By Tony Grossi
Browns fans this week were consumed with Tom Heckert, Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Nick Saban, Jimmy Haslam and Josh McDaniels. Fans are scared that Haslam and Banner seem intent on blowing up the football operations they inherited just as the team appears to be turning round.
Hey Tony: I have come to the realization that you want to be the next General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, and you are using your control over the Cleveland media to get it. You are engineering the opinion on to Browns fans that Mike Lombardi is a bad guy. Lombardi does not have a voice in Cleveland, so can only engineer his opinion in other NFL news sites. You are scaring fans into the idea that Lombardi will kill off the momentum the Browns currently have. But, you don't really back Tom Heckert. You didn't have a good relationship with Randy Lerner, so you knew he would never hire you. Now, with a new owner you have a shot at impressing him, and you seem to be flattering Banner. I have to go because I need to study for my intro to mass media final. What is your next move going to be?
-- Kevin, Boston, MA
Hey Kevin: I don’t have any control over the Cleveland media, nor do I want to be the next GM of the Browns. I write about and comment on the Browns, and have done so for longer than you have been alive. I have chronicled one of the greatest franchises in sports history as it has been run down, moved to another city, reborn through great sacrifice and cost to its fans and city taxpayers, and then mismanaged to the point of utter hopelessness. It’s going on two generations of fans who have never seen this team win anything. My young son and daughter ask me constantly if the Browns are ever going to be any good. I want to tell them yes and mean it. The stadium is one-third empty on any given Sunday. Now that the team is in new hands, I am not going to sit back idly and watch more mistakes occur without commenting on them. This franchise is at a crossroads.
Hey Tony: Tom Heckert, in my opinion is having a huge impact on the development of this team. It seems that we are only a few positions (DE, LB & CB) away from being able to “draft the best available player” regardless of position. I can’t remember the last time we were in this situation. I don’t see how they can replace Heckert. Because of the re-structuring, do you feel that Heckert may want to leave? As for Shurmur, a few weeks ago, I wanted him gone. These last few games have led me to believe that he is learning to be a head coach, gaining experience and learning to win. Just like the team is. The players aren’t competing for a playoff spot, yet they are playing like they are right in the middle of it. That is “coaching” pure and simple. It has been speculated that they would want a head coach that was an “up & coming” coordinator. Isn’t that what Shurmur is, was? I say keep him. Jimmy Haslam has said all along that everybody will be evaluated at the end of the season. My biggest fear with this team right now is, do I believe that the evaluation hasn’t already taken place? Do you? I don’t see how they could feel that a change is necessary, barring a total collapse in the last 3 games. Do we need to start a “mail” campaign or an “e-mail” for the fans to express our feelings on the direction of the team?
-- Ed, Benton, TN
Hey Ed: Ever since Joe Banner was introduced as CEO in mid-October, I have not found a single source in the NFL to tell me either Heckert or Shurmur would survive Banner’s ax. Shurmur’s late winning streak is making it difficult for Banner to change coaches. But I don’t think anything will save Heckert’s job, as Banner already has changed the job description to one that he knew Heckert would not accept.
Hey Tony: If, say, Sean Payton or Bill Walsh were running the Browns’ offense, do you think they would figure out a way to create a bigger role for Josh Cribbs than he has today?
-- Don, Summit, NJ
Hey Don: I don’t think either would make Cribbs a focal point of the offense, but I suspect each would make an attempt to put the ball in Cribbs’ hands a few times a game. I wonder if either would have considered Cribbs more valuable as a third-down back than as a wide receiver.
|Josh McDaniels with Patriots QB Tom Brady|
Hey Tony: Just heard you on the Hooligans, and I continue to struggle with Josh McDaniels. You and the moderator discussed "what it will take to get Josh McDaniels" ... "what kind of a situation to get him to leave New England". Are you kidding me? As I wrote last week, this guy single-handedly blew up the Broncos. This guy should be on his hands and knees BEGGING for another opportunity; not reviewing offers of suitors. What-oh-what has he done to warrant this lionization? Are you scampering down the rabbit hole? Please apply the logic to McDaniels that you have to Lombardi. As for Nick Saban, like McDaniels, he has already failed in the NFL. So if I follow the conventional logic, he is a success at Alabama; ergo he will be a success in the NFL. Well hey, not so fast, y'all forget about Miami? At Alabama he has the cream of high school classes fed into his program...you and I could take those kids to a BCS game.
-- Wes, Dunnellon, FL
Hey Wes: Nobody would argue that McDaniels isn’t a good football coach. The problem in Denver was he demanded, and was given, full control of football operations. His failings were in his player personnel moves – not his coaching. I blame the Broncos for putting him in a position for which he was not qualified. Given proper supervision, I don’t doubt McDaniels could some day be a winning head coach. But he still has to go through a learning curve in dealing with so many issues that confront the position. Saban’s downfall at Miami stems in part from not aligning himself with a personnel director with whom he was familiar and shared a common vision. Saban also seemed to leave his heart in the college game. If he were 100 percent committed to leading an NFL program, I have no doubt he would have success as an NFL head coach. But he shouldn’t have to be enticed to come. Either he wants the job or he doesn’t.
