No coaching search has been as meandering and bizarre as the Browns’ circuitous trek across America. If you are replacing your coach after one year, you might want to actually have a plan to replace him.
Chasing every lukewarm college coach, scrambling to the media to confirm some coaching interviews, obscure others; releasing skewed information about your whereabouts and resorting to day-late spin tactics after being repeatedly left at the altar isn’t going to fly in Cleveland. Not when the entire league knew Rob Chudzinski was praised in middle of the season then fired at the end of it, and not with a nominal general manager, Michael Lombardi, trying to fight a growing perception around the league that he is woefully out of his depth. (Say what you want about the Vikings exhaustive search, but they haven’t been strung out by college coaches who were unlikely to leave campus anyway).
The last two seasons, culminating with Joe Banner’s rise to power in Cleveland, have been marred with horror signings like Paul Kruger, the firing of a head coach after one year, some pretty obvious situations where the personnel didn’t fit the scheme, the demise of a once proud franchise. Starting your third string QB over your second stringer pretty much sums up the Banner Era. Some strange front office happenings mixed in there too.
Oh, and also plenty of less-than-competitive football.
Couple that with this strange coaching search, and the pressure is mounting on Banner. And now, there is no longer anyone to hide behind. Say what you want about his former general manager and his quirky coaching search in Philly last year, but a certain degree of chaos has seemed to evaporate the Eagles building since Banner left. And, no longer are there boring characters around that the fan base is tired of, like Holmgren and Heckert, to take all the bullets when things fail. It’s all on Banner now. No more whispers about, oh, that wasn’t Joe’s guy, that wasn’t Joe’s signing, he never wanted him here in the first place.
Rather, very different chatter has been growing in NFL circles for weeks. What’s up with the Browns job? Why don’t guys want it? What are their concerns?
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me one esteemed coach or another advised one of the Browns’ top candidates not to take the job precisely because of Banner’s presence there. Banner isn’t the leader they should tie their wagon to. It’s clear Gus Malzahn wasn’t leaving Auburn for anywhere unless he had a large measure of control over the organization, and owner Jimmy Haslam has already entrusted that to Banner. There has been trepidation by some candidates to go all-in given the questions about this existing power structure.
The rumblings about Banner lacking nuance and foresight, about him turning people off with how drunk with power he’s become, only grow louder as his coaching search grows stranger.
Now, the Browns would tell you they are right where they thought they would be in this search, now going on Week 3. They’ll tell you they just wanted to talk to a bunch of bright football minds and do their due diligence. All part of the process. They didn’t really want Bob Stoops or Josh McDaniels or James Franklin or Jim Schwartz, anyway. Riigghht. Sure. I mean, if you couldn’t get anyone to take your job or work with you, wouldn’t you indulge in the same revisionist history?
Problem is, they’re replacing someone who the same front office hired this time last year. They’re not replacing Marty Schottenheimer here. And they’d better hope the guy they finally hire is the next Marty. Prospective candidates have been talking to Rob Chudzinski about Banner and turning away.
And the Browns, meantime, have spent much of their time inflating the rate of college coaching salaries around the country and boosting the stock of guys who certainly seem to have played them for rubes. So we’ll see where this thing goes.
Josh McDaniels, who has not drawn any interest in recent years, had a long interview there last week — one of the clandestine ones — and withdrew from consideration. Interviews are pending with Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and former Titans head coach Mike Munchak.
Eventually, they’ll hire someone. And they’ll try to tell you this was the guy all along and he was by far the best candidate and had the best interviews and all that good stuff. And you know what, as long as they win, nothing else will matter and all will be forgotten.
But the reality is, wins have been hard to come by lately, and they have an uninviting situation at quarterback and an unproven general manager who is going to have to dig them out of a hole he helped create. And they also happen to be playing in a division with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton, and in what has become a very shallow AFC. And they have a fan base that has come to not expect playoff football under all of their coaches.
That’s a dangerous combination for a team CEO still coming to grips with how to harness all of the power he’s been granted, and still trying to find someone willing to coach under him.