heck is general manager now, either Executive Vice President Football Operations Sashi Brown or Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta … or Dee Haslam, Jimmy’s wife).

— Three head coaches (Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine and Hue Jackson)

— Two defensive coordinators (Ray Horton and Jim O’Neil, though Horton has served two separate terms)

— Four offensive coordinators (Norv Turner, Kyle Shanahan, John DeFillippo and, I guess, Hue Jackson is the offensive coordinator now, though Pep Hamilton is associate head coach — offense).

This is precisely how you make a train wreck. I mean that literally. The most efficient way to design a train wreck would be to keep hiring and firing the various engineers, quality control people, construction coordinators and anyone else responsible for making sure that trains DO NOT wreck. You would put some people in charge of too many things, others in charge of pretend things, and you would give out indecipherable titles so that nobody had any idea who was responsible for what. You would change philosophies every year so that everybody is entirely baffled about what they’re even trying to accomplish.

Train wreck: The Cleveland Browns.

In other words, yes, it’s true, I don’t know if Hue Jackson is the right guy — I have my doubts but I don’t know.

I don’t know if the Sashi Brown-Paul DePodesta thing makes any sense at all — I have my doubts, but I don’t know.

I don’t know if Jimmy Haslem can stay out of things long enough to allow the people he trusted to turn this thing around — I have my doubts, but I don’t know.

But I do know that I want to the Browns to stick with all of them and just go in the direction they’re facing. It might not be the“right” direction, but let’s face it: There is no WRONG direction at this point. The Browns are at rock bottom. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that. You can’t get worse than 0-10 after 10 games. You cannot have a professional football roster with less talent than this one. You cannot have a drearier history than the new Browns have.

So, really, WHATEVER DIRECTION YOU HEAD will lead to someplace better than this. It might not be the direction to the Super Bowl, but at this point the Super Bowl should be the last thing on anybody’s mind. The Browns should be thinking about how to get one elite interior offensive lineman to build around. They should be thinking about getting one terrific young cornerback (two-time Pro Bowler Joe Haden is neither young nor terrific anymore) and someone who can rush off the edge. They obviously need to get the quarterback thing worked out. They clearly need to get stronger physically as a team.

The Browns have a chance to do this: They have a bunch of good draft picks over the next two years. They need a stable front office and coaching staff to make the most of that. They need to give this group three to four years to take this team wherever it is destined to go. You will ask: But what if they don’t know what they’re doing?

Answer: Then you made the mistake hiring them in the first place.

Trust your decision making — they’re the only thing you have going for you. As bad as the Browns are now (and this is the worst Browns team of my lifetime, which is saying something) they are at the beginning of something. We don’t know where it ends but for once Jimmy Haslem needs to fight off his impatience and just wait to find out.

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28 Responses to Patience

  1. chris says:

    Put HBO Hard Knocks to filming them next fall. If nothing else, the fans will be able to see the ineptitude. I mean, they made the Rams, Bengals, and Dolphins all looked great in their years!

    Really, though, they just need stability. If I can say one thing for the Browns’ Ohio rivals, Marvin Lewis has righted the Cincy ship and kept it sailing in a decent course for a long time.

  2. Brian says:

    Hue had similar difficulties with halftime adjustments or whatever with the Raiders in 2011. They had a 193-184 point differential in the first halves of games and a 163-249 differential in second halves, outscoring their opponents in only three second halves.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Halftime adjustments in the NFL is a myth. Halftime is 10 minutes these days. Just enough time for everyone to piss and pull on a dry jersey. Adjustments in the NFL are made on the fly during the game

  3. invitro says:

    “Train wreck: The Cleveland Browns.” — More of a train wreck than the Democratic Party?

    • Karyn says:

      Please don’t.

      • invitro says:

        Oh, all right. How about: more of a train wreck than the Lakers were with Kobe? Do the Browns have a player who can turn them into a playoff team just by retiring? But I suppose replacing the Lakers’ godawful coach with Luke Walton had a little to do with their turnaround. (A turnaround which many of us predicted, though I didn’t think it would be quite this extreme.)

        • Karyn says:

          “Do the Browns have a player who can turn them into a playoff team just by retiring?”

          I suspect not, given the vast differences in salary structures in the NFL and NBA. A high-dollar non-performer would have been cut years ago. We’re only ten-eleven games in, but it’s possible the Lakers (and my Blazers) will sink a little, and the T-Wolves will rise a little. It’s a long season.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Well, considering that more people voted for the Democratic candidate than for the “president-elect” I wouldn’t say it’s such a train wreck. I will say, though, that the Browns remind me increasingly of the “president-elect’s” transition team, ie. incompetent and clueless.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Of course, at least the Browns aren’t neo-fascist, racist, anti-semites.

        • invitro says:

          My friend, if you want to see fascists and racists, just check out the rioters having the time of their lives in the inner cities. And of course the reason the Democrats got in the position they’re in is partly due to their racism and fascism. (Not sure where the anti-Semitism comes in. Perhaps you’re thinking of Public Enemy and their Nation of Islam buddies?)

