While reading Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column in which he praises the Ravens’ organizational competence, going so far as to speculatively declare John Harbaugh “The New Noll,” I was struck by a sharp juxtaposition.
That the team that was once the Browns has come to embody consistency and stability more so than perhaps any other team in professional football is a quirk of fate. That the franchise that actually dons the orange helmets has become the NFL’s temp agency—where the on-field turnover is trumped only by that of the personnel off it— is an all-too-cruel irony.
How is it, I thought, that someone such as Harbaugh, who hadn’t held as much as a coordinator job in the NFL or college when he was hired, has become the mainstay of one of the league’s most successful teams? Meanwhile, the Browns seem to go through coaches and top brass faster than the pace of offensive plays we’ll see in Monday night’s national championship game.
How is it that, time after time, it’s the Browns who get in the way of themselves?
Of course, this was even before Kyle Shanahan’s resignation and the possible reasons for his departure revealed yet another layer of dysfunction and mistrust between members of the coaching staff and front office in Cleveland.
According to multiple news outlets, Shanahan became disenchanted with the Browns’ decisions and way of operating and leaves after just one year.
What’s the expression—one’s an accident, two’s a trend, three’s a problem? So what does mean for the Browns, who have had nine offensive coordinators in the past nine years?
Say what you want about a relatively new coaching staff still trying to establish themselves, how they’re better off without him and how it’s Shanahan—not the Browns—who is responsible for this drama.
Do the excuses sound familiar? They should. Blame and the phrase “we’ll get this next one right” have become as much a part of the Browns lexicon as Kardiac Kids and “The Drive.”
This cultural dysfunction did not take root over night and shows no signs of ending any time soon, despite what we have come to hope with each new regime change.
We thought when Jimmy Haslam shelled out a cool billion for the team, things would be different. With his hands-on approach at the top, there would come a level of accountability and stability that had been previously absent from in the organization. What we didn’t know was that his involvement—and frequent interference— would engender even more dissention—especially once the losses started to pile.
And that’s exactly how it happened.
In inserting himself into drafting and now, perhaps even meddling in gameday decisions in the form of texts to staff on the sidelines, we’ve seen his hands-on approach become an intrusive presence indicative of an even more toxic situation than we first thought.
It’s true Shanahan’s unit sagged as the year progressed, and that the Browns finished the season ranked 27th out of 32 teams in points scored. But the offense’s late-season swoon as well as Shanahan’s departure are representative of a larger trend.
It’s no coincidence that the Browns level of performance declined this season as drama increased. It could even be argued that the team that finished the season with five straight losses was the genuine incarnation of the Browns. It sure felt that way.
Shanahan was lauded as somewhat of a savant early in the season for his creative playcalling but appeared exposed in the second half of the season as the team’s quarterback play from Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel declined. But maybe it wasn’t Shanahan, after all, who was exposed.
Maybe it was an entrenched culture rearing its ugly head once more.
As former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano likes to quip, consistency confirms authenticity.
This is clearly the case for a team like the Ravens; a team built on a rock solid foundation created by a stable and unwavering brain trust. Meanwhile, the Shanahan mess should be proof that the inverse continues to hold true for the Browns: inconsistency and instability confirm artificiality.