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Hey Tony!

Dec 22, 2012 -- 8:03pm


By Tony Grossi

As the games count down to one after Sunday until the inevitable shake-up of the Browns’ football operations, fans continue to weigh in on rumors of a new GM and coach, and make suggestions of their own. I had the distinct feeling this week that fans have finally accepted that GM Tom Heckert will not be back.

Hey Tony: Who pulled the trigger on releasing DB Dimitri Patterson? Was it GM Tom Heckert, or the new penny-counter-in-chief Joe Banner? (I think the answer to this question will tell us what the future holds for Heckert and whether he will be with the ball club after this season.) Also, what is your take on the timing of Patterson's release? With games against Peyton Manning and Ben Rapeyoursister to close out the season, why would the Browns release one of their most experienced DBs, especially after signing Patterson to a multi-year deal this past offseason? Thanks.

-- Tim, Winter Haven, FL

Hey Tim: It’s certainly odd that Pat Shurmur and Dick Jauron declined to explain the move or expound on what went into the discussion. It certainly looks like it was done by Banner because Patterson was first brought to Philadelphia by Heckert and then to Cleveland. Patterson said in Miami that he didn’t know why he was waived. Then again, I’ve been told there is more to this story than simply Banner exerting his authority. Stay tuned.

Thomas Dimitroff Getty

Hey Tony: If I were Jim Haslam I would look very closely into the organizational chart of the Atlanta Falcons. Arthur Blank is a superb owner, and I believe Haslam can be the same. Rich McKay is an excellent CEO/President (on the business side/league matters), and I believe Joe Banner has the acumen and experience to emulate McKay. Should Tom Heckert be fired, I would look very closely at the third piece of the Falcons' successful structure -- that being GM Tom Dimitroff, whose player procurement talents have transformed the once mediocre Falcons into a perennial playoff team -- and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. So, if I were Haslam, I would do everything I could to lure Dimitroff away from the Falcons, which would mean giving him a very high-level title -- for example -- "Senior Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer for Football Operations." The Browns need either a DYNAMIC player personnel man or a DYNAMIC head coach. There could be question marks with the various supposed coaching candidates (Nick Saban/ Chip Kelly/ Josh McDaniel/Jon Gruden/Bill Cowher), but there definitely wouldn't be any question marks when it comes to Dimitroff. I applaud Haslam for hiring a quality person like Alec Scheiner, but as credible as Scheiner is, he'll have virtually no influence on the product put on the field. When he bought the franchise, Al Lerner hired the former president of the 49ers; the city manager of Oakland; the former director of the Secret Service and three excellent people from the NFL office. However, other than Carmen Policy (a none-football guy), they had virtually no impact on the talent put on the field. Tom Dimitroff would have MONUMENTAL impact on what product the Browns put on the field.

-- Ray, Stow, OH

Hey Ray: Dimitroff’s ties to the Browns are well known. His father, Tom Sr., was a Browns scout in the 1980s. Thomas was a scout on the staff put together by the NFL office when the Browns were embarking on returning as an expansion franchise in 1999. Dimitroff’s work with the Falcons has been exemplary. If Blank is as good an owner as you say – and I agree with you – he wouldn’t let Dimitroff leave. The Browns have to find their own Thomas Dimitroff.

Hey Tony: Something that has been bothering me about the reluctance of Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam to make a decision on Tom Heckert is the timing. I don't see the benefit of waiting to the end of the season if you're going to replace your GM. You have all the data by now that you need. The GM's (or personnel director as may be the case) primary responsibility is the off-season and scouting. It would seem to me that Banner would have wanted to replace Heckert weeks ago so that the new GM/Personnel Director can make changes in preparation for the off-season. I know scouts are typically replaced after the draft, but it seems to me that the Browns are going to be making changes to the personnel department during the most critical time of their season. In my mind, the only logical explanations are that either we are keeping Heckert (don't see it) or we are planning on hiring a coach who is going to have a lot of the power in the personnel department. Your thoughts?

-- Steve, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Steve: I think the simple reason for Haslam and Banner not letting Heckert go now is because they said they would make their decisions after the season. They have to honor their word and that’s what they are doing. Besides, any worthy replacement is currently with another team and couldn’t be released until after the season, when the NFL hiring season begins.

Hey Tony: Surely, Jimmy Haslam can not be blind to all of the media reports and negative feedback out there regarding Mike Lombardi. Wouldn't he at least be a little curious as to what all the uproar is over this possible future employee and do a little research of his own by talking to people he respects and knows around the league? He has indicated he wants to hire the best people he can, and from all indications, Mike Lombardi would not be the best person for the job. Haslam isn't going to know that unless he talks to someone other than Joe Banner. Perhaps reading your columns will steer Mr. Haslam in the right direction and prevent this disaster from happening.

-- Mark, Gahanna, OH

Hey Mark: We’ll see.

