DraftBrowns Staff Writer, Ryan Alton
It’s happening already. There hasn’t been a practice or even an organized team activity, let alone a game that counts. The team can’t even officially meet as a whole, but already, it’s happening.
It seems with each passing regime, many in the Cleveland Browns fan base and media become increasingly more skeptical and mistrusting of the next group that comes in. Their reasons are not unfounded.
We have witnessed seemingly every combination of front office structure come in and fail. Every head coach that has been hired has failed. Every quarterback that has been drafted, signed, or traded for has failed. It’s been, quite simply, one catastrophe after another.
So it’s safe to assume apparently, in the minds of many, that the latest configuration of people leading their beloved Browns will soon fail too.
And if that is indeed the mentality, then perhaps I can further assume that same contingent of “fans” aren’t even willing to wait to watch what they ultimately believe to be the inevitable before they throw up their hands in indignation. It’s not difficult to understand the psychology at work here.
While the Browns have been failing, their most hated division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have been a model of consistency and respect throughout the NFL. The Steelers have been to three Super Bowls (winning two) since 2005.
Meanwhile, the Browns have enjoyed just one winning season (in 2007) and weren’t even lucky enough to squeak into the playoffs despite a record of 10-6.
During that same span, the Baltimore Ravens (the team that was once the Browns) have enjoyed six winning seasons and have an impressive 9-4 record in the post-season including a 4-0 run on their way to winning Super Bowl XLVII last month.
Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.
So it’s understandable that Browns fans are sick and tired of seeing regime after regime come in and fail while their contemporaries enjoy so much success. Cleveland is a blue-collar city full of middle-class people who pride themselves on hard work. They want their team to have the same mentality. Save the excuses, just work hard and get it done.
Unfortunately, it’s been one excuse after another. ”This guy didn’t get along with this other guy.” “This guy had a nervous breakdown.” ”This guy was too soft.” ”This guy was an ego-maniac.” “We signed this guy but then he got hurt.” “The roster is full of aging veterans.” “The roster is full of rookies and second-year players.” “We don’t have the quarterback yet.” “Our offer wasn’t good enough to get this done.” The list goes on and on. Save it! We don’t want to hear it anymore. Am I right?
It’s understandable. The problem is, we’ve gotten so tired of excuses and losing, our patience has run dry. It’s practically non-existent. The reluctance to buy into the new regime in their first few months in Berea is all the proof that you need.
One stroll through the “Twitterverse”, a glance at a popular Browns message board, or even the columns of some the more respected Browns beat reporters will give you a glimpse into the mentality I’m referring to.
The amount of cynicism and impatience toward the new Browns brain trust has surpassed what many might consider a healthy level. There’s a fine line between being critical and being unbearably pessimistic. Cleveland Browns fans (and some members of the media), it seems, would make for an interesting psychological case study.
“So then, why should I be positive?” ”What have you seen that makes you think this time will be any different?” And there they are. The questions I am often asked by fans who seemingly want something to believe in but refuse to let down their guards. Either they can’t find a reason on their own and they want someone to do their homework for them or they simply want proof of something before allowing themselves get too emotionally invested.
Either way, I get it. Why should anyone buy in anymore? What has changed thus far that ensures future success? The truth is I can’t tell anyone how to feel and I can’t convince anyone, though I’ve tried, that doesn’t truly want to be convinced. I’m fully aware the proof will be in the pudding. Nothing changes really until the team starts to win. And that’s the one thing, I believe, all fans can agree on.
But it all starts at the top. The common denominator in all of the past failures since the Browns came back in 1999 was the Lerner family, most notably Randy Lerner. It’s been well-documented that Lerner really didn’t want to own the Browns but he felt an obligation to his late father, Al, and the city of Cleveland to be a ‘steward’ of the franchise.
