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Bewildered in Berea

The mess in Berea reached comical levels yesterday with the abrupt firing of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi by an owner who acknowledged he pretty much screwed up the first year and a half of his ownership. I’m really not sure how to react to all of this, except to say that Jimmy Haslam may have finally stumbled into a situation that has a chance of working, with competent football people coaching the team and running the front office. None of us really knows whether Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine can work well together, let alone turn the Browns into a winning franchise. But both seem to be hard working and well respected in their fields, so at least that’s a start.

As Browns fans we’re all numb to this nonsense at this point, and the Browns continue to be a laughing stock as fans and reporters chronicle the decades of futility along with the past 14 years to complete turmoil. In the end, however, all that matters is whether Haslam has finally put together an organization that has a chance to succeed.

The most troublesome part of the organization, however, is Haslam himself. It’s clear now that he and Banner were a poor fit, and adding a toxic character like Mike Lombardi to the mix only made things worse. Banner and Lombardi obviously made some smart moves, like bringing in Brian Hoyer and parlaying a disapointing Trent Richardson into a first rounder, but the coaching fisacos trumped all of that along with some very questionable personel decisions.

But we’re also hearing troubling reports about Haslam. Reportedly he listened to glowing reports from Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer about Greg Schiano and was very impressed with him after a pointless interview while Banner stewed and basically refused to participate. How could anyone want to consider Greg Schiano after his disatrous tenure in Tampa? I don’t care if Vince Lombardi’s ghost recommended him. He clearly was in over his head in the NFL, and from a PR perspective even talking to him made the Browns look like clowns. The fact that Haslam’s braintrust couldn’t stop him from seeking out Schiano drives home the point that Haslam had lost confidence in Banner and Lombardi. The main job for Ray Farmer now is controlling his owner, who seems to seek advice from everyone who has a big name in the NFL and changes his mind constantly.

Meanwhile, Banner seemed obsessed with repeating his self-proclaimed Andy Reid triumph, looking for every young coach that was building a reputation. The idea of putting so much stock in Adam Gase seemed absurd. Meanwhile, Mike Lombardi was apparently angling to bring in Josh McDaniels, someone who had a reputation of being just as toxic as him. Looking back, it shouldn’t be surprising that the coaching search looked chaotic, as the Browns had three guys with diverging agendas involved in the search.

Somehow, however, this “braintrust” settled on two solid candidates with Mike Pettine and Dan Quinn, though we now know that Haslam and Banner had different ideas on whether to wait for Quinn.

So where does this leave the Browns? On the one hand, we have an owner that looks like a poor imitation of buffoons like Daniel Snyder. On the other hand, the revolving door of people running the Browns have somehow managed to leave the franchise in a position to improve dramatically heading into this offseason. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert certainly made some mistakes, but they cleared out an old roster and started a youth movement while protecting the team’s cap situation, leaving the team with young stars like Josh Gordon, Jordon Cameron and Joe Haden. Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi spent more money but still have the Browns in a favorable cap situation with multiple picks in the first round following the Richardson trade. The team has some young stars and is poised to draft a potential franchise quarterback in a draft stacked with talent.

Now it’s up to Farmer and Pettine to take the next steps. Farmer is respected around the NFL, but he’s a first-time GM and he faces some huge decisions on resigning players and picking a quarterback. Then we’ll see if first-time head coach Pettine can take the team Farmer assembles and starts winning.

If the Browns hit on a good quarterback and Pettine turns out to be a good coach, fans will be able to laugh about the drama of the past several years. But if things don’t pan out, how can anyone have confidence that Jimmy Haslam can fix the situation? Let’s hope he’s found a GM and coach that can stay in the job for a while.

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Pilot Flying J raided by FBI and IRS agents

It’s been a strange and heartbreaking day in the sports world with the news out of Boston, but we also heard some strange news out of Tennessee involving Pilot Flying J, Jimmy Haslam’s company. The headquarters was raided today by the FBI and IRS. Needless to say it isn’t good news when the new Browns owner has to deal with something like this. Let’s hope Jimmy isn’t personally involved in any wrongdoing.

Epic rant from Jim Nantz about the Browns and Mike Lombardi

Jim Nantz called in to the Bull and Fox show on 92.3 The Fan and delivered an epic rant about the new Browns organization. You can listen to it here.

His basic message was simple – Jimmy Haslam has assembled an impressive group of people to turn the Browns around, and that Browns fans will soon realize it as they get to work and start winning. He strongly defended his friend Mike Lombardi and took some tough shots at Tony Grossi without mentioning him by name regarding his harsh criticism of Lombardi.

Let’s consider some of the things Nantz said.

First, I agree with him that the overall team assembled by Haslam is impressive, and I’m optimistic about the future direction. This is coming from someone who thought Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert did a ton of the dirty work in turning around the franchise and were heading in the right direction despite some mistakes. Rob Chudzinski is an excellent coordinator, and he seems to have the charisma and leadership qualities necessary to make him a good head coach. I like Haslam’s general style and think he’s looking for the right qualities when considering head coached. Chud has also assembled a very impressive staff, with Norv Turner and Ray Horton leading the pack.

As for Mike Lombardi, I understand both the concerns expressed by people like Grossi along with the praise coming from people like Nantz. Still, Grossi’s comment on the radio the other day that Lombardi was not qualified for the job is ridiculous. People can question past draft picks but he’s certainly developed a resume that prepares him for this job. I also like the fact that Lombardi has been with the NFL Network for 5 years. Anyone with a brain would gain some excellent perspective from that job and would leave there knowing practically every coach and personnel guy in the league.

