Definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Browns fans can be clinically diagnosed as insane. And no, it’s not because they start drowning their brains in alcohol at 5 a.m. in the Muni Lot on gamedays. Although that is a sliver of the pie.
No, they are insane because for all this time, they’ve been talking about the fruit and not the root. They’ve been debating things like who the general manager should sign in free agency, which linebacker they should draft in the second round, or which offensive scheme they should run with what quarterback.
They have missed the underlying problem: the fact that the Browns organization is a disorganized, tension-filled mess with no vision. Therefore, there’s no trust, and therefore; no consistent success. This is a team that somehow took an 11-5 squad that came within an inch of the AFC Championship, and made them last-place finishers in just one year.
GM Andrew Berry and HC Kevin Stefanski sought to shape the Browns into the mold of their former respective franchises – the Eagles and the Vikings. These are two modern organizations that compete for playoff spots every season and always give their fans competitive football in December and January. So why hasn’t that model cloned itself in Cleveland?
Well, it’s because those guys are not the leading presence in the organization. Stefanski may be the head coach but he is not the lead voice. The leader of the organization is none other than Owner Jimmy Haslam, who seems utterly incapable of letting those he hired do their jobs how they see fit.
Haslam is a delusional billionaire who wants to be “the guy who turned around the Cleveland Browns.” The power and recognition that the position offers him is too seductive for him. No matter who the general manager is, who’s coaching the players, or who’s throwing the football, everybody has Haslam breathing down their necks wondering if they’re the next to be put on the chopping block.
You can hear this around the Cleveland sports talk circuit right now. The overwhelming narrative surrounding the Browns going into 2023 is that Stefanski must get quarter-billion-dollar QB Deshaun Watson to perform like a top-10 signal caller. Or else? Stefanski will be out. Guaranteed. Everybody knows this.
So what has changed? What’s different from the days of Ray Farmer picking Johnny Manziel to appease Haslam? How is this different from Sashi Brown being forced to work with a coach whom he never wanted in Hue Jackson? It’s not.
It’s the same way Haslam has always run the organization. It’s what some professionals call an “operational hazard.” The way Watson was acquired is the exact same.
Haslam wanted to make a big splash and appear bold while puffing his chest out to the rest of the league. He had no shame in how the move would send shockwaves throughout the whole building, or how the coaches would now be saddled with a difficult quarterback situation.
You can see this in a press conference featuring himself, his wife Dee and Berry. Haslam bristles at tough questions about morality and ethics, takes them personally and even cuts off reporters’ questions before they’re done asking them. When Dee or Berry speak, Haslam nervously looks around and seems to be eyeing an escape.
Is that what you want in a leader? Insecure and with plenty of hubris? No. It’s the exact opposite.
Does anybody really think the ultra-cautious, plotting, and patient Berry or Stefanski would look to trade for a guy with nearly 30 pending sexual assault allegations, an uncertain and looming suspension and almost two years on the shelf from playing football? I don’t think so. Not anybody who actually pays attention thinks that. It was all Haslam.
So nothing has changed with how the Browns operate. We’ve established that. Now, what are the consequences?
Well, first and foremost the culture becomes every man for themselves. This is what defines the Cleveland Browns culture. It’s why they’ve had loads of talent for the past several years but can’t seem to win games. It’s why they look great on paper but it doesn’t translate to winning records.
So-called “analysts” on Twitter list the Browns’ star players as if it’s an NBA All-Star team like that makes them a good team. All of the intangibles; the chemistry, trust, selflessness, resiliency and purpose are non-existent.
Look around at other teams, where third and fourth-round picks blossom with each passing year. Fred Warner in San Francisco and Josh Sweat in Philadelphia are just two examples. These organizations have cultures that allow players to develop. Fans are quick to point fingers at WR Anthony Schwartz and chastise Auburn receivers, however, they ignore another Auburn receiver, Darius Slayton, who has bloomed in New York because the Giants have trusted and stable leadership at the top of their organization.
This is because you have an ownership group that intentionally muddies the waters in Berea. Haslam and his oily, two-faced hack of a son-in-law watch over everybody, making sure they make him and the Haslam family look good. That’s all they care about.
I truly believe Stefanski is a trustworthy guy. I believe he’s a true servant leader. He listens more than he talks. He’s authentic and means what he says. Unfortunately, he’s undermined by Haslam and his family of goons periodically busting down the door to tell the guys he hired what to do.
It fosters mistrust; it makes players suspicious and doubt what the real goal is. These players aren’t dumb; they talk to each other in between snaps, practices, drills and meetings. It happens with every Browns regime: the culture gets shredded by ulterior agendas afoot and the players can sense it more than anyone.
Jimmy Haslam and the ownership group are not leaders. In fact, they are the polar opposite. They are self-serving, greedy and vain. They are more like politicians than real leaders, and their criminal track record carries a stench wherever they go. Until they make a firm commitment to stay out of the way and just sign checks, which is about the only thing they’re good at, nothing will change with the Browns. Nothing sustainable.
Breaking down a free agent’s pass rush win rate or an offensive scheme is to be blatantly ignorant of the Browns’ real problems. You can’t enjoy your 4K TV or fancy mattress in a house with no foundation. Maybe Browns fans need to wake up and realize this so the owner can take a hint and then take a hike.