Cleveland Browns Hit Reset Button Again; Jimmy Haslam Needs To Be Patient

Jimmy Haslam and the Browns hit the reset button – again. When does it end? 

After Hours with Amy Lawrence
November 01, 2018 - 10:00 am

USA Today Images

Change simply for the sake of change is counterproductive. When constant change is the norm, it's impossible to find balance or stability. Where change becomes an obstacle to success, we find the Cleveland Browns.

Maybe THIS will be the round of changes that turns the Titanic around. Maybe THIS reboot by the Browns' owner and front office will serve as the fresh start that puts them on a positive track. Maybe firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will be a major turning point in the team's rebuilding process. Or maybe not. Maybe these latest pink slips are the just next scene in the football version of Groundhog Day.

As Gregg Williams takes over as interim head coach, he becomes the tenth to man the helm since the Browns returned to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. The math isn't difficult. The team averages a new head coach every two seasons! Some of the names are prominent, like Romeo Crennel and Pat Shurmur; others serve as footnotes of futility, like Chris Palmer, Terry Robiskie, and Mike Chudzinski. As for Jackson, he'll be remembered for guiding the team to the second winless campaign in NFL history (0-16 in 2017). His teams were the source of angst and consternation for Browns fans, and they were the easy punchline for jokes outside of Cleveland. He collected three wins and a tie in two-and-a-half years. It's hard to argue against his firing with such a putrid track record, but he's not the only one to blame.

Consider the big picture: a revolving door of general managers, front office executives, math whizzes, and football philosophies. New faces, new ideas, newcomers with name tags every few months. What's the adage about the weather in many parts of the country? "If you don't like it, wait five minutes, and it will change." That could also apply to the Cleveland Browns. After two decades, anyone and everyone associated with the team EXPECTS change. It's hard to invest and dig in and build anything worthwhile when two years is all the time you're given. Human nature generally finds us bracing ourselves for the unpleasant if we know it's coming. We prepare for the worst; and in the case of Cleveland, getting fired is almost inevitable for the decision-makers. It's not IF, but WHEN.

It's easy to spot the ripple effects throughout the organization. When instability is the norm, it's nearly impossible to establish a consistent, winning culture. And without a successful track record, it's nearly impossible to lure the upper echelon of players, coaches, and front-office brass. Very few people are content, comfortable or productive operating in an environment of constant upheaval. The turnover impacts the rosters and creates a turnstile among players as well, namely quarterbacks. Since 2016 when Jackson was hired, seven different QBs have started for the Browns. That includes a trio of rookies in Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, and now Baker Mayfield. Stretching back to 1999, a full thirty quarterbacks have spent time atop the depth chart. THIRTY in 20 years! Only top draft pick Tim Couch started every game in a season and survived at least five years in Cleveland.

Each athlete learns, adjusts, and adapts to change differently. Every time a coach is hired or fired, the locker room absorbs the shock waves. Think about the number of voices, styles, personalities, systems, playbooks, schemes, terminologies, and game plans the Browns have heard and ingested in the last two years, five years, ten years, and twenty years. It's no surprise that free agents aren't clamoring to sign in Cleveland and that the franchise needs to overpay to bring them into the fold. It's also not a shock that very few stay of their own accord.

Recently retired offensive lineman Joe Thomas was the incredible aberration. Drafted in the first round in 2007, he spent his entire career in Cleveland, and he loves the Browns! He's proud of his tenure and his 10,363 consecutive snaps until a triceps injury cut last season short. Sadly, this future Hall-of-Famer never lined up to take a snap in the playoffs. That's because he's the exception to the rule. In his eleven years with Cleveland, he blocked for a smorgasbord of quarterbacks – 20 to be exact – and he took marching orders from a half-dozen different coaches. No stability, no job security, and no constancy almost always equals no winning in sports.

There is good news. Haslam is keeping GM John Dorsey for now. On the job less than a year, Dorsey is well-respected in the NFL community, and some of his early decisions are already reaping benefits. The young, aggressive Browns defense is tops in the league in takeaways, and rookie cornerback Denzel Ward is a major reason why. Fifth-round pick Genard Avery is an upgrade at linebacker. Of course, Williams will have his hands full coordinating the D and navigating the responsibilities of interim head coach. In the last few months, Dorsey also added leading receiver Jarvis Landry and top rusher Carlos Hyde as weapons for the offense (Hyde, of course, was traded to Jacksonville for a fifth-round pick). And the front office believes Baker Mayfield is a star-in-the-making. They like his energy, competitiveness, work ethic, and heart. Protecting the young QB from turmoil sparked this latest round of changes. Not one or the other but both Jackson and Haley were shown the door, so Mayfield wouldn't be caught in a power struggle or dragged down by poor leadership.

Leadership starts at the top, though. Since he purchased the team in 2012, Haslam has made it very clear his go-to move is hitting the reset button, akin to crumpling up a piece of paper and starting all over again. The constant change is Cleveland's crutch. The team can't be expected to win without a solid, stable foundation, and that only happens with time and a measure of patience.

 

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.