DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Ryan Alton
The Monday after the last game of the season in the NFL is called “Black Monday” because it is typically the day that coaches and front office executives of struggling teams get fired. The powers that be often see little point in wasting valuable time keeping around personnel they don’t plan to have return and instead move fast to get the process rolling toward finding their replacements.
For the Cleveland Browns, with a new owner and new CEO/president coming in during the middle of the season, the changes coming down on the coaching staff and general manager have merely been a matter of time. It is widely assumed Head Coach Pat Shurmur and General Manger Tom Heckert will not be back next season. In fact, the moves should come quickly after the team plays its final game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
According to an article by Pro Football Weekly, where NFL scouts, coaches and front office personnel spoke on the condition of anonymity, “(Browns CEO) Joe Banner is cleaning house as soon as the season ends. He’s not going to waste much time. He has been researching this thing for some time. They are going to move fast to get their guys”. The only question that remains at this point, it seems, is Who are ‘their guys’?
There are a lot of rumors swirling around about the potential candidates that Owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner have lined up for the Browns. It’s hard to get a real gauge on what is true and what is merely fiction and/or posturing right now. NFL Network analyst Albert Breer had an interesting tweet on Friday backing up what I had written previously on DraftBrowns about the so-called ‘silly season’ coming early to Cleveland. According to Breer, it’s not just a Cleveland thing. “On all of this — Rumor mill is spinning as furiously as I can ever remember it on GM/coach stuff. Lots of agendas out there”, tweeted Breer.
While we’re all just left to guess what will transpire when the hammer is dropped on Black Monday, here are the names of some potential candidates that Browns fans might start seeing in the white smoke wafting out of Berea.
NFL Network Analyst, Michael Lombardi - Lombardi’s name has been closely associated with the Browns’ GM job for some time. Cleveland fans/media aren’t thrilled with this news, to say the least. Lombardi worked for the Browns in the 1990s under Bill Belichick and then bounced around the league in various front office positions until finding his niche as a studio analyst for NFL Network. He has not worked in an NFL front office in five years and his track record of personnel decisions, dating back to his first stint with the Browns, has left something to be desired.
There is a school of thought that suggests perhaps Banner is interested in Lombardi coming on as a sort of glorified Director of Pro Personnel so that Banner himself can retain control over all of Football Operations. It is commonly thought that giving Lombardi, or anyone for that matter, the title of General Manager might require Banner to relinquish final say over the 53 man roster, though Banner has never actually come out and said that he covets it.
In October, speaking in Chicago just after he was approved as new owner of the Browns, Haslam made a rookie mistake in stating that all football operations would report to Banner, giving many in the media the perception that Banner came to Cleveland as part of a power grab and will be sticking his hands into an area of the front office in which he has no prior experience or expertise. In Banner’s defense, he has repeatedly said that he will wait to have his people in place before the distribution of power is decided. Much of the conventional thinking on what Banner wants is based purely on speculation at this point. Be that as it may, the hire of Michael Lombardi (especially if he’s seen as Banner’s “yes man”) would be a tough sell to a fan base desperately searching for hope that things are going to get better soon.
Atlanta Falcons Director of Player Personnel, David Caldwell - Caldwell was first linked to the Browns GM job through an article written on SI.com by Don Banks. According to Banks, “Caldwell has a college scouting background with a strong track record in the draft, and he’s seen as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced prospects in the GM-to-be ranks”.
What Banks fails to mention is the connection that Caldwell has to the Browns or Banner. Apparently, there isn’t one, aside from the convenient fact that he played college football at John Carroll University in Cleveland. Caldwell is a qualified candidate with an impressive resume that should draw interest from one or more of the teams who are looking for a new General Manager. It’s hard to argue with how successful the Falcons have been over the past few seasons and Caldwell should warrant some interest from the Browns.
San Francisco 49ers Director of Personnel, Tom Gamble – Gamble’s name is being mentioned for the same reason as Caldwell’s. He is an up and coming front office exec who has experience in talent evaluation with an emphasis on being able to work with ‘forward thinking’ coaches, as evidenced by his success in San Francisco and coach Jim Harbaugh.
According to respected NFL journalist and writer for TheSidelineView.com, Adam Caplan, “In my 14 years of covering the NFL, I don’t recall getting as many strong comments about a potential GM candidate from high ranking personnel executives and NFL player agents as I’ve received about Gamble”. Needless to say, Gamble, like Caldwell should be highly sought after with anywhere from 4-7 teams looking to replace their current General Managers beginning on Monday.