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Invitro, somehow, I had the understanding that David Duke was an anti-semite. Am I wrong? As for the rioting, do you really think there would not have been rioting if Clinton had won? Trump wouldn’t even commit to accepting the result if he lost. As for fascism, as appalling as certain things are on campus, Trump was supported by actual fascists, people who celebrate Hitler. Are you trying to say that Trump’s use of tropes about “international bankers” isn’t anti-Semitic? If not, you need to read some history. And Steve Bannon.

      • invitro says:

        Evidence that the DNP is a train wreck:
        – do they have the presidency?
        – do they have a majority on the Supreme Court?
        – do they have a majority in the Senate?
        – do they have a majority in the House?
        – do they have a majority of Governorships?
        – do they have a majority of state legislatures?
        – do they have a majority of -anything- besides burned-out inner cities?

        They may not be 0-10, but they look pretty close to 1-9.

        • Ed says:

          Evidence that the GOP is a train wreck:
          -They elected a failed businessman reality star with a tenuous grasp on truth as President of the United States.
          …..
          I’m not a member of the Democratic Party, by the way. I think political parties are antithetical to democracy. But I’m amazed at the lack of self awareness and understanding of what should be basic concepts I’ve seen coming out of the mouths of Trump and some of his supporters.

          • invitro says:

            It’s very silly to think that winning makes you a train wreck. And speaking of basic concepts, the GOP doesn’t elect the President; the citizens of the USA do, whether they’re GOP, DNP, or unaffiliated.

            I wasn’t a Trump fan until Tuesday night, although I certainly supported him above Clinton. I’m also and still amazed that he won, given the way he talked and acted in the debates (the first Presidential debate was the only one I watched in its entirety; I got too nauseous & depressed for much more). He’s not a genius, but he doesn’t need to be. I’m not cheering because Trump won nearly as much as I am that the “progressives” lost, and won’t have any influence on federal policy for at least four years (and if the Democrats are smart, for ever).

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Well, invitro, you say the citizens of the USA elect the president. But more citizens voted for Clinton than for Trump, yet he won. So how does your statement make any sense? It appears that more citizens wanted Clinton than wanted Trump.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            As for doing away with progressives, it seems to me that a certain portion of Trump’s supporters voted for him because he promised to withdraw from NAFTA. Anti-free trade/globalization is certainly more of a progressive than a conservative issue, which is one reason a lot of conservatives didn’t/don’t like Trump. I guess when you think of progressives, you think only of campus speech, but there are other elements. Trump did not run as a true conservative; he ran as a populist and some elements of populism are certainly aspects of progressivism as well.

  4. Marco says:

    As I was reading this, I was terrified that you were going to come to the opposite conclusion.

    In short, I agree that patience is warranted.

    For two reasons:

    1. They’ve done a smart thing by tearing it totally down to stockpile draft picks. There’s no value in going 4-12 instead of 0-16. Might as well see if one smart decision leads to another.

    2. Even if you decided you wanted to regime change again, who worth anything would agree to this situation? Anyone who is demonstrably better than what they have has better options. It’s similar to the old Groucho Marx line that he’d “never join a club that would have me for a member.” The Browns shouldn’t hire anyone who would be willing to come work there.

    • Karyn says:

      I like watching football, but I don’t follow the whole league very well. Might there be such a thing as a coach with a reputation for turning teams around, getting them from zero to maybe 75%? But can’t really get a good team to become a great one?

      I’ve seen this a little in the NBA, where a coach can take a bunch of talented rookies and decent journeymen have a great three-four seasons, but can’t take that team to a title.

      • Marco says:

        I don’t know if this coach exists, but if they do, why would they accept the Browns’ job?

        Every year, roughly 25%* of the league jobs turn over and every one of those teams could benefit from the type of turnaround specialist you’re describing. The Browns would be at a negotiating disadvantage with every one of the other teams because (a) the other teams would have a better roster to work with, and (b) the other teams wouldn’t have ownership that has demonstrated that they have no patience by having 4 regimes in 5 years.

        This hypothetical coach would know the Browns deal is: win immediately with the worst roster in football, or get fired. The Browns have painted themselves into corner by their actions.

        *Note: all numbers made up.

      • Dave says:

        “Might there be such a thing as a coach with a reputation for turning teams around, getting them from zero to maybe 75%? But can’t really get a good team to become a great one?”

        Yes, and (a) he’s available and (b) he’s already coached the Browns. His name is Marty Schottenheimer.

        Ba-da-bing!

    • Scott P. says:

      1. They’ve done a smart thing by tearing it totally down to stockpile draft picks. There’s no value in going 4-12 instead of 0-16. Might as well see if one smart decision leads to another.”

      Actually, there is. Teams that go to 4-12 return to respectability (and the playoffs) much quicker than teams that go 0-16.

