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.
The Browns have made it official. Norv Turner will be the new offensive coordinator. He hasn’t been a very good head coach, but he’s an excellent coordinator who was in high demand, and he should make Rob Chudzinski’s job a lot easier as a first-time head coach.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Turner calls the plays as well, and I’m very curious to see Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in this offense.
In another impressive news conference, Jimmy Haslam introduced Joe Banner to the Cleveland media today. We heard many of things that we often hear when a new regime takes over, but for the first time the chief executive was joined by an owner who is committed to being involved in the management of the franchise. After Randy Lerner’s absentee ownership, Haslam and Banner came across as a breath of fresh air.
Many in the media are quite giddy, and for good reason. Just having a leader like Jimmy Haslam coupled with a smart and capable NFL executive should bode well for the Browns in the future. That said, nothing Joe Banner said was materially different from what Mike Holmgren said when he took over as team president. The goal was to get a team of smart people who would all be on the same page working towards a common goal. Both emphasized building through the draft. Banner seems open to strategically using free agency, but he emphasized that free agents can be counterproductive if you sign them before a team is ready to compete.
Frankly, Holmgren has started a youth movement with the Browns that should provide a nice foundation for Haslam and Banner, regardless of whether they keep Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur. On that front they seem genuine in their statements that both men will be evaluated at the end of the year. But assuming they don’t do something stupid, like bring in a GM and head coach who want to run the 3-4 over the 4-3, they should be fine as long as they can identify good coaches and GM candidates. I do hope they keep Heckert, and Shurmur should get consideration if he turns the season around, but Haslam and Banner need to get comfortable with these guys.
On offense, the system matters less, as all of these players can fit into another system. But on defense, switching to the 3-4 and in effect throwing away three productive drafts that have built the foundation of a good defensive front would be idiotic. I don’t expect that.
Many are enjoying kicking Mike Holmgren while he’s down, but his legacy is hardly set in stone. He and Heckert have gone with a dramatic youth movement. If the Browns are in the playoffs in the next couple of years with guys like Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Brandon Weeden, Phil Taylor and Joe Haden leading the way, many of us will happily credit Holmgren and Heckert for building the foundation of that success.
The hysterical talk after the week one debacle was just too much. I couldn’t listen to local sports talk, as I knew some fans would be consumed by emotion as they labeled Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden busts after just one game. It wasn’t just Browns fans, as the experts on ESPN and other outlets were having a field day with Weeden’s anemic quarterback rating. It also affected the betting lines of course, as everyone follows the crowd even when they’re into sports betting over the Internet, when instead they should be looking for ways to go counter to the emotional masses. Yes, the Browns either pushed or barely covered against the Bengals last week, but so many people thought that the Browns were finished and that they had to think about starting Colt McCoy.
Of course, things were much different on Sunday in Cincinnati, but before we get to Weeden we have to address Trent Richardson, as he’s the engine that will drive this offense. TRich was obviously rusty in week one against a very tough Philly defense, but he exploded against the Bengals and showed us everything he showed in college. A stud like Richardson gives every offense hope, and now the Browns can build an attack around Richardson, while taking some pressure off of their rookie quarterback. Look at what Ray Rice did for Joe Flacco. The same thing can happen here, and now Browns fans gave much more reason for optimism.
But we also saw that Weeden can also be a real quarterback when Richardson is running well. He rebounded from his brutal debut to post excellent stats. But this goes far beyond stats. Weeden was making throws that only the elite quarterbacks can make, and it’s no surprise that the Colt McCoy cheerleaders were quiet after this game.
None of us know whether Weeden will develop into an elite quarterback. But we saw that the Browns are correct in handing him the offense, as he has the talent that can be developed.
Now let’s see how fast this duo can make progress. The Browns are 0-2, but they face a Bill team at home that’s very beatable. Hopefully they can take that next step.
I’ve had season tickets to the Browns games since they returned to the NFL, and it’s been tough watching the product on the field. Usually we’re leaving early, and then late in the year we don’t bother going at all.