New York Giants Director of College Scouting, Marc Ross - Unlike Caldwell and Gamble, Ross has a connection to Joe Banner and could very well be on the Browns’ radar. Ross began his career as a college scout for the Philadelphia Eagles under Joe Banner in 1997. He was promoted to Eagles Director of College Scouting in 2000 when he was just 27 years old.
Ross worked closely with former Browns and Giants GM Ernie Accorsi while both were in New York. Accorsi is currently working as a consultant for the Carolina Panthers and, according to Caplan, has hand-selected Ross as his top choice to become the next GM in Carolina. But that shouldn’t deter the Browns from bringing him in for an interview in an attempt to try to woo him away from the Panthers. It might all depend on what kind of relationship Ross and Banner had while both were in Philly. It bodes well that Ross rose through the ranks while with the Eagles, under Banner’s watch, however the circumstances for his departure are unknown.
Green Bay Packers Director of Football Operations, John Dorsey - Dorsey is a former Packers linebacker who has worked his way up through the ranks as a college scout, Director of College Scouting (Packers), Director of Player Personnel (Seahawks) and finally to his current role back with the Packers.
While not having any visible connections to anyone with the Browns, he could easily be seen as the kind of guy with the football background that Banner covets to run that side of the front office. Dorsey would bring a jolt of credibility to those who are quick to say Banner has no business meddling with the football operations of the Browns.
Former Denver Broncos General Manager, Brian Xanders - Xanders was let go following the 2012 Draft when Vice President of Football Operations, John Elway, decided to streamline the Broncos’ front office. According to Mike Klis of The Denver Post, Xanders “is a guy who knows the inner-front office systems of three teams – the Atlanta Falcons, the Broncos, and the New England Patriots (through his time with ex-Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels)”.
According to Klis, “Xanders has held nearly every NFL job from coach to salary cap manager to talent evaluator to General Manager”. The situation that led to his dismissal from Denver is cloudy and there may be more to that than anyone cares to reveal at this point, but again, it couldn’t hurt for Banner to bring him in for an interview.
The main sticking point with all of these candidates, sans Lombardi, is that they may not be willing to take a position with the Browns if they are not guaranteed to have final say over the 53 man roster, an almost necessary power that comes with the title of GM in today’s NFL. If Banner is reluctant to give a candidate control over the roster, as it has been widely assumed, anyone looking to be an official General Manager need not apply. And if Banner is willing to cede control over the roster to a General Manager, then he may as well keep the guy in place who already has that title for the Browns, Tom Heckert.
It’s possible that Banner is willing to grant roster control to a GM as long as that GM is the one he hand-selects. Heckert was here prior to Banner and may not be his number one choice for the job. Maybe Banner will interview and hire one of the above candidates and write control over the roster into their contract, but it’s hard to believe that will happen, given the current situation with Heckert. Again, so much at this point, is based entirely on speculation.
Historically, Banner has preferred that his Head Coach retain final say over the roster. In an interview he did with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in early November, Banner was asked directly that all-important question of who will have control. “We’ll determine that officially when we see who’s in those roles. My bias is for the coach to make those decisions,” replied Banner. “Now, we may end up with somebody in personnel who’s so good that I tweak that, but going in, my bias is that the coach will have the most say on the 53-man roster and the 45 who dress for games.” While it may turn off some potential GM candidates, there are sure to be a long line of coaching candidates that are attracted to this potential power.
New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels - McDaniels is an intriguing candidate due to the fact that he has previous head coaching experience (under Xanders in Denver), he is a Northeast Ohio native so he surely knows what the Browns mean to Cleveland, and he has been groomed by one of the best minds in the NFL in Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick.
Also adding to the allure of McDaniels is the effectiveness of the Patriots offense this season. It has been reported that University of Oregon Head Coach, Chip Kelly met with McDaniels and Belichick over the summer and consulted with them about how to apply some of his quick-tempo, no huddle principles to the Patriots offense. The Patriots, as a result, have taken their offense to a whole new level. Through 16 games this season, they rank 1st in points (35.3 per game) and 1st in yards (426.9 per game).
Granted, Tom Brady would not be coming with McDaniels to Cleveland and its valid to wonder how successful Belichick or McDaniels would be without him. But recent reports have linked McDaniels to the Browns job and, like Lombardi, people believe where there is smoke, there is fire. Personally, I think it’d be worth an interview at the very least.
