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Still riding a losing streak, the Browns seek to restore confidence with the right head coach hire

Jan 16, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Updated at 8:33 a.m.

The Morning Kickoff …

They can’t win: When do the Browns break their losing streak?

They lost their last seven games. They fired their coach after 11 months on the job. Then things got ugly.

Every twist and turn of their coaching search has been picked apart, chewed up and spit out. Every candidate they have interviewed has been ripped. Every candidate that turns them down and flees to another team is glorified.

That’s what happens when confidence and trust are lost. They can’t get this right, can they?

If Team A hired Bozo the Clown – I mean, the real Bozo the Clown -- the Browns would be crucified for not interviewing him.

They were justifiably buried for making a knee-jerk reaction to a 4-12 season. Then when they adopted a deliberate approach to figuring it out, they were hammered for sitting on their hands.

On Wednesday, owner Jimmy Haslam emailed a letter to fans explaining the team’s intentions to wait to interview candidates still involved in the playoffs. Overwhelming response: What a joke!

Even provocateur commentator Keith Olbermann – ESPN’s own worst person in the world -- spent five minutes expectorating his bile on the subject. Such are the depths to which the Browns have sunk.

Certainly the Browns can still blow this thing. Hiring Josh McDaniels (11-17 career record) or Greg Schiano (11-20) would pretty much realize everyone’s worst fears. But being the last to hire their coach is in itself not the worst thing in the world.

Until recently, waiting for candidates from the conference championship teams was a fairly safe way to go.

The six other teams with openings have now made their choices. Here is a look at whom the Browns missed out on.

Houston: Hired Bill O’Brien on Jan. 2.

O’Brien was the prize of this year’s hiring season. After five years coaching every aspect of the New England Patriots’ offense except offensive line, he took on the challenge of rebuilding the shattered Penn State program after the Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno scandal. He bolted after seasons of 8-4 and 7-5. O’Brien walked into a fantastic situation in Houston. He inherits playmakers Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing – and the No. 1 overall draft choice. O’Brien just might be the first branch of the Bill Belichick tree to win in the NFL. He doesn’t have to pretend to be an SOB. He appears to already have the gene.

Tampa Bay: Hired Lovie Smith on Jan. 2.

By far the most accomplished coach of the new hires, he had an 84-66 record in nine seasons as coach of the Chicago Bears, including three NFC North titles and one Super Bowl appearance. This was a tremendous hire for reasons other than just that record. Smith, 55, previously served five years as Bucs linebackers coach, so he is a respected, familiar figure in the market. Also, he was fired in Chicago in 2012 after a 10-6 record. You’ve got to believe he will be motivated to prove them wrong. Smith acted swiftly in naming two solid coordinators, long-time college offensive guru Jeff Tedford on offense and fired Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on defense.

Washington: Hired Jay Gruden on Jan. 9.

Jon Gruden’s younger brother earned good reviews in three years as Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator. The fact the Bengals scored 10, 13 and 10 points in their one-and-done playoff appearances the past three years didn’t faze Washington GM Bruce Allen. Allen teamed with Jon Gruden to win a Super Bowl championship with Tampa Bay following the 2002 season. Jay Gruden was part of that Buccaneers coaching staff. Jay Gruden is Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s seventh head coach since 1999. That matches the Browns’ record in that time.

Tennessee: Hired Ken Whisenhunt on Jan. 13.

Interviewed three times by the Browns in the past 12 months, he was also sought by Detroit but bypassed the chance to coach Lions QB Matthew Stafford for … Tennessee’s Jake Locker? Hello? Whisenhunt won two NFC West division titles in his first three seasons in Arizona and rode Kurt Warner to the Super Bowl following the 2008 season. After Warner retired, Whisenhunt burned through six starting quarterbacks and had seasons of 5-11, 8-8 and 5-11. That record prompted Matt Leinart, a first-round Arizona bust in 2006, to say, "You look at his tenure in Arizona -- only two years, he had success, and in those two years, Kurt Warner ran that football team -- I was a part of it."

Detroit: Hired Jim Caldwell on Jan. 14.

Caldwell’s low-profile personality might fit the job description of an assistant coach better than that of head coach. But he did take the Colts to the Super Bowl upon succeeding long-time mentor Tony Dungy in Indianapolis in 2009. But without Peyton Manning in 2011, Caldwell went 2-14 and was fired. Ozzie Newsome promptly added Caldwell to the Ravens’ coaching staff in 2012. Late in the year, Ravens coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and elevated Caldwell to the post. The Ravens caught fire and won the Super Bowl. All things considered, this was the third-best hire after Smith by Tampa Bay and O’Brien in Houston.

Minnesota: Hired Mike Zimmer on Jan. 15.

Wherever he had been as defensive coordinator – under Bill Parcells in Dallas, under Bobby Petrino one year in Atlanta, and under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati – Zimmer was loved by his players and by media who covered him. Famously outspoken, Zimmer’s success in coordinating defenses always was tempered by his tart tongue. He instantly became the coaching fraternity’s newest loose cannon. The Browns interviewed him last year and were not impressed enough to revisit his candidacy this time around.

 

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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