Expectations were definitely higher this year, as the rebuilding project has produced a young team with potential playmakers in Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon.
The Browns were 9.5 point underdogs, so in the grand scheme of things a close ballgame was a pleasant surprise. Frankly the stadium was rockin’ in the fourth quarter as the Browns had a chance to pull the upset. The fans were into it until the very end. Unfortunately, we ended up with another loss to open the season.
Here are some thoughts after stewing on it for several days:
- The offensive woes were very disappointing. I’m aware of all the challenges, with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back who didn’t play a down in the preseason, a rookie wide receiver who hasn’t played in several years and a rookie right tackle. Perhaps we expected too much, but the results were just dismal. The stout Philly defense didn’t make things any easier to accept.
- Many in the media who broke down the game noticed that Trent Richardson was very rusty and didn’t look that explosive despite his awesome run where he crushed a Philly defender and separated him from his helmet. I won’t get too concerned here, as Richardson had zero game reps in preseason, so we should expect him to get much better as he gets into football shape and we start facing some weaker defenses.
- The lack of a running game really hurt, as Brandon Weeden had a brutal performance. Perhaps things would have been different if Greg Little and Owen Marecic would learn how to catch a football, but the end result was just ugly. Weeden just needs to play better, along with the line and the receivers. I’m ignoring all the fools on Twitter who want to bring up Colt McCoy after Weeden’s first game as a rookie, and that includes emotional Browns fans and hacks in the “media” who are desperate for Twitter responses and traffic to their websites. It’s an idiotic topic. Let’s see how Weeden looks after 5 games and then we can have a rational discussion on that topic.
- I was encouraged by some of the play calling, and I loved the double reverse to Travis Benjamin, but Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress need to find more plays apart from slants to make Weeden’s job easier, like bubble screens and other easy throws to get him in a groove. I liked seeing Trent Richardson split wide left on a couple of plays, but we didn’t see a quick pass out to him like we saw last night with Flacco and Rice in the Ravens game. Again, it was one game against a tough defense. We’ll know more about the offense and the play calling after 5 games.
- The defense was fantastic. Perhaps things would have been worse had Andy Reid realized he was allowed to run the ball, but the young defense harassed Micheal Vick all day and forced countless errors. Let’s hope we see much more of this. The young linebackers played extremely well, so I don’t want to see slow guys like Scott Fujita getting much playing time once he gets healthy. Still, the run defense didn’t look great.
- Pat Shurmur made some glaring game-management mistakes last year. I didn’t like them, but I felt he would get better in year two. We didn’t see any huge brain farts in game one, but I think he made a mistake not going for the 2-point conversion. The Browns were having trouble scoring, and the danger of an Eagles touchdown was far greater than two field goals, so adding one point to get to 16-10 gave him very little. Frankly, the pick six was such a surprise they had little time here, so that probably explains the decision as much as anything.
I’ve avoided talk radio in Cleveland this week for the simple reason that I don’t want to listen to emotional rants from unhinged hosts and callers. I don’t care to discuss who the next coach or GM might be if this continues, and I really don’t care to debate Jimmy Haslam’s first move when he takes over. It would be nice if most of the talk actually centered on football as opposed to all the drama, but that’s apparently too much too ask these days.
Let’s see where things stand after 5 games. Of course if the offense continues to look this bad, then those issues will not be avoidable. But the offense should get better as the young kids gain experience. They have talent, and hopefully they figure out how to exploit it.
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.
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.
In one of the dumber features we’ve seen from ESPN, they decided to project out the NFL power rankings for 2015. Yeah, this seems like an idiotic exercise, but that’s ESPN these days. Everyone is desperate for content it seems.
Their panel of “experts” ranked the Browns 32 out of 32 teams. Here’s the write-up, though you’ll have to be an ESPN member to see the whole article.