Lerner never wanted to be accountable for what took place inside Berea. Instead, he wanted to hire someone who could fulfill the responsibilities of an owner without having the actual title of one. Lerner finally achieved that when he hired an ex-coach to run the entire organization in Mike Holmgren.
As it turns out, Holmgren was nowhere near qualified to have such responsibility. But Lerner, who was a sucker for a big name, didn’t care. If it afforded Lerner the ability to sit in the background and have his organization run by a familiar face that was respected around the NFL, then it was more than ideal. In his mind, he hit a home run with Holmgren.
Unfortunately, Holmgren took a page out of the Lerner playbook and became almost as absent from the team facility as his boss. After he hired the people in place to run the organization underneath him, Holmgren became largely uninvolved with team operations. With the exception of the hiring of well-respected General Manager Tom Heckert, it seems Holmgren might have realized he was in over his head.
Perhaps as an admission he made his largest and most expensive mistake to date, Lerner decided to sell the team last summer to Tennessee billionaire Jimmy Haslam III. It was then that things quickly went south for the Holmgren regime.
Haslam, thus far, has been the antithesis of Lerner. From the very start, even before he was officially voted in by other owners, he has been involved in every aspect of the team. It began while the old regime was still running the show. Haslam asked questions, got involved in the community, and even sat with fans in the Dawg Pound. He made an effort to immerse himself in the culture to better understand what he was dealing with. Haslam was getting to know Cleveland more than his predecessor, who was born in Cleveland, ever did.
Fans, for the most part, have no problem with Haslam and, from what I can tell, are embracing the change from the absentee former owner. Though there is some trepidation that Haslam will be a meddling owner among the likes of the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, I don’t get the sense that that will be the case. I think Haslam is smart enough to know what he doesn’t know and football operations, though he will be involved with key decisions, aren’t going to be run in Cleveland like they have been in Dallas.
That brings us to Joe Banner. Haslam hired Banner, former President of the Philadelphia Eagles, to be his CEO. This is where much of the fan and media consternation seems to stem from when it comes to trusting the new regime. Banner, who was largely successful in Philadelphia while running the business side of things, is now in charge of all team operations in Cleveland.
This scares Browns fans. Perhaps it’s the Holmgren-effect (i.e. having someone unqualified at a position running the show) at work, but football fans don’t want someone they perceive to be unfamiliar with football operations making franchise altering decisions on that side of the organization. Fair enough.
But how many average Browns fans know what Joe Banner knows about football and what he doesn’t? All we know is what we’ve been told and it’s been well-documented that Banner wasn’t popular with the media in Philly. He was often seen as the ‘bad guy’ because he had to make difficult decisions like cutting popular players for salary cap reasons and the like.
Quite simply, as a businessman, Banner put business decisions for the good of the franchise before the needs of some of the people who only cared about football within the organization, including some players, coaches and scouts. Those people, along with media and fans, who couldn’t care less about the business-side of team operations, did not empathize with Banner’s decisions and he was therefore vilified. Banner became an easy target for the team’s shortcomings. The same thing already seems to be happening in Cleveland and the team hasn’t even played a game.
Apparently, many fans and media are content to buy into whatever they’ve been told by their counterparts in Eastern Pennsylvania without waiting to see for themselves. And I feel comfortable making that assumption because the perception of Banner doesn’t equal the actions he has taken thus far in his short time in Cleveland. It’s quite evident, his reputation has preceded him and for a fan base searching desperately in need of something positive, his arrival hasn’t been well-received.
Instead of being patient, fair and open-minded about the whole thing, many have allowed perception to shape reality. And while I understand what is at the root of such behavior, needless to say, I feel this reaction is premature. But with free agency and the NFL Draft right around the corner, Banner will have plenty of opportunities to show he can make intelligent football decisions. We’re all waiting with baited breath. He knows, especially with the unpopular decision to hire Michael Lombardi as his de facto GM, that there is a lot to prove. All I’m saying, in conclusion, is the least we can do is afford them that chance.