Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Independence Day

A bit of a throwback, particularly in hairstyle, but here it is.  Happy Independence Day:

Friday, May 29, 2015

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Minimizing Success

The Cleveland Browns had the kind of draft this past week that they should have had given the kind of team they have.  It was solid and unspectacular, built around the defensive and offensive lines.  In short it was the kind of draft that teams trying to rebuild should have.  

Too bad it’s taken them almost 15 years to put together a draft that probably shouldn’t have otherwise been necessary by this time.

Always chasing rainbows and coming up short, the Browns have languished for all the reasons that this particular draft highlighted.  Faulty draft strategies, raging egos, bad trades, major miscalculations all have conspired for years to keep this team firmly entrenched in the bottom tier of the league.  Browns teams for the last 15 years have lacked cohesive, strong offensive or defensive lines and had near zero depth at any position.  So even when a player with some skill somehow landed in their laps, the inevitable injury revealed the kind of gaping holes that are the hallmark of all bad teams.

Filling several holes shouldn’t have been this hard for this long.

Forget about the actual players the Browns drafted for a moment.  Few if any fans can comment intelligently on even Danny Shelton, let alone Charles Gaines or Hayes Pullard.  Focus instead on the configuration of the draft.  Notice the patterns.  This draft was constructed like most teams are supposed to be constructed.  It was built from the inside out.  That may be easy to do in a sense for a team like Cleveland that has so many overarching needs.  Yet it still takes some discipline to do the right thing when it’s oh so easy to do the flashy thing when the person calling the shots walks in loaded with draft picks and oozing ego.

Credit then should go to general manager Ray Farmer on that aspect of the draft.  Whether he chose the right players is not something that’s going to be known any time soon.  Given Farmer’s history, there’s every reason to question his player evaluations.  But at least you can’t complain about the approach.

And yet as the Browns enter next season, they’re forced to answer the same lingering question they’ve been forced to answer for most of its 2.0 existence: do they have a quarterback on whom the team can rely?  The answer is likely the same as it’s ever been.  Probably not.

What struck me about the post-draft press conference that Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine held was not what they had to say about who they drafted but what they had to say about who they didn’t.  Pettine, in one of the stranger answers I’ve ever heard, said that the team is actively working to “try to minimize the importance of the quarterback.”  Good luck with that.

That statement makes some sense in a Trent Dilfer kind of way and if I were Pettine I suppose I’d say the same thing.  It’s been shown to work that if the defense is stronger than any other in the league, the offense can afford to be merely serviceable.  That’s the formula the Baltimore Ravens used to ride Dilfer to and through a Super Bowl.  But it’s not easily replicated for the most obvious of reasons: you have to feature an intimidating and dominating defense.  

The Cleveland Browns aren’t close to being either.  One draft isn’t going to turn this Browns’ defense into the second-coming of the Ray Lewi-led Ravens defense and besides this offense isn’t even merely serviceable even if it was.

Josh McCown, who looks to be the Browns’ starter next season by default, if for no other reason, is the quintessential NFL journeyman.  When he starts for the Browns in September, it will be his 14th season.  He really has only been a starter for two of those seasons and neither one of those were particularly successful for his team.  Indeed he was available to be signed mainly because as Tampa Bay’s starter last season he went 1-10.

When Dilfer signed with the Ravens, he was in just his 7th season.  Although you can easily make the case that he too was a journeyman, that’s mostly informed by the back end of his career and not his career to that point.  In 5 of the seasons before he joined Baltimore, he was the team’s starter and had some measure of his success, certainly more than McCown can claim. 

So when the Ravens asked Dilfer to mostly not throw up on himself so that its defense could intimidate and dominate, there was every reason to think that it was a job Dilfer could handle.  And even if he couldn’t, he had a strong running game featuring Jamal Lewis in his prime and an up and coming Priest Holmes.  The only deep threat the Ravens had was Qadry Ismail, the kind of receiver that the Browns seems to feature these days, but they did have Shannon Sharpe, one of the top tight ends in the game.  Dilfer, a player with plenty of games already under his belt, was the near perfect player for a team trying to “minimize” the importance of the quarterback.

The same cannot be said for McCown.  He isn’t joining a team with a dominant defense and there simply isn’t enough on offense to allow the Browns to “minimize” all of McCown’s shortcomings. The team neither features a strong running game or even a serviceable passing game.  It lost its only decent tight end in the offseason and while Brian Hartline is a nice signing, that’s all he is.  The team didn’t suddenly get better because of Hartline.  His presence mostly allows Farmer to credibly claim that the team hasn’t regressed in its receiving game.

The Browns may be minimizing the importance of quarterback because it really has no other choice.  Pettine and Farmer can talk about how they like where they stand at that position but it rings even hollower than Brian Kelly’s claim that his quarterback situation at Notre Dame is superior to that of Ohio State’s.

What both Farmer and Pettine well know is that the NFL isn’t a league where a team can be successful minimizing the most important position on the team.  It’s like the body saying it’s going to minimize the importance of the heart.  If this year’s draft ends up being as successful as the Browns hope it is, it will highlight exactly the flaw in their current thinking.  The Browns could conceivably get to 8-8 and maybe even 9-7 with better defense and better offensive line play and depth, but it simply cannot make the leap into the upper tier of this league without a quarterback that causes opponents to worry or at least scheme against.

This team may not need Tom Brady but it sure as heck is going to need more than Josh McCown to be successful.  Perhaps though if the team can find a way to climb out of the hole it’s dug for itself with so many prior lousy drafts then perhaps they will be able to convince a quarterback of more merit and a receiver in his relative prime to join the team for the next phase of its journey.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Reining In The Religious Bigots

It’s time to let the free market have its say and the ones to do the talking are among the biggest players on the block, the NFL and the NCAA.

Earlier this week Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law a so-called religious freedom bill that would specifically allow businesses in that state to openly, purposely and insidiously discriminate against gays so long as they assert sincerely held religious beliefs that require them to reject doing business with homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders
The NFL, the NCAA and the sponsors of both have substantial business interests in Indiana.  Not only does the state have an NFL franchise, it also holds the annual circus known as the combine for several days each March in Indianapolis.  The NCAA has its corporate headquarters in Indianapolis.  One of its conferences, the Big Ten, holds its annual championship in Indianapolis.  Together these activities probably yield hundreds of millions of dollars annually in economic benefits for the state. 

The other thing tying these organizations and their sponsors together is that they both serve the LGBT community.  Both the NCAA and the NFL have a smattering of openly gay players with several more closeted ones sprinkled throughout.  The companies that shower millions on them for the right to be associated with them have gay employees.  In short, none can afford to be viewed as homophobic because of the attendant economic consequences that would bring.
Yet unless all of them stand up to the religious bullies and far right nut jobs running the government in Indiana, they risk being branded as complicit in the bigotry the state of Indiana recently institutionalized.

Let’s be clear on this point.  Indiana may be the first to get this law passed and signed by a weak-willed governor more concerned with checking off the boxes on his far right bona fides in case he should run for President some day than he is with the rights of all his citizens, but left unchecked these vile laws will spread like anthrax. 

Certainly the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps unwittingly, gave birth to these kinds of laws when it found that Hobby Lobby, as a company, could assert religious claims against contraception as a basis for refusing to follow the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that contraception must be a covered benefit under its health plans.  And it will likely take the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, much like it did in Brown v. The Board of Education, to ultimately put a stop to this latest form of bigotry.   But until then, it falls to those who have a vested interest in not looking like they sanction discrimination to effectively stop this in its tracks.

Believe me, if the NFL and the NCAA take a stand in Indiana, it will give pause to every other state currently considering these ridiculous laws.

If there’s one thing these religious zealots believe in more than shunning homosexuals, it’s the power of the free market as the solution to all of society’s problems.  So those that can should unleash that power by refusing to do business of any kind in a state that institutionalizes bigotry against any segment of society.

Tech companies, a few organizations and a couple of small businesses have said they won’t do business in Indiana.  The Republican mayor of Indianapolis came out against the law.  That’s a nice start but it’s not the kind of tsunami that would get unleashed if the NCAA and the NFL and their sponsors take on the cause.

The NCAA issued a helpful statement, indicating that it’s concerned about the impact of the law on its employees and that it wants to ensure that those attending next week’s Final Four are not negatively impacted.  It also left dangling the implication that there could be more direct action taken as it further considers its options.  But I’m disappointed anyway.

The Indiana legislature has been considering this law for the last few months.  The governor has repeatedly expressed his support for it.  What the NCAA should have done was threaten to move this year’s Final Four, even with all the logistical challenges that would create, unless either the legislature voted the bill down or the governor refused to sign it.  By not speaking up it, the law got passed and by virtue of its existence, its employees and everyone attending the Final Four are negatively impacted.  It’s simply unrealistic at this late moment to expect every employee of the NCAA, every participant in the tournament and every fan to boycott the state at this late date.  

Instead they have to do business in what is certainly now one of this nation’s most odious states.
The NFL had threatened Arizona with the withdrawal of a Super Bowl when it was considering a similar law.  It worked.  But here the NFL has remained silent, at least so far.  That’s puzzling but perhaps not.  The NFL has a very troubled history of moving too slowly on issues of social significance and it usually takes a few missteps and a public outcry before it gets it right.

This isn’t that hard for the NFL.  Just come out now and tell the state that the combine won’t take place in Indianapolis again and until the law is changed.  Maybe they have contracts that would have to get broken.  So be it.  The NFL has twice as much money as the God these legislators claim to worship.  It can take the short term loss for the long term gain.  So could have the NCAA.

Undoubtedly demanding action by the NCAA and the NFL will surely inflame the religious fruitcakes who think these kind of Jim Crow 2.0 laws are just dandy.  The argument Spence articulated on behalf of them is that the law is not about discrimination, it’s about religious freedom.  What Spence can’t rightly answer, and the most salient question he avoided, is exactly how religious freedom is supposedly under attack in this country.  It’s not, that’s a fallacy perpetrated by far right religious lobbying groups in order to further its far right Christian agenda.  When Spence references religion, it’s code for Christianity.  And it’s not all of Christianity, just the far right branch that believes cats will start playing with dogs and cows will rain from the heavens if gays are allowed to marry.

The real nub of the issue is that a few far right religious lobbying groups worked the state like TV evangelists work their flocks.  They convinced them that a few mom and pop shops who ran afoul of public accommodation laws by refusing to serve gays was a wrong that needed to be righted in the name of a God whom, a character in the movie Hannah and Her Sisters once said, if he returned and saw all that was being done in his name would be so appalled he’d never stop throwing up.

There’s no inherent wrong that needed to be righted unless it’s telling those loudmouth bigots that they are wrong, morally, religiously and economically.  If Spence and the Indiana legislature wants to stand up for religious freedom then they ought to be the first to stand in front of the line and protect the next group of Muslims who get threatened for wanting to build a mosque next to a synagogue.   
Gay marriage is legal in 36 states at the moment.  The country hasn’t collapsed onto itself.  Indeed things pretty much seem the same.  The Cleveland Browns still suck.  The Republicans still hate the President.  Girls still remains one of the most over-rated shows in television history.  

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to legalize gay marriage across the country.  But that won’t dissuade the bigots any more than the decision in Brown v. The Board of Education when bigoted businesses were told that they had to integrate or risk breaking the law.  When George Wallace refused to abide by the decision and tried to stop the University of Alabama from integrating, when he tried to stop elementary schools from integrating, he was shut down by the federal courts and federal marshals.  He had plenty of supporters, certainly, but time and history haven’t been kind to either of them.

That will ultimately be the same result for Pence and every legislator in Indiana who passed this law, just as it will be for every legislator across the country considering similar laws, just as it will be for every governor in every state and every other attorney general in every other state (including John Kasich and Mike DeWine in Ohio) still fighting the wrong fight on taxpayer money.

There’s no reason though to wait for history to render its judgment.  That judgment can and should be rendered contemporaneously by those with the economic power to do it.  And if the NCAA and the NFL don’t get this right, then it’s time to reconsider our support for anything they sponsor. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Shrugging It All Off

Joe Paterno hated end zone celebrations.  He told his players to hand the ball to the official and to act like they’ve been there before.  Cleveland Browns fans don’t need to act like they’ve been there before.  They have.

How else can one otherwise act when considering the various moves of the Cleveland Browns as it goes about its latest offseason marked as it is by the usual overpromising and under delivering.  Maybe the better reaction is the Joey Bosa shrug. 

To focus on but two recent examples:

The Browns unveiled their new branding initiatives that amounted to nothing more than keeping the same logo but with a more vibrant shade of orange on the helmet and a more foreboding shade of black on the faceguard. 

There was a bunch of accompanying talk about how these new designs somehow are more reflective of Cleveland today than in the past.  Mostly though this great unveil was a microcosm of the team itself: more hype than substance.

Then the Browns signed Josh McCown, 35-year old Josh McCown, as their next quarterback.  That makes McCown number 23 on a list with no end, no real beginning, and no real goal.  Such is the ignominious roster of Browns quarterbacks the last 15 years.

It probably means something that of the previous 22 quarterbacks to wear a Browns uniform the only one with a winning record, Brian Hoyer, is the latest one being replaced.  But it probably says even more that the Browns are still signing quarterbacks like McCown with the abiding belief that what this team needs, indeed what gets it from point A to point B, is a bridge to its true savior, also known as the quarterback that doesn’t exist.  Josh McCown, meet Luke McCown or Jack Delhomme or Brian Hoyer or, or, do I really need to go through the other 20?  Seriously, how long are the Browns going to try and recreate the Gary Danielson/Bernie Kosar experience?

No one could possibly much care that the Browns see McCown as a better option than Hoyer.  It’s like choosing Budget Car Rental over Alamo at the airport.  Neither is Hertz or Avis and what you get by being cheap is a pretty decent chance that the car you reserved won’t be available for another hour, please wait.

In the same way, no one much cares that the Browns grand strategists see the latest shade of orange as somehow more reflective (unless it’s actually, you know, reflective) of the city than the previous color.  It’s like choosing ecru over khaki when picking a shade of brown to paint the guest room.  To the person visiting the colors are as indistinguishable as they are uninteresting.

It really is hard to figure out what this team is doing or working on that ultimately will make it perform better on the field.  We know, for example, that if the team had better players it wouldn’t matter if they wore uniforms that were ultraviolet with grey accents just as we know if these same players wore the red, white and blue of the New England Patriots they’d still finish under .500 every season.

I’m not against branding or even updating the branding.  But let’s call it what it is: the last tool in the box of a diversionist. 

What this bit of news about re-branding really demonstrates above almost all else is that this is a franchise more consumed with fluff than substance.  I suppose that the only thing that would make this effort more clear if the team had decided to rename itself.  Isn’t that the last bastion of all failing brands?

The Browns have become the Value Jet of NFL franchises so it wouldn’t be a total surprise if they came up with a new name, like Value Jet did when it renamed itself JetBlue after a particularly horrific crash in a Florida swamp revealed that Value Jet was not a brand that anyone trusted.

For Value Jet, it mostly worked.  JetBlue was reborn and has been modestly successful as a budget airline flying limited routes while charging frugal-minded customers for bags and probably everything else, including arm rests and seat cushions.  The Browns’ rebranding efforts, I suspect, will meet with less success.

As long as owner Jimmy Haslam retains the team’s current name how much can really change?  Decades ago most fans understood that the team name honored its most famous coach, Paul Brown.  But Art Modell changed that calculus when he fired Brown (has there ever been a better example of foreshadowing?) but weirdly kept the name.  Now, however, the history has been long forgotten by most fans and now the name just sits there, wallowing as the logo does in its own bath of blandness.  Brown might be the least vibrant color on the spectrum matching the least vibrant team in the NFL.

And while this franchise has given its fans every reason to be cynical about anything it does, the question is still relevant: exactly what is the team trying to distract the fans from?

Oh yea, it’s the stuff going on inside of Berea. 

I’m not against signing McCown though again it’s worth