Roster: RB Trent Richardson should be the best running back in the league in 2015 and young stars like LT Joe Thomas, DE Jabaal Sheard and CB Joe Haden should be in their prime. But there is still a lot of uncertainty with the Browns’ roster for the long term. — Williamson
Quarterback: Brandon Weeden has talent, but Cleveland will want to play him right away. The concern is if he struggles early. He’s older, but will they be patient with him if he takes time to adjust to the NFL game like most rookies? He doesn’t have more physical experience, just years. Bottom line: This is a totally unsettled situation headed into 2012. — Dilfer
Draft: If Weeden doesn’t pan out — and they probably feel compelled to know soon — the Browns will be set back. The draft isn’t the reason they’re this low; the Browns have made some really good picks. The problem is they’re still waiting on a good QB pick. It’s been a long time since they’ve had one. Weeden needs to be the answer, or they’re running in place. — Kiper
Front office: Color me skeptical of the Browns’ front office — and this organization isn’t exactly patient. Cleveland’s front office is now directly tied to Weeden’s future success. I can’t say that is the perfect position to be in. — Williamson
Coaching: Since rejoining the league, few teams have had turnover comparable to the Browns. So if things don’t improve in the very near future, what are the chances that this current staff retains its jobs for the next few years? Brad Childress has taken over the offensive coordinator job. With Richardson now to lean on, expect Childress to run the ball much more than the Browns did in 2011. — Williamson
So these geniuses assume that TRich will be the best back in the NFL and that the Browns have been drafting well recently. But they also realize that Weeden was just picked and they have no idea yet on how he will do. Then they assume that if things don’t improve we’ll see a change in the regime, even though Tom Heckert clearly has been doing a great job. Matt Williamson seems to be the dumbest of the bunch.
If Weeden pans out, this might end up being the dumbest ESPN article of the decade.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson holds up a Cleveland jersey and stands next to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the Cleveland Browns select him as the #3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26, 2012. UPI /John Angelillo
After the first two quarterbacks, there was one great player in the NFL Draft, and the Browns made sure they got him by trading up from #4 to #3 to grab Trent Richardson. There are conflicting reports about whether Minnesota really had other offers on the table, but the Browns paid a small price for certainty, which makes sense when you have a stud like Richardson.
I also love the selection of Brandon Weeden. It sounds like the Browns would have nabbed Kendall Wright at #22 had he been there and then traded up to get Weeden, but they obviously decided to pull the trigger and not risk losing Weeden once Wright was gone.
I was willing to give Colt McCoy another year, as he faced serious challenges last year with a new system, no offseason, the Hillis drama and problems on the O-line. But that said, we desperately needed to upgrade the quarterback position. Now we have a guy with size and a big arm.
I’m tired of seeing the Browns get pushed around by teams like the Steelers and Ravens, and now we have a badass running back along with a big quarterback with a big arm.
It also looks like many of the players the Browns would be considering at #22 will be available around pick #37, with several wide receivers and offensive linemen. My preference right now is Stephen Hill, as he adds more size and serious speed at wide receiver. With Richardson running the ball, and with a Weeden/Hill threat for deep passes, defensive coordinators will have serious issues to face when game planning against the Browns.
If Hill isn’t there, there are plenty of other good options. Let’s see how day 2 goes . . .
Analysis: Richardson is simply a home run at No. 4. You rarely say that about a running back taken so high, but he has such a high floor as a prospect — the only downside is injury, and that’s such a perpetual issue, one that extends far beyond the running back position if you’re looking close. Glenn is a versatile player who Cleveland will move to right tackle. He can be dominant as a run-blocker and has great initial pop, and with his presence, Joe Thomas on the left side and Richardson in the backfield, Cleveland has to feel pretty confident in an upgrade for the ground attack. Weeden is capable of pushing Colt McCoy right away (he’s a few years older) and could be a steal. So he’s older — if the Browns get 6-8 good years from him, will anybody really care? Bentley is a nice piece at corner, where the team can use some help, even though I consider this a pretty good secondary.