Hey Tony: When Jimmy Haslam introduced Joe Banner in his press conference, he went out of his way to make it clear that he did not hire Banner on a whim. He researched Banner as extensively as possible, as he does with ALL key personnel that he hires. That being said, do you believe that there is a chance that Haslam would override Banner in regard to a Mike Lombardi hire, assuming he does the research on Lombardi and his success as a player evaluator?

-- Chris, Louisville, KY

Hey Chris: Is there a chance? Yes. Will he? I don’t know.

Hey Tony: Am I missing something, or did Haslam and Banner say that no personnel decisions will be made until after the season? Your constant speculation and doom and gloom personal attacks on Mike Lombardi are based on sources? What sources? And where are your sources getting their info from? Has Banner told them this directly? You very well could be right, but there's as good of a chance that you're wrong. Why not just wait and see what happens before getting all of your readers to drink the purple Kool Aid?

-- Tom, Stow, OH

Hey Tom: I’m going with my best sources when I write about this subject. Don’t be naïve and think Haslam and Banner have not thoroughly discussed their plans together. If I came across anyone to say, “Hey, you’re off base on this Lombardi rumor,” I would be happy to report it. But that hasn’t been the case.

Hey Tony: I sure do hope that Jimmy is reading your stuff. All the "fan experience" stuff won't make ANY difference unless they win. Bringing in the likes of Lombardi etc. won’t make that happen. Like you wrote, just look at KC. They are the Patriots JV team and play like it. My question is about Weeden. He seems so over his head out there to me. If we have a shot at Barkley, do YOU take him? I do in a second. In fact I would feel better about our QB situation with Colt at 2nd string. As you've said Tony, until this QB situation is taken care of we'll never win big in the NFL. I would love to see that happen before I'm six feet under.

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: I would not replace Weeden with Matt Barkley. I would develop Weeden in a new system that stresses his positives rather than his negatives.

Bruce Arians Getty

Hey Tony: I know Shurmur is not gone "yet", but everyone is speculating about possible head coach candidates. A name I hear nobody mention is Bruce Arians. He was QB coach for the Colts when Peyton arrived, then he came here with Butch Davis as offensive coordinator, then spent a number of years as the Steelers OC. After last season, Pittsburgh decided to move on and Arians when back to the Colts as their OC. When Pagano became ill, Arians stepped in and faced the almost impossible task of being an interim head coach. Interim head coaches almost never work out (ask New Orleans), but Arians took over for a Colts team who had the worst record in the league last season, fresh off an overhaul and starting a rookie QB. Arians has kept that ship on course. I think he has been a major factor in the development of Manning, Roethlisberger and now Andrew Luck. He seems like someone with a good history of success. Has his name been brought up in any Browns head coaching rumors?

-- TJ, Wapakoneta, OH

Hey TJ: Arians was never considered a head coach candidate until he was thrust into an unusual, challenging situation and performed like a champion. I now think that Arians will receive head coach interviews, possibly one in Cleveland, too.

Hey Tony: Is there any guarantee, legal or otherwise, that ensures that the Browns will remain in Cleveland for a lengthy period of time? I understand that Jimmy Haslam has paid a lot of money for the Browns, and that he has promised to keep them in Cleveland. However, with all the writing and comments about what appears to be another restart for a team whose fans are, frankly, tired of rebuilding, I'm becoming paranoid. If attendance continues to decline over the next 3, 4, 5 years, is it possible that Haslam could move the team elsewhere?

--Pete, Warren, OH

Hey Pete: Is there an iron-clad guarantee? Technically, I think not. There is an iron-clad lease binding the Browns to play their games in Cleveland Browns Stadium through 2029, I believe. Beyond that, Haslam and city officials have pledged to keep the team here forever. There is plenty of things to worry about concerning the Browns. This is not one of them, I believe.

Hey Tony: As I listen to some of the rumors regarding the head coach position I am wondering if Banner/Haslam would take us back to the 3-4 with the hiring. I know that you have said Saban to Cleveland seems unlikely, despite the rumors. I don't follow Alabama football too closely but I'm assuming he is a 3-4 guy because of his roots with Belichick. McDaniels is obviously from the Pats 3-4 background but, being an offensive-minded coach, would he necessarily want to switch back to the 3-4 here? I worry because we have spent good portions of the last 2 drafts stockpiling 4-3 type linemen and it seems that there are a lot of players on the defensive line to like. Do you think the defensive philosophy will be determined by the coach, or is that something that will be committed to at the front office level? Also, please share some of what you know about some of the rumored head coach candidates' defensive philosophies and if an offensive-minded head coach would necessarily get involved with overhauling the defensive system.

