The Browns franchise has been in turmoil ever since returning to the league in 1999. With just one playoff appearance and numerous rebuilds, fans can’t help but wonder if their time will have come? Hopefully, I can inspire some hope with this article by breaking down how this current Browns regime is handling football’s operations differently from past regimes.
Let’s start from the beginning when Al Lerner outbid the Dolans to become the owner of the new Cleveland Browns. Prior to that, he owned a 5% stake in the former Browns and that grew to 9% in Baltimore. Now with his own franchise, Lerner hoped to make Cleveland great again, but starting a franchise from scratch isn’t so easy. I’m not going to act like I know how to run an organization, but I believe Cleveland has lacked the right people in key positions.
It starts from the top and Cleveland had a lot of first timers. Lerner was a first-time majority owner who now had to oversee the construction of an entire football franchise. Lerner hired Dwight Clark as the general manager. Clark is well known for “The Catch” not so much for being GM and director of football operations of the Browns. Clark held the same position with the 49ers one year prior. It’s not much experience, but he got the job. They gave Chris Palmer his first and only head coaching job. Take note because there is a trend here.
Finally, to top off all the firsts, they drafted Tim Couch first overall. Rookies should never start unless they are ready. Couch took over the starting job in week two and kept it until injuring his foot. He started 14 games and won just two. The following year Tim showed a little progress by winning two games in seven starts before missing the rest of the season with a broken thumb. After a 3-13 season, Palmer was fired and replaced by Butch Davis. It was his first and only head coaching job.
A new head coach and a healthy Tim Couch produced a seven win season for Cleveland. Prior to the 2002 campaign, Dwight Clark resigned when Davis requested the right to make personnel decisions. Davis was named the GM and remained the head coach. Couch started the year backing up Kelly Holcomb until Week 3. The Browns reached the playoffs with nine wins, but Couch broke his leg in the season finale. Holcomb threw for 400 yards in a wild card loss to the Steelers and created a quarterback competition the following year. Couch started the first half of 2003 until he was benched in favor of Holcomb. Cleveland finished a disappointing 5-11 and concluding the Tim Couch era. Then, Jeff Garcia was going to be the savior in 2004. The Browns finished 4-11. Not to mention, Butch Davis resigned with four games remaining on the schedule. It’s crazy, two years removed from the playoffs and the team became dysfunctional.
The organization was tasked to start over with a new GM and coach. Additionally, it was the first time new owner Randy Lerner went through the hiring process. Unfortunately, back in 2002, Al Lerner passed away and his son Randy inherited the team. This was also unfortunate because Randy did not seem to care about football, well the American version. To prove my point, in 2006, he purchased Premier League club Aston Villa. It didn’t seem like he was committed to Cleveland like his father once did.
Anyways, 2005, Romero Crennel became the coach. This wasn’t his only head coaching job, but it was his first. Phil Savage was hired on as the general manager/senior vice president. Technically it was his first job in this position, but he had Cleveland ties. Savage was a part of the old franchise since 1991 and stuck with them in Baltimore until taking the new Cleveland franchise job.
The team was doomed from the start.
They drafted Charlie Frye and traded for Trent Dilfer to mentor him. The veteran started 11 games, but a conflict with Offensive Coordinator Maurice Carthon ended with him being benched for the rookie Frye. He finished the season 2-3 somewhat earning their commitment the following year but faltered. His record in 2006 was 4-12, but the young pieces were in place.
Frye was a second-year guy, still considered a rookie. The Browns drafted Braylon Edwards in 2005 and Kellen Winslow in 2004. Opening day 2007, versus Pittsburgh, Frye struggled and was replaced by Derek Anderson and he took over. Not the game, they still lost. Anderson took the starting job and rightfully so. He went to the Pro Bowl and the Browns won 10 games that year and just missed the playoffs.
In 2008, the team imploded, winning just four games. Anderson started the season as the field general, but as the theme goes, he was benched for the franchise quarterback Brady Quinn. He was the starter until he broke his finger and then the quarterback carousel continued. DA was named the starter until a MCL injury forced the team to start Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski. It was a down year, but Randy Lerner grew impatient and cleaned house to start over again.
Cleveland hired Eric Mangini who had Cleveland ties and coached the New York Jets the previous three years. George Kokinis was named the GM and he also had Cleveland ties. As the season began, it was Quinn’s team until week three. The team went back to Anderson to led the helm. His struggles led to Quinn regaining control of the offense. The lack of consistency is ridiculous, but I get it. Mangini being the new coach, inheriting these quarterbacks had to do his due diligence. It also doesn’t help when the GM was relieved of duties after a 1-7 start.
Then, Lerner hired former Eagles GM Tom Heckert which was a good move. He had previous experience in the position (five years in Philly) and has been involved in the personnel department since 1999. Mangini stayed on as the coach and once again the Browns signed a veteran to take the snaps and mentor a rookie. Injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace forced Colt McCoy to make his first start Week 6 against Pittsburgh. The Browns lost that game, but McCoy led them to victory in back-to-back games at New Orleans and vs New England. Colt showed signs of progression until he got injured, missing three weeks and regressing.
As the 2010 campaign concluded, it was obvious that changes were going to be made. It was the sixth sense, you just had a feeling and you know what happened? Hecket remained GM while giving Man Genius the boot. Heckert didn’t pick his own head coach, Mangini was already there when he accepted the job. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Heckert wanted his own guy and that ended up being Pat Shurmur. It probably wasn’t his top choice, but he landed the job. Oh yeah, this was his first and only head coaching job.
As the season began, McCoy was deemed the starter until Week 14 when he was knocked out by that controversial hit to the head by James Harrison. After another underwhelming campaign, the Browns moved on from Colt McCoy. Once again, falling to the trend of inheritance. Shurmur wanted to draft his own quarterback and he found him late in the first round. If you don’t remember who that guy was, it was Brandon Weeden. He was supposed to be the guy to turn this franchise around. He was a gunslinger. Weeden started 15 games and only won five of them. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. The important thing was giving him a season of work and he stayed healthy.
Max Gold is a Senior Writer for Cleveland Sports Talk
Follow the author: @CST_Max_Gold
Images: ESPN, Browns.com
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