Also, it’s not like Haslam has handed Lombardi the keys to the organization. The biggest problem with Randy Lerner wasn’t necessarily the people he hired, but the total lack of oversight and accountability that existed after the introductory press conference. Guys like Butch Davis and Eric Mangini desperately needed a strong owner and GM to push back when their desire to control everything led to silly decisions. With Joe Banner and his “team” approach to decision making, no one person can make rash decisions without intense oversight, and you can bet Haslam will be in the room to make sure everyone knows they’ll have to answer for mistakes.

So I know Lombardi isn’t perfect, but I have no problem with a guy like him in the brain trust. Of course Jim Nantz is totally biased in arguing that Lombardi is a football genius. Nantz worships at the Bill Belichick alter, so he’s seems to see everything through that filter. Still, I’m more than comfortable giving Lombardi and the rest of the team a chance.

On the other hand, I think Nantz took some cheap shots at Tom Heckert. Of course Bull and Fox just gushed and didn’t push back on that, which is disappointing given that Heckert rebuilt an old, pathetic roster.

Now, there are legitimate debates on some of Heckert’s picks, and Nantz did raise good points as well. Taking Trent Richardson with the third pick after trading up is certainly debatable, as many believe drafting a running back that high is a mistake. Nance points out late round picks that did well, but pointing out a running back that scores touchdowns in the potent New England offense like Shane Vereen is ridiculous. The question is how would a guy like Vereen have fared with the Browns, who were desperate for some weapons on an offense that didn’t have a great quarterback. I think his point was more persuasive when he brought up Doug Martin who went to Tampa Bay. The Browns could have gotten him at the 22nd pick, and you could argue that young QB Ryan Tannehill at #4 and Martin at #22 would have been better than Richardson and a much older Brandon Weeden.

The real cheap shot was bringing up Russell Wilson, who was passed over by everyone and frankly dropped into the perfect situation. Wilson had a great first year, but he really didn’t flourish until Pete Carroll started running him, and that style of play doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success.

These are all debatable points, and Nantz brings up a good point that Heckert’s record isn’t pristine. Still, he fairly noted that Richardson could be incredible under Norv Turner, and many think Weeden could flourish there as well. So it will take time to flush out Heckert’s record.

At least the Browns recognize that a foundation has been built, and hopefully the new brain trust can build on it. Overall, I’m glad to hear that Lombardi has guys like Nantz will to speak up on his behalf.

As for Tony Grossi, I understand his reservations, and it will be interesting to see how the soap opera plays out now with Lombardi, Grossi and Nantz. To his credit Grossi has said he’s giving Lombardi a clean slate. Let’s see if he lives up to it.

Browns hire Rob Chudzinski as head coach

The Browns will announce Rob Chudzinski as their head coach today at an 11 am press conference. Here are some initial thoughts.

- After the Chip Kelly fiasco, I’m thrilled with this pick, but frankly would have been happy with any of the candidates the Browns were considering after they moved on from Kelly. The idea of watching a read option offense terrified me, and the RG3 injury last week sealed that thought, so I’m glad we’ll be running a pro-style offense.

- Chud is a very good offensive coach. He turned Derek Anderson into a Pro Bowler here in 2007, and he seems to favor a vertical passing attack that would be ideal for Brandon Weeden. There are reports that Norv Turner would join the staff as offensive coordinator, and that’s a huge plus as well.

- I could care less that this isn’t a “wow” or “sexy” hire. The teams that win Super Bowls rarely make a splash with their head coaching hire. Look it up. It stuns me how few people understand that.

- Mary Kay Cabot has reported that the Browns are likely to switch to a 3-4. I’m not thrilled about this at all, but it isn’t confirmed so I’m not going to get all riled up about it until we hear it from Chud or the Browns. It seems foolish to take a step back on defense and retool at this point. That said, our defensive linemen other than Jabaal Sheard could easily transition to a new system, but Sheard and the linebackers would present the biggest risk/challenge.

I’m curious to see how Chud comes across in the press conference. The most important quality of a head coach is the ability to lead men. We know Chud is an excellent coordinator, and now we have to rely on the ability of Joe Banner and more importantly Jimmy Haslam of identifying that quality in Chud.

Can Mike Holmgren still end up coaching in Cleveland?

I’ve always thought this was a possibility, however remote, after Jimmy Haslam purchased the Browns. Mike Holmgren was still under contract, ans having him coach seemed like an interesting possibility in the even Pat Shurmur faltered. Then we had Joe Banner come in and Holmgren basically said goodbye to Cleveland, so it no longer seemed like it could happen.

Then the Dallas rumors started after Holmgren suggested he might want to coach again, and then we had this nugget from Pat McManamon.

Word is that Haslam did not have a pleased expression on his face as Holmgren chatted with Jones, and that there is a feeling within the team that this might hasten Holmgren’s departure. Some in the league would be surprised if he’s in Cleveland in December. Too, there are also rumors that Holmgren would be willing to coach the Browns if Joe Banner and Haslam decided to make a move. Holmgren can’t and won’t address this issue because the guy he picked is coaching the Browns. But if he wants to coach again, it would make sense for Holmgren to step down from the front office to coach in Cleveland. He knows the system, knows the players and knows the media. It would almost be seamless. And it might have been possible a month ago, but now that Haslam and Banner have been around Holmgren and seen this dance with Dallas, the feeling is there’s no way it will happen. Does any of this stuff happen with other teams?

McManamon brings up a good point – there’s no way Mike or the Browns would hint at this publicly while Shurmur is still coaching. But I don’t agree with the other implications from this blurb. If Haslam and Banner really feel that this team is close and that Holmgren could take it to the next level, then a sideline chat with Jerry Jones is totally irrelevant.

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