Hey Tony: All the excitement generated by the ownership change seems to have dissipated with the rampant rumors of Lombardi coming back to Cleveland. How disappointed are you in the new regime, specifically Mr. Haslam, not coming out and quelling these rumors? Secondly, when Mr. Haslam was introduced as the new owner and preached continuity is key to an organization's success, and now with the team starting to turn the corner, it seems he is not going to practice what he preaches. Going forward, as Browns fans is this something we should anticipate from Haslam and Banner, where they say one thing and do another? Regardless of what happens the next three games, I think Shurmur/Heckert deserve another year to develop this young team which would be set back by another coaching change.
-- Martin, San Diego, CA
Hey Martin: I have given Banner an opportunity to squelch the Lombardi rumors. He has refused to do so. The feedback I received was that Haslam and Banner do not want to get into the habit of addressing every rumor that comes down the pike. However, Haslam wasted no time in shooting down the Jon Gruden-to-Tennessee rumor through his team spokesman. I believe that’s what a team spokesman is for, to keep an erroneous report from taking on a life of its own. The Lombardi rumor falls into that category, yet the team refuses to address it. Draw your own conclusions.
Hey Tony: Reading your weekly Hey Tony, as always, and all the pro-Heckert mail of late. Your final response last week solidified my question, though. You mentioned that the fan feelings of late for Heckert and even somewhat Shurmur, and against Lombardi, is "cause for Banner and Haslam to re-analyze the situation." My question, given that it’s Banner that "likes" Lombardi and wants full control, it’s really up to Haslam to re-analyze, step in and find a way to structure things so that Banner and Heckert can work together. Is Haslam 1) aware of the pro-Heckert support that grows each week 2) sensitive to it and 3) a strong enough owner, new though he is, to respond to it, possibly overriding Banner if necessary?
-- John, WIlloughby, OH (now Japan)
Hey John: I believe that Banner and Haslam talked about Heckert’s fate long ago and Haslam at that time gave the green light to Banner. I’m not sure if that’s the case on the Lombardi issue, but it might be. It’s possible that Banner “sold” Haslam long ago on replacing Heckert with Lombardi and nothing is going to change Haslam’s mind. I know that at least one person in the national football media dropped Lombardi’s name as a potential Heckert replacement in August. It would have been impossible to link Lombardi to Cleveland at that time without affirmation from Banner or Lombardi.
Hey Tony: When looking at the playoff seeding as it stands after week 14, the Browns are listed as "in the hunt." Normally this would make me smile, but it actually brings a frown to my face. The reason is it seems that Shurmer & Heckert are actually building a solid team, but Jimmy Haslam & Joe Banner are going to blow the whole thing up the day after the season ends. I believe the Browns could be a wild card team next year, and really make a run in 2014. This only happens if Shurmer & Heckert are allowed to continue building a consistent winner. Let Nick Saban stay at Alabama. Do you think Jimmy might reconsider cleaning house if the Browns go 2-1 the rest of the way and finish 7-9? I think that would be a huge statement in favor of keeping consistency, and would allow Jimmy to have a winning team faster. After all, winning brings attention and money, and that is what Jimmy wants.
-- Ted, Longmeadow, MA
Hey Ted: I’m so tired of guessing, reading between the lines and connecting dots. Soon Haslam and Banner will answer these relevant questions and explain why they are pushing the blow-up button.
Hey Tony: After looking more closely at Trent Richardson's stats I'm wondering if Tom Heckert chose correctly with the 3rd pick. While Richardson has proved to be tough and durable toting the rock for 247 carries and has a nose for the end zone with 9 touchdowns, out of the top 50 ball-carriers, only Darren McFadden has a lower yards per carry at 3.4 versus Richardson's 3.5. Also disturbing is the lack of big play ability that was advertised of Richardson coming out of Alabama. He has 2 carries of more than 20 yards and one of those occurred in week two against Cincinnati if memory serves me. He looks more like Brandon Jacobs than Adrian Peterson and that concerns me. At this point are you concerned with what we've seen thus far?
-- Ronnie, Harrison, OH
Hey Ronnie: I want to believe that Richardson’s disappointing rushing average is the product of 1. His knee surgery in August, and 2. His rib injury in October. We really won’t know if that’s the case until next season.
|Browns Coach Pat Shurmur|
Hey Tony: I have admit for a while I've been on the fire Pat Shurmer bandwagon,but my opinion of him is evolving. In the same way that I'm beginning to see the Browns finally growing up, it seems he is too. He's clearly more confident in his press conferences, even cracking an occasional joke, and if I heard it correctly two weeks ago, he even sounds like he's taking ownership of questionable decisions and not giving his standard answer about the team's inability to execute his perfectly fine play calls. His mistakes are down, he's getting a bit more creative in his offensive sets, and he almost looks like he's ahead of the curveballs being thrown at him during games. (would the 2011 Browns have been able to recover from that 7-0 deficit followed immediately by a first and goal from the 5?). Do you sense any wind change in the locker room indicating the team's mounting confidence in him as a leader and as a budding young head coach of this very young team?
