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Where do the Browns go from here in their coaching search?

Jan 10, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Updated at 8:54 a.m.

The Morning Kickoff …

The state of things: I’ve covered 10 Browns head coaches, nine coaching changes and seven Browns coaching searches. Never have I seen or heard the franchise criticized and ridiculed so intensely as right now.

It goes back to the firing of Rob Chudzinski and his staff after one disappointing season. Totally outrageous. A complete repudiation of what owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner professed to stand for. Stability? Out the window. Credibility? Shot.

Lurking behind the curtain is Mike Lombardi. His role in this abject mess can not be discounted. Lombardi holds the title of general manager, yet he is strangely protected like a juvenile from media interrogation by Haslam and Banner. Lombardi is absolutely brilliant at evading accountability and transferring blame to coaches.

How long can Lombardi live off the no-risk, low-money pickup of a quarterback, Brian Hoyer, who won two games? What about Mingo, Bess, Kruger, Bryant, Owens? Don’t they count on his record? What about the receiver they signed from Green Bay who showed up with a torn ACL and took up a roster space for three weeks? Who took the fall for that whopper -- receivers coach Scott Turner?

Whose brilliant idea was it to load up the roster with five tight ends and 12 offensive linemen and not a single running back who could move the ball from here to there? Must have been offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

The fact is, Haslam went 4-12 in his first year as owner, Banner went 4-12 in his first year as CEO and Lombardi went 4-12 in his first year as GM. Yet none of them bears responsibility for the record.

At the Haslam-Banner press conference 10 days ago, neither said, “We have to do a better job of helping our coach and team succeed.” It was all on the coaches. They didn’t show improvement.

Now what?: If the coach was the No. 1 problem and the powers-that-be had any inkling of the impending PR backlash for firing a staff after 11 months on the job, then surely they had to have a plan in place to introduce a savior. Josh McDaniels? Spare us. Don’t insult us.

Ten days into their search, it’s obvious there was no front-runner secret candidate who was head-and-shoulders better than Chudzinski.

What gave Chudzinski so much credibility as last year’s hire was the marriage of him with Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. All were good coaches. It was a dream team, hailed by Lombardi’s media acolytes. Less than 12 months later, all were jettisoned, as if they were first-timers in over their heads, a staff of Lane Kiffins.

The 2.0 coaching search so far has produced Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAoo and McDaniels. Four days later, Bill Belichick’s top offensive assistant withdrew his name from consideration. If Lombardi was the point man to deliver McDaniels, then he failed. Spectacularly.

Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase is viewed as a candidate, but he has declined to be interviewed until the Broncos’ Super Bowl run is finished. College coaches Bill O’Brien, Gus Malzahn and James Franklin were nothing more than rumors.

On Thursday the Browns lined up an interview with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who was rejected as a candidate last year after two interviews.

Whisenhunt is largely perceived as Haslam’s guy. If so, what took them so long to schedule an interview? Whisenhunt has interviews lined up with Detroit and Tennessee. He has consented to give the Browns a mulligan after that.

Who will it be?: I have no idea who will be the next Browns coach. My favorite –for the fifth consecutive Browns head coach opening – turned down Randy Lerner twice before and probably will never coach again. That would be Bill Cowher.

The recurring mistake the Browns have made in their thousand coaching searches is not seeing the forest for the trees. The shortest path to the playoffs in the NFL is winning your division. The pre-eminent organization in the Browns’ division is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns need a coach who understands the Steelers to be able to beat the Steelers.

Yet they fixate on Belichick disciples – Crennel, Mangini, O’Brien, McDaniels.

A year ago, Haslam and Banner did not even interview Bruce Arians, who knew the AFC North better than any candidate and had the healthy incentive of longing to defeat the Steelers twice a year, every year, for “retiring” him as Steelers offensive coordinator after the 2011 season.

Arians was Butch Davis’ offensive coordinator the only season the Browns made the playoffs since their rebirth in 1999. After the Steelers “retired” Arians, he  moved on to Indianapolis, where he won coach-of-the-year honors for going 9-3 as Colts interim coach for cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano in 2012. Snubbed by the Browns last year, Arians moved on to Arizona and steered the Cardinals to a 10-6 record in 2013.

So Haslam and Banner certifiably whiffed on that one. I mean, that was a Brandon Weeden “flipper” interception at the management level.

Whisenhunt, of course, has some of the same lines on his resume as Arians -- Browns assistant coach in 1999, then moved on to Pittsburgh in 2001 and was Ben Roethlisberger’s offensive coordinator his first three seasons. He became head coach at Arizona in 2007 and took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2008 with Kurt Warner, on his third team, having another mythical season at quarterback.

I suppose Whisenhunt would be the best bail-out plan at this point, given what I said about emulating the Steelers.

But what do Haslam and Banner say to Whisenhunt if the interview even takes place?

“You know, we really liked you.”

The difference this year is that Whisenhunt has options.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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