Pat Shurmur names Brandon Weeden as the starter at QB

It was just a matter of time of course, but Pat Shurmur made it official today. Brandon Weeden will be the starting quarterback.

Weeden has looked very good in camp, though he’s obviously a rookie and he’s going to make his share of mistakes. But his big arm and his willingness to look downfield makes him a huge upgrade over Colt McCoy.

Speaking of Colt, he wasn’t very happy, and he made some smartass remarks about expecting a real competition and the fact that he took no reps with the first-team offense. But he would have gotten reps had he miraculously started throwing the ball like Weeden. Frankly, he just looks like a backup compared to Weeden.

Of course this doesn’t ensure a successful career for Weeden, but we’ve seen in camp that he has the tools and the temperament to be a good one.

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Impressions of Jimmy Haslam

You only have one chance to make a first impression, and Jimmy Haslam took full advantage of his first news conference to win over Browns fans and the media. Here are some of my first impressions:

Confidence without arrogance

Jimmy Haslam is a very confident man, but he doesn’t come across as arrogant. He talked about listening and learning. He stressed the importance of “collective wisdom,” explaining that having five smart people in the room to hash out an issue is better than four. So he’s smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, and he’s confident enough to surround himself with smart people. He sounds like a natural leader.

Has not made final decision on Mike Holmgren

All of the haters in Cleveland, particularly certain radio talk show hosts, will have to wait a bit, and perhaps much longer, to dance on Mike Holmgren’s grave. Haslam acknowledged that this young team seems to be heading in the right direction and he made sure to mention Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Haslam made it a point to say he would not be commenting now on personnel, but he stressed the importance of putting in place the right team, and he implied he would have an open mind toward Holmgren.

We just might see Holmgren around here for a while. Of course his role will change as Joe Banner is expected to come in as the new team president. Banner is an expert on the business side of football as well as putting together the football operation. With Haslam’s business background and Joe Banner, there’s no need at all for Mike Holmgren to have anything beyond a transitional role on the business side of things.

But when it comes to football operations, Joe Banner’s philosophy is very consistent with what Mike Holmgren has been trying to do here.

Here’s a great profile of Joe Banner, which among other things points out that he isn’t perfect, and that many sports talk radio hosts can be idiots in every NFL town. Here’s one interesting detail:

From the get-go, it was a stretch for Lurie and Banner, two guys with zero experience in professional sports, to think they could march into Philadelphia and take over the Eagles. But they believed, in fact they were dead sure, that they would figure it out. Take the hiring of Andy Reid in 1999, which is Banner’s favorite story. No one had ever hired a head coach who hadn’t run a college team or overseen an offense or defense in the NFL; an impressive coaching résumé was deemed crucial. That was completely backwards thinking, Banner decided. He and Lurie analyzed the qualities the most successful coaches shared — scrupulous attention to detail, absolute commitment to a philosophy, obliviousness to public criticism … hello, Andy Reid! Never mind that Reid was an obscure Green Bay assistant coach. Banner’s and Lurie’s huge risk — just to remind our listeners out there — became the winningest coach in team history.

The “absolute commitment to a philosophy” is exactly what Mike Holmgren has created here in Cleveland, including most importantly Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur. When it comes to football operations, there seems to be a way for Banner and Holmgren to work together, at least for a little while as Mike eases into retirement.

Yesterday on WKNR, the Hooligans seemed totally shocked when Sal Paolantonio stated that of course Joe Banner could work with Mike Holmgren, citing the fact that Banner is not the football guy. His job is to put the right football people in place.

Given Haslam’s “listen and learn” approach, the fact that the Browns are young with potential, and that Holmgren has established a football philosophy, I don’t expect Haslam and Banner to “blow things up” as others have reported. If the Browns improve this season, I suspect they will strongly consider keeping Heckert and Shurmer in place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Holmgren stays on as a consultant.

Haslam will be committed to Cleveland and the Browns

Tony Grossi reported that Haslam went to every Steelers game, home and away, in the four years he was a minority owner. He will be passionately committed to the Browns, and he also indicated a desire to become involved in the community in Cleveland.