-- Pete Yehl, Danville. CA
Hey Pete: Confidence mounts with each win.
Hey Tony: I just read your Tuesday morning story. I am willing to say that I am one who supports Pat Shurmur. I like what I see lately. Progress is too light a term. The team is coming together and frankly, the future is looking brighter. As for a coaching change, there is no way that the big names are coming to the Browns, probably because of the prospect of reporting to Banner. So, we would be stuck with a "new" or "re-tread" guy. That means starting over. Tony, let's not do that again. I would much rather keep Shurmur, who like his players, is getting better. He is growing with his team. I have been a Browns fan since ‘63. I have seen it all with this team. I love your work and greatly appreciate your perspective. I am glad you landed at ESPN/Cleveland. While the public still needs newspapers, the future lies with e-media.
-- Randy, Lockport, NY
Hey Randy: Banner appears intent on finding the next Pat Shurmur. But Haslam will make the call on the next coach.
|Alabama Coach Nick Saban Photo/Getty|
Hey Tony: I keep hearing that Heckert/Shurmur are gone next year from multiple news sources. We've all heard the combo of Lombardi/Saban. I totally agree with you on Lombardi not being qualified but I'm probably in the minority not in favor of Saban. I live in SEC country and have watched Saban at LSU and ‘Bama. He is a phenomenal recruiter, excellent coach and disciplinarian of the young players. I'm not so sure this translates to the pro game. First, he won't have better talent, especially if he relies on Lombardi. Secondly, the older vets in Miami never responded to his style at the pro level. Finally, and most importantly, he won't stick around for too many years. He seems to get bored and wants a change of scenery. The continuity in coaching Haslam wants from the Steeler model won't be found with Saban! Every time that you change coaches it sets the team back, especially on offense. What are your thoughts on Saban as a long-term coach.
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: Saban obviously is the pre-eminent college coach of his era. But I worry about his commitment to the NFL game. I feel this way: If you have to entice him with an outrageous deal – say, $100 million over 10 years – it is a recipe for failure and disappointment. If Saban is not hungry enough to take the job for market price, then the Browns should look in another direction.
Hey Tony: I like many people feel good about what Tom Heckert has done. However, I think we are getting a bit fooled by what is happening with coach Shurmur. We got a Steelers team at home without Ben, Troy P, and Antonio Brown and even with 8 turnovers won the game by less than one score. We got a Raiders team that gave up an NFL record in points the 4 previous weeks, took on many more injuries in our game and we still only won by a field goal. Last week we got a 2-10 Chiefs team that buried their teammate leading up to the game. Finally, the most dynamic QB in the NFL with the highest QB rating is due in town in RGIII, but word is he will not start and if he does he will not be clicking on all cylinders for sure. Who knows, by the time we get to Denver they could be resting Peyton. Therefore, I fear the wins are a bit of fool’s gold. I do not want to go into another year with Heckert IF we can get a big time coach. I do not want to hear about “new systems” Harbaugh brought a new system to in San Fran and Bruce Arians brought one to Indy and they are doing just fine.
-- Michael, Galena, OH
Hey Michael: Your points are well made. I don’t necessarily disagree. I believe it’s a tough call on Shurmur – much tougher than it was six weeks ago.
Hey Tony: Do the browns have the luxury of drafting the best available player in the 1st round this year? As opposed to previous years of drafting down simply for needs at both O and D-line etc. I would like to see them add another WR to the mix it couldn't hurt to give Weeden another weapon. Keep up the good work.
-- Nick, Niles, IL
Hey Nick: Best available player is a luxury only if you’re drafting in the bottom half of the round. If you’re in the top half, you HAVE to lean toward need. That’s why you’re drafting that high. Because you have needs.
Hey Tony: I know you don't believe the Lombardi/Saban rumor, but if Lombardi could deliver Saban as head coach would you be more open to the change?
-- Alex, Orlando, FL
Hey Alex: A reputable NFL team executive told me, “Nick Saban wouldn’t work with Mike Lombardi in a thousand years.” Those are not my words. Those are the words of a reputable NFL team executive.
Hey Tony: After watching Trent Richardson for most of a season, I've gotten the impression that he is a grinder rather than a big play back. Grind-it-out runners are valuable, but I was hoping for something more dramatic for a No. 3 pick.
Also, I'm wondering what the Browns have to do to stop stalling in the red zone. Is there a secret message in the fact the Weeden wears Number 3?
-- Bill, Springfield, NH
Hey Bill: I believe the knee surgery in August and the rib injury in October has reduced Richardson to a “grinder” this season. We won’t know for sure until next year what kind of big-play ability he has. As for Weeden, I know he has made some mistakes in the red zone. But I am continually appalled at how few times the Browns actually throw the ball into the end zone. I see the high-scoring teams throwing into the end zone whenever they have the chance. It’s a conscious decision of playing for six points or three.
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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