Could the stench in the Dawg Pound be worse?
What was once a perennial powerhouse in pro football has turned into a shambles. A team with a proud history, a loyal fanbase, and a history of talented, respected players has turned into the biggest laughingstock this side of the XFL.
I’m talking, of course, about the Cleveland Browns. The Browns were a great team back in the years of the AAFC, and were a dominant force in the NFL during the 40s and 50s. They had Jim Brown as the face of the franchise for nine years, and when he retired, he was the league’s leading rusher in history. Otto Graham was a top notch quarterback in the early years, and Lou Groza was one of the top kickers in the league.
Even in the 1980s, the Browns were tough under coach Marty Schottenheimer, losing two heartwrenching AFC Championship Games to the Denver Broncos on “The Drive” and “The Fumble”. Still, they had Bernie Kosar, Kevin Mack, Webster Slaughter, and blue collar stars like Clay Matthews at middle linebacker and Brian Brennan playing wide receiver. The Browns faded in the early 1990s, and not even a coach by the name of Bill Belichick could turn their fortunes around. Then, in 1996, owner Art Modell did the unthinkable: he packed up and moved the team to Baltimore, ironically the last city to get bamboozled out of a team in the dead of night. In 1983, the Colts and Jim Irsay loaded up and went west to Indianapolis, which was the last move of a franchise before Modell.
That triggered a whole different set of backlash, where the city sued Modell, and a compromise was reached where the Browns would come back in 1999, with no players, or pieces of the franchise, just the history of it. They’d keep the team name and colors, while Modell took everything else with him to Maryland. That left the city seething, and it wasn’t a fire that was easily quelled, especially with the “talent” that the Browns had in 1999 when they came back picking from the dregs of the league like regular expansion teams did. They would go 2-14 in their opening campaign, scoring 10 points or less in half their contests.
The Browns drafted Tim Couch with the first overall pick, heralding him as the future of the franchise. However, he was injury prone, and was out of the league by the end of the 2003 season, a washout at the age of 26. They followed that up with the first overall pick in 2000, and picked defensive end Courtney Brown, who was gone from Cleveland after 2004, and out of the league after 2005, at the age of 27, totaling just nineteen career sacks to his credit. Their next two first round picks were duds as well, as Gerard Warren was out of Cleveland after 2004 as well, and William Green was out of the NFL in 2005 at the age of 26.
It’s no surprise that with this poor history of drafting, that the team has struggled since its return to the NFL, as they’ve posted just two winning seasons and one playoff appearance in this now their eleventh season. The team has had personnel changes, both on and off the field, poor drafting, and have suffered more than their fair share of injuries. However, good teams can overcome such things. The Browns, quite simply, are not a good team, or even a quality impersonation of a good team.
That trend has continued into this season. Romeo Crennel was ousted as head coach at the end of last season, and was replaced by former Jets coach Eric Mangini. Mangini then went out and added former players that he was familiar with in New York, thinking it would help the transition. So far, it’s been a complete bust: Cleveland is 1-7, their lone win one of the ugliest games in the HISTORY of the NFL, 6-3 over the Buffalo Bills in a game decided by a fumble by Bills punt returner Roscoe Parrish in the closing minutes deep in his own territory. Their offense has been horrendous, and the defense has given up the most yards in the league so far. Things have gotten so bad in Cleveland that the owner, Randy Lerner, has already met with Mangini to tell him his job was safe for now.
However, things were not quite so fortuitous, if you look at employment as beneficial, for GM George Kokinis, who was fired earlier this week. Kokinis was handpicked by Mangini and was hired in January of this year, meaning he lasted barely ten months on the job before being removed. Lerner made the statement less than 24 hours before the firing that he wanted to find a “credible, serious leader” for the organization to try and save what is clearly a sinking ship.
Kokinis was hardly noticeable within the franchise, according to anyone within the team. Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said that “He wasn’t around too much, and when he was, he was pretty quiet.” That’s not really the mentality you want from a GM. Granted, you don’t need a bombastic, over the top kind of individual, but to have a virtual wallflower doesn’t really cut it either. One has to wonder if Kokinis actually could think for himself or if he was merely a puppet of Mangini all round. Either way, I wouldn’t bet that Mangini has much in the way of job security either at this stage of the game, given the poor performance on the field and the “assets” brought in during free agency, while dealing away the team’s two prime playmakers in Kellen Winslow Jr, and Braylon Edwards, who ironically, went to the Jets.
One positive step that Lerner has taken in attempting to rebuild the franchise and some good will with the remaining eight or nine fans of the team started with the hiring of Bernie Kosar as a consultant. Then, earlier this week, he met for two hours with “Mad Dog Mike”, aka Mike Randall, and Tony Schafer, two die hard Browns fans of the “Dawg Pound” section of Cleveland Browns Stadium, to address their concerns. Randall had been circulating a petition among Browns ticket holders in that area to stay out of their seats until after the opening kickoff of their nationally televised game on November 16th against the Ravens to protest the futility of the franchise.
Are the Browns going to ever find their way back to the days of dominance? Most likely not in this day of free agency and leaguewide parity. Will they be able to stumble and claw their way to mediocrity, like a drunk guy falling up some stairs? This is a viable possibility. A lot will lie in who Lerner gets to add to the consulting team and general manager role. There has been talk that long time consultant Ernie Accorsi was on a short list, and that former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer could also be considered. Other than that, you have plenty of former coaches with Super Bowl credentials that are available: Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, and Jim Fassel, for starters. There are plenty of quality coaches available, but the burning question that lays out there like the Sword of Damocles is: do any of them WANT the job?