Misery loves company. And, fortunately, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has plenty of it. Both misery and company among those head coaches who began their tenure at a new organization this season.
It was a rough opening weekend for said head coaches. To give angry and distraught Browns fans a little perspective and some reassurance, four out of the five new head coaches lost this weekend. The only one who started the season 1-0 was one of only two names who had previous head coaching experience. That was Ron Rivera; the other one is Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys who took an L on Sunday night.
The point to be made here is that the task of a new head coach is tough. Even more so for a HC who is inexperienced in leading a coaching staff and entire roster of players. So fans need to take a breath. New systems have to be implemented; new playbooks drawn up and new ideas/different culture to be inculcated into players and staff alike. These things take time to coalesce, take hold and, finally, convert into wins & playoff berths on the field. Especially for a team, like the Browns, which has seen systems, playbooks and ideas come and go like the coastal tides. The unusual circumstances surrounding training camp and preseason in 2020, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, will not have helped the transition into a new era for the organization. Stefanski’s baptism of fire was complete when he was dealt arguably the most difficult opening game as he debuted against the reigning MVP and a litany of pro-bowlers on every corner of the field.
These are not excuses, but simply facts of the game of football that many fans seem to have forgotten, or never wanted to acknowledge. The Baltimore Ravens ARE a championship-chasing team. The sport of football, for all franchises, DOES entail complex tactical battles centered around careful design, meticulous strategy and faultless execution. Moreover, these facets take time to cultivate and perfect. Success begins to materialize once players are bought into the new system and style of play; it emerges as the result of long, hard practice and growing familiarity with the new ways of doing things. And, sorry to burst the bubble, there are no cheat sheets or shortcuts to a winning formula.
I, for one, think Browns fans, themselves, need to take some ownership for how shitty they feel today. As well as for their overreaction following one game against a Super Bowl-calibre team. Before every season fans in northeast Ohio and beyond exclaim that this is a turning point for the team. We are easily bought into a new GM/coaching hire, a fresh crop of rookie draftees and free-agent acquisitions just by virtue of the fact they are replacing elements of an old regime that didn’t work. We don’t really scrutinize things and focus just on the positives. Therefore, our expectations become lofty, unrealistic, bordering on the insane. Then…not so shockingly, the make-believe world of the 2020 Cleveland World Beaters…I mean Browns, that many have conjured up, comes crashing down. And now, fans take their frustrations, brought about by the folly of their outlandish and sky-high expectations, out on the team, coach, front office and owner. Even players like Ronnie Harrison, who was only in the game for three snaps, were not immune from criticism and took a few licks from exasperated fans on Twitter.
Browns fans may be sick of being told to be “patient.” Especially given they see a lot of talent on the roster to get excited about. But simply having a talented squad of players is not enough to compete and win games. So, unfortunately, the familiar refrains of “patience” and “give them a chance,” “learning a new system takes time” will hold true, for now. But, if given a chance, the efforts of Stefanski and the Browns will bear triumphant fruit sooner rather than later.
Luckily, the front office, coaching staff and players understand this better than the fans. They know things won’t always be smooth and accept that teething problems and mistakes come with the territory of experimenting with a new coach and new system. But what they also realize is that, with the talented players suiting up and the pedigree of the coaches under Stefanski, things will get better and fast. Unlike many fans, Stefanski and co won’t be panicking and wringing their hands. They’ll be working hard in practice, building team chemistry, and game-planning for Thursday. Building on what went well on Sunday and readjusting and rectifying what did not go well. They’ll resolve to play faster, harder, smarter and ultimately, to win games. There may be some more bumps on the road. But things will only get better from down here.
Take solace in that, Cleveland fans.