Randy Lerner selling the Cleveland Browns

The news broken by Kenny Roda, Tony Rizzo and WKNR yesterday about the Browns being sold shocked most people in Cleveland. Yes, it’s been a miserable 13 years since the Browns came back to the NFL under the Lerner family, but the Browns were coming off a stretch that included a very exciting draft with the additions of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Enthusiasm was finally high again, and even the media was being generally positive. So that’s the context of this news that impacts how people are reacting.

With a day to let this sink in, here are some of my thoughts:

Randy Lerner was not a good owner, so in the grand scheme of things this is good news

Like most people, I didn’t think Randy Lerner was a good owner. He wasn’t the “worst owner in the NFL” like the kids on WKNR were claiming, but he was pretty bad. Yes, he never hesitated to spend money, and of course he’s from Cleveland so he was committed to keeping the team here, so he had some positive qualities. But all of this was overshadowed by his utter lack of leadership and management skills. I wrote about this in a post called “Clueless in Berea” back in 2009 when the Eric Mangini experiment was unraveling:

It’s obvious that Randy Lerner has never managed anything in his entire life. He seems to think that the secret to creating a great football organization is to pick qualified people and get out of the way, and with Lerner that means getting completely out of the way.

But life isn’t that simple, and management certainly isn’t that simple. Problems always arise. Sometimes they have to do with personalities, other times they have to do with flawed strategies. In the end you need a strong person at the top who can oversee what’s going on and ask the tough questions. The person at the top has to be willing to get his hands dirty. He has to be a problem solver, and he has to demand accountability from the GM and the head coach. That has never happened in Berea under Lerner’s watch.

You don’t have to get involved like a Daniel Snyder. Rather, you have to stay on top of what Mangini and Kokinis are doing, and grill them about things that don’t seem to make sense.

The quarterback situation is a prime example. I was willing to give Mangini the benefit of the doubt, but it’s obvious now that the process he used to select and then announce a starter only days before the opener blew up in his face. As the owner, Lerner should be on top of this situation. What’s the plan? Instead, Lerner has no clue what’s going on. That’s a stunning admission.

Lerner followed one basic management principle: employ experts and let them do their job. He went after big names like Butch Davis and then up and coming executives like Phil Savage. Yet until he picked Mike Holmgren, he never had anyone used to managing an entire football operation. He thought he could hand someone the keys and let them work their magic, but he wasn’t there to oversee things when Butch Davis was breaking down emotionally and Phil Savage was acting more like a scout than a general manager. The Eric Mangini/George Kokinis farce was just the tip of the iceberg.

Lerner brought nothing to the table. Still, he may have finally found someone who could handle everything in Mike Holmgren, who brought in Tom Heckert. If the enthusiasm for TRich and Weeden ends up being justified, then Lerner’s last regime might have finally helped get the Browns on track. That said, a new owner should be a significant upgrade over Lerner.

Jimmy Haslam seems like a solid guy

We really have no idea what kind of owner Jimmy Haslam will be. We know he’s an excellent businessman, so one would hope he would be a more effective owner than Randy Lerner. He’s also described as a hands-on business manager, so he shouldn’t have any problem managing a football team. Still, we’ve seen successful businessmen come in and be terrible owners as well, so there’s no guarantee here. So the fear of the unknown might be spooking some people. We want someone like Dan Gilbert, but don’t want a Daniel Snyder.

The news headlines that focused on Jimmy Haslam being a “1000% Steelers fan” are really pathetic. It’s another example of how lame ESPN can be at times. It was already big news, but they took one quote out of context to try to add more drama.

This quote spooked some Browns fans, but Haslam didn’t grow up as a Steelers fan, and he said that only when asked about his allegiance after he bought a minority interest in the Steelers, so of course you’re a fan of a team once you purchase an ownership interest. Assuming he buys the Browns he’ll be a million-plus-percent Browns fan. This shouldn’t be an issue.

Haslam does seem to be a die-hard football fan, so in that sense we should be getting a committed, enthusiastic owner. So on first blush he seems like the kind of guy fans should be happy with, but there’s no guarantee.