University of Oregon Head Coach, Chip Kelly - Kelly is likely the most coveted college coach to make the jump to the NFL since Jim Harbaugh. Many skeptics believe Kelly’s Oregon offense wouldn’t translate to the NFL because NFL defenses are too fast for the spread option to work successfully. While that may be true, as I mentioned above, Kelly’s ideas are directly responsible for the success of the NFL’s number one offense this season.
He is an innovator both in how he conducts his practices to how he relies on advanced statistics to weigh game situations and make calls on the field. There is a growing sentiment around the league that Chip Kelly’s ideas will revolutionize the way NFL offenses attack an opponent and subsequently, the way defenses will be forced to adapt in order to gameplan against them.
In the article I reference earlier at SI.com, Don Banks insinuates that Kelly will be the type of coach that demands to have complete control over his personnel. Given Banner’s bias toward this type of arrangement, I’m hard pressed to find a reason why Kelly won’t be interviewed for the job. Also, if reports are true that Banner and Haslam intend to ‘move fast to get their guys’ then it’s reasonable to assume their coach of choice currently resides in the college ranks. Unlike McDaniels, who will remain with the Patriots run to another Superbowl, Kelly will be available soon.
University of Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban - Saban’s name is continuing to be floated in connection to the Browns. CBSSports.com reporter Jason LaCanfora recently said on Cleveland sports radio 92.3 The Fan that Cleveland is the only job that Saban would leave Alabama for. However, other reports have surfaced that Saban, age 61, has said that Alabama is the last job he will ever have. Draw your own conclusions but I have a hard time believing that Saban would leave the comforts of Tuscaloosa to come to Cleveland to try a second-stint in the NFL unless he had a ready-made Super Bowl contender waiting in the wings. The Browns, while young and promising, still have a ways to go.
San Francisco 49ers Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman - Roman, like McDaniels and Caldwell, has ties to Northeast Ohio having played college football at John Carroll in the mid-90s. He is currently offensive coordinator for the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh, after having served under him at Stanford from 2009-2011. On his way up the coaching ranks, Roman has coached nearly every offensive position from Offensive Line and Tight Ends (Carolina Panthers) to Quarterbacks (Houston Texans).
Under Harbaugh and Roman, the 49ers have been a model for adapting their offense to the strengths of their personnel. They have seamlessly transitioned from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick at Quarterback midseason and they have improved from 26th to 11th in overall offense in one year’s time. Roman is sure to be a hot candidate for teams in need of a head coach sooner rather than later.
Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator, Kyle Shanahan - Shanahan, 33, is by far the youngest candidate on this list but there is little doubt he has the pedigree to be a great NFL head coach someday. Son of two time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, he is currently working under his father in Washington with the Redskins and their superstar rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
Shanahan likely put in a good word for himself two weeks ago when the Redskins came to Cleveland and stomped the Browns with another rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, who happened to be making his first NFL start filling in for an injured RG3. It has been obvious how effective the Shanahans have been in tailoring their offense to fit the strengths of the their young signal-callers this season, something the Browns current coaching staff has seemingly failed to do. Shanahan installed zone-read principles and the increasingly popular “pistol formation” to acclimate Griffin III and then employed more of a roll out passing attack to help Cousins settle in against the Browns. After some early bumps, Cousins went on to have a great day dismantling the Browns solid defense set up by play-action passes and bootlegs.
While it is widely believed that Kyle is the heir apparent to his father in Washington, it would behoove Haslam and Banner to try to lure him away by giving him an opportunity to step out of his father’s shadow and command a team of his own. There’s no telling how much longer the elder Shanahan plans on coaching and, with the sudden success of the Redskins, this could be Kyle’s window of opportunity to make a move. Of course, the prospects of coaching RG3 and making a serious run at a Super Bowl title over the next few seasons might be enticing enough to keep the younger Shanahan in the comfort zone of the nation’s capital.
Again, no one knows for sure what the Browns new power brokers plan to do after the expected cuts come down on Monday. There are rumors, sources, and speculation around every turn. There may be fire behind all the smoke or it could just as easily lead to a false alarm. One thing is for sure at this point… The Browns are about to head into another off-season of drastic change. The only thing that stays the same in Cleveland is that nothing stays the same.
Additional Head Coach candidates:
*Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach, Bruce Arians
*Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator, Mike McCoy
*Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator, Gus Bradley
*Arizona Cardinals Defensive Coordinator, Ray Horton
Additional General Manager candidates:
*Baltimore Ravens Assistant General Manger, Eric DeCosta
*Arizona Cardinals Vice President of Player Personnel, Steve Keim
*Arizona Cardinals Director of Player Personnel, Jason Licht
*Indianapolis Colts Vice President of Football Operations, Tom Telesco