-- Jonathan, North Royalton, OH

Hey Jonathan: I erred in a previous answer or column in saying Saban runs a 3-4 defense at Alabama. It is a 4-3. When Saban was Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator in the early 1990s, he also ran a 4-3. I staunchly believe the Browns need to stay with their current defensive system because they are close to having a winning unit. I also have advocated keeping Dick Jauron as the coordinator. I think some head coaches would be agreeable to and others might not.

Hey Tony: Are there any teams that are consistently successful with the kind of management structure Banner is putting in place with the Browns? The Steelers have had one GM since 2000, Kevin Colbert, and I assume he reports to the Rooneys. So why isn’t Haslam following the model of his former and (pains me to say it) very successful franchise?

-- Don, Summit, NJ

Hey Don: The Steelers are different because the Rooney family owns the team and one of its members, Art Rooney II, serves as the president. So, in effect, Colbert reports to the president and the owner both. There is no one way to construct an NFL organization. Teams have succeeded the way Banner is doing it and teams have succeeded with the head of football operations reporting directly to the owner on a plane with the top business executive.

Hey Tony: With the chatter becoming louder that the Browns will most likely change regimes ... yet again … how long before a player like Joe Thomas wants out? Hopefully he is nearing the mid-point of his career, given all he's got to the organization, and all he wants is a little stability and win. If changes are made this offseason, it will be the 4th regime he's played under in 7 years!!! Do you get a feel vets like him are tiring of the constant change or do they not really care as long as they get paid?

-- Jared, Stockholm, Sweden

Hey Jared: Josh Cribbs has been the most outspoken veteran player on this issue, and every time he talks about it he gets blasted for being selfish. Talking with players in the last six weeks, I know many who have been here a while are saddened by the inevitable changes coming. Like the fans, they’d like to think the next change is the right one, but there’s a long history there that says, “It can always get worse.”

Hey Tony: Are there things the fans can do to influence the Mike Lombardi decision? Could we start a letter writing campaign or any other actions to let them know how disappointed we'd be if he had any position with the Browns? Also, I had heard he hated Cleveland. Would he really want to come back?

-- Glenn, Tucson, AZ

Hey Glenn: I think Lombardi would take most any job in personnel with any team just to get back into the NFL.

Hey Tony: I'm a little confused about Banner and his control over the final roster. I thought he negotiated contracts in the Eagles organization and wasn't an actual talent evaluator of football personnel. Shouldn't these decisions be left up to a knowledgable GM or coach with hopefully some actual football experience? If what you say is true, no GM worth his salt or an established coach will come here.This sounds like the model Jerry Jones uses in Dallas. Jones keeps trying to pick players and hire coaches to do it his way. It hasn't worked! Hire quality coaches and a quality GM and get out of the way! Now we’re stuck like Dallas. Grab a GM desperate to get back to the NFL and take a coach that flopped the first time around and is willing to be a puppet. Is Banner going to tell the coach we’re not drafting the player he wants because he heard Lombardi say bad things about him on TV? Oh, I forgot, Lombardi is probably in the room.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: These are significant areas of concern. Banner has not fully addressed them because he wanted to wait until his new organization is put together. At some point, he will answer to these issues.

Hey Tony: I always enjoy your perspective on the Browns. I personally think that Shurmur will be out because I think another coach can get more out of Weeden and Richardson and that the west coast offense will be jettisoned in the off- season. What I wanted to ask is -- if we go get a college coach, how likely is David Shaw @ Stanford? His dad, Willie, was a defensive coordinator at both Stanford and with the Oakland Raiders. Given that, Shaw going to Oakland is the most likely. I would like your thoughts.

-- Bob, Toledo, OH

Hey Bob: I thought Shaw was a legitimate hot candidate for a few reasons: 1. He has several years experience as an assistant coach in the NFL. 2. He is a minority, and the Rooney Rule dictates any team looking for a head coach must interview at least one minority candidate. 3. Shaw has done a tremendous job at Stanford. However, Shaw recently signed a new contract with Stanford and the feeling he did so was because he felt he wasn’t ready to test the NFL waters just yet. I don’t know if he would receive NFL interviews as a result of his new contract or not.

Hey Tony: Was the Redskins game a perfect example of how good coaching can make a fair quarterback (Cousins) look great and how poor coaching make a good quarterback (Weeden) look bad?

-- Rich, Columbus, OH

Hey Rich: I will just say this: The Redskins’ coaches did a great job that day and the Browns’ did not.

Hey Tony: Let’s say Josh McDaniels is named head coach of the Browns. What are the chances of him wanting to bring Tim Tebow to Cleveland since he is the man that drafted him in Denver? I wouldn't be for this decision because I believe Tebow is an "athlete" not an NFL caliber QB but with this regime anything is possible at this point. What are your thoughts and would you be for this decision?

-- Mike, Fairview Park, OH

Hey Mike: I agree with you. Anything is possible. Would I be for it? Absolutely not, for the same reason you cite.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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