      • Rob Smith says:

        See Cowboys, 1989. One win. They made the playoffs two years later & eventually won three Super Bowls. There has only been one 0-16 team ever (and it’s the sad sack Lions), so your 0-16 premise is hard to prove (there was also only one 0-14 team, the Bucs, who as an expansion team, stuck with the plan & made the NFC Championship game three years later.

        There have been plenty of 1-3 win teams with fast turnarounds. 2012 Colts, 2013 Chiefs, 2007 Dolphins, 1999 Colts are some more recent examples. Sometimes all it takes is one good draft. And the value of 0-16 is the guarantee of a first pick. In the right year, that could be a difference maker, especially if a franchise QB is available.

  5. Rob Smith says:

    It’s been my observation that teams that are terrible and want to turn it around have to show leadership and hire leadership. They also need to “trust the process” because a turnaround doesn’t happen because you hired a decent coach. You need players. Players that you don’t currently have, or you wouldn’t be terrible. As an aside, terrible players make coaches look bad. When they go for it it on fourth down, somebody misses a block. When they have a drive going, somebody holds or commits a personal foul. When you get a shot at a game winning field goal, you get a bad snap. The opposite happens for teams with good players. So, you need to exercise patience and wait it out. You need to ignore the media and the fans who scream for somebody’s head. The issue with the Browns starts with ownership. Ownership that doesn’t show leadership by hiring the right people and letting them be for at least three years to see what they can do. So you get a revolving door of GMs and Head Coaches. So, every year a new plan. Every year a new system. And it takes a year for the players to fully adjust to a new system. Example: Kyle Shanahan (ex Browns OCoordinator btw) last year was highly criticized for the job he did as the new Falcons OCoordinator. There were challenges with Matt Ryan’s preferences and Shanahan’s preferences. They were stuck with Roddy White, who Shanahan didn’t want (he was right. Nobody picked up Roddy this year). And the OLine was terrible up the middle. The GM and Coach ignored the calls for Shanahan’s head, signed Mohammed Sanu and Alex Mack (another ex-Brown). He also adopted some no-huddle as preferred by Ryan…. and now they’re the #1 offense in the league. Point is, changing systems every year is bound to yield sub-optimal results.

    But unfortunately for the Browns, you can’t fire the owner. Your only hope is that he takes a two year trip overseas and ignores the team. If he does that, the GM and the Coach will probably figure it out enough to be at least a .500 team by then. With all the draft picks and a couple of years to work with them, I’d say that’s almost assured. If he comes back to a 3 win team, then you can clean house. Not before.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      It’s a different sport, but the experience with the Atlanta Braves was very similar. When Ted Turner bought the team, he was involved in running it, to the extent of actually managing for a day. The team was laughably bad. Then, Turner apparently had an epiphany (or was too busy or was having sex with Jane Fonda or something) and turned the team over to people that actually knew something about baseball. It took a few years but the result was the Braves of the 1990s/early 2000s. Of course, it helped that CNN was taking off at the time so there were plenty of resources. But it should be easier in football because the league is designed for parity with the way it schedules and so forth. But you need an owner that is not afraid to get out of the way. The Cowboys were really very lucky; Jerry Jones (or Jimmy Johnson) was able to scam the Vikings in the Herschel Walker trade and get the core of the Super Bowl teams. Other than that, though, Jerry Jones has done a pretty lousy job of running the team.

  6. Andrew T. says:

    The second half scores is a bad omen for Hue Jackson – as someone who suffered through Steve Spagnuolo’s unfortunate time with the Rams, that was his undoing. Not just an inability to adjust during the game, but a sense that the coaches had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making adjustments during the game. One notable example – when Torrey Smith was a rookie, he burned hapless cornerback Justin King for three touchdown catches before Spags tried to do anything other than leaving King on Smith one-on-one. Frequently, he either never made any adjustments at all, or made them so late that it was pointless. I don’t know if that’s stubbornness, lack or creativity, or just freezing up when the game goes wrong, but it was sad to watch. Also: Spags’ Rams frequently held the game close during the first half only to get pasted during the second half. When a coach’s performance reminds me of Steve Spagnuolo, that’s definitely a bad sign.

    I would venture that the top coaches should go but the front office should stay. Jackson’s staunch defense of a flailing D-coordinator is the kind of thing that can cancel out his better qualities. Toward the end of his Rams time, Mike Martz also stubbornly stuck by second-rate assistant coaches (hello Larry Marmie) because they were “his guys,” and it was the proverbial nail in his coffin (Martz probably would have lost that organizational power struggle anyway because the Rams were increasingly rudderless at that time, but it definitely sped things along). And Hue’s benching of Kessler made no sense at the time, or in the days after. At least McCown played poorly enough to prevent Hue from sticking with him.

  7. MikeN says:

    They should have kept Mike Lombardi. He engineered an excellent Trent Richardson trade, and was building a core, then they stabbed him in the back.

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