Impact on Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert

As I mentioned above, many Browns fans, including me, are very excited about what H&H accomplished this offseason with Richardson, Weeden, Schwartz and Josh Gordon being added to the mix. The Browns finally appear to be on the right track with Holmgren and Heckert running the show, so for many of us we don’t want to see everything blown up again.

Stability and continuity are very important for success in the NFL, and we’ve had little of that in Cleveland as every Lerner regime blew up after several years. While Haslam may end up being a great owner, fans are obviously wary of wholesale changes slowing down the progress many of us expect this year.

For this reason, many Browns fans were not totally enthusiastic about the news. Guys on the radio like Bruce Hooley were “shocked” that it wasn’t a 100% favorable reaction, but that just shows the bubble these guys live in, as they think the irate callers to talk radio represent all Browns fans. That’s just ridiculous. Also, many fans who would love to see Lerner go have legitimate questions about the new owner and what he’ll do with the current regime.

Hopefully, Haslam’s plan will be based in part on what the team looks like this year. If the latest draft produces an exciting offense and the young team shows real progress on the field in 2012, then he would be foolish to blow everything up. Yes, a new owner wants their own team of professionals to run things, but changing course on a successful rebuilding project would demonstrate a desire to satisfy his own ego over taking a practical approach to building the Browns as a winner. For example, if he brought in a new GM who wants a 3-4 defense instead of the current 4-3 we’ve spent three years building, then my head would explode. But there’s nothing we’ve seen so far to suggest Haslam would do something that stupid, but of course we’ll have to wait and see. The key for me is that I don’t want to see a huge change in philosophy right away or at all if we’re seeing progress with the current plan.

Barring a collapse on the field in 2012, I’d like to see Heckert stay. I’d also like to see Mike Holmgren stay on in some capacity, but much of his work is done. He set up Heckert and the front office, and he transformed an old, crappy team into a young team with huge potential. The last draft could be the building block that sets the stage for a rebirth of the franchise. Even if Holmgren leaves, if the Browns get to the next level Holmgren will deservedly get a lot of the credit. Of course the opposite will be true if Weeden and company flop.

Holmgren’s deal might include a provision where he gets his entire contract paid upon a sale. Most of the guys are on the radio are assuming that Holmgren will be gone right away, particularly with the rumors that former Eagles president Joe Banner might be involved in Haslam’s group with the plan being he comes in as team president. But anything is possible here. They might ask Holmgren to stay on as a consultant through this season and beyond. Also, with all the money coming his way, I wouldn’t even be shocked if Holmgren took some of it in the form of an ownership piece with the new Haslam group. Or he could just go back to Seattle. The point is that anything is possible here.

The impact on Pat Shurmur and the team

As mentioned above, I hope that Haslam’s plan for the future takes into account the current state of the team. If we see progress I hope he wants to build on it as opposed to sacrificing that just in the name of asserting control.

That said, there’s no doubt that Shurmur will have much less room for error now that Holmgren won’t be calling all the shots. If the team plays well and he avoids his first-year mistakes, then I would expect Haslam and Banner to stick with him. But if we see real talent from the new players coupled with more mistakes from Shurmur and the coaching staff, then we can expect to see a change.

Cautiously optimistic

With all these factors, I’m cautiously optimistic about the impending sale. Lerner obviously didn’t have his heart in it, and doesn’t have the management skills to run the Browns long term. Even if Holmgren stayed five years and then left Heckert in charge as GM, Lerner would probably find a way to screw things up.

For the long run, Haslam seems to have the potential to be a very good owner. We can’t be sure of course, but I feel pretty good about it so far.

Browns hire Brad Childress

Brad Childress. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Other than a few angry people masquerading as “experts” on sports talk radio, most people seem satisfied with the decision by the Browns to bring in Brad Childress as the new offensive coordinator. The guy is clearly an expert in the West Coast Offense, and he’s been a part of very successful teams with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings over the years.

The perpetual critics will always be able to point to something in his record that supports their assertion that this hire is a “disaster.” He’s also known as “Chilly” for his sometimes tough demeanor. That, of course, misses the point. Pat Shurmur worked with him in Philly, so he obviously feels the two can work well together.

None of us know whether this will work out. Sometimes a young, innovative coach is the answer. Other times, an experienced guy like Childress who also has head coaching experience can be a great fit. Fans, writers and radio big-mouths will all have their opinions, but at some level it’s appropriate to give the organization the benefit of the doubt, even if they are coming off a bad season. Organizations take time to build, and I see Mike Holmgren putting together a good group of professionals who are all on the same page. Some might scream about irrelevant facts, like how these guys all share the same agent, but I don’t care about that at all if these guys can build an organization that is built to last.

Andy Reid is biased of course, but Mary Kay Cabot got some good quotes from him on this situation:

“Pat’s a heck of a play-caller, and Brad’s a heck of a play-caller, and I think that’s a heck of a combination,” Reid told The Plain Dealer. “Both of them can bounce things off of each other. That’s what Brad did here with me, and that’s what Pat did here with me. So, whether I was calling the plays or they were calling the plays, we had an open communication where we could talk and make the best of whatever situation there was.”

Childress, a former Minnesota Vikings head coach, was hired by the Browns on Friday to be the first offensive coordinator under Shurmur, who called his own plays last season. Shurmur and Childress spent seven years together under Reid in Philadelphia, going 70-42 in those years with four trips to the NFC Championship Game and one appearance in the Super Bowl, a loss to New England.

Shurmur will retain play-calling duties for now, but the two will have plenty of discussions about that, and nothing has been finalized yet, an NFL source said. Shurmur said during his season-ending news conference that he’d relinquish the play-calling duties if the right person came along.

“They were a great combo for me here, and we sure won a lot of games with those two at the helm of my offense here, and so I wouldn’t expect anything different,” said Reid, who ran the same West Coast offense the Browns have in place. “They work very well together, and it’s a great fit. The Cleveland Browns are getting a great person, No. 1, and a tremendous football coach. He’s got a great football mind, and he has a great relationship with Pat. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Reid cited the tremendous job Childress and Shurmur did with quarterback Donovan McNabb, who went to three Pro Bowls with Childress as quarterbacks coach and three more with Shurmur in that capacity.

“They did a phenomenal job with Donovan,” said Reid. “Brad had Donovan when he was young, and Pat had him when he was a little older, and Brad never lost his relationship with Donovan when he became the coordinator. The two of them developed him very well. He was a great player, but they did a heck of a job with him.”

Reid is confident they’ll have the same impact on quarterback Colt McCoy, if the Browns decide to stick with him.
“Both of them understand it takes four years for a quarterback to fully mature or get close to full maturing in the NFL,” said Reid. “It’s not a bang-bang thing that happens overnight. They understand how to go through that process and how to teach quarterbacks and when to be a little tough on them and when you need to back off. They both have a great feel for that.”

Reid highlights many points that we all should understand. Coaching is about teamwork, and it’s critical that people can work together. Mike Holmgren stresses this all the time, and it’s also important that the coaches work well with the scouts and GM.

I want the Browns to build an organization that has continuity and that can rival the organizations in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. We’ll see how Childress works out, but he’s another expert in the system that this organization believes in. That’s a real positive to build on.

Browns release Shaun Rogers and other veterans

New head coach Pat Shurmer is starting to clean house, releases a group of veterans over the age the 30 in an effort to make the team younger. GM Tom Heckert had indicated that the Browns needed to get younger, particularly on defense, even if they stuck with the 3-4 defense. With the move to the 4-3, it probable made it easier to part ways with many in this group.

The Browns’ housecleaning under new coach Pat Shurmur began Wednesday when the team cut six players, including three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers and three of Eric Mangini’s former Jets.

In addition to Rogers, the contracts of linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, right tackle John St. Clair and tight end Robert Royal were terminated. All six were over 30 and Barton, Bowens, and Coleman all played for Mangini in New York.

These guys were mostly good players in their time, but they’re all getting old. Royal was a disaster as a receiver, but he was a good blocker. It wasn’t his fault that Mangini and Daboll kept using him in the passing game.

With this decision, I’m thinking the Browns might be planning on taking advantage of all the quality defensive linemen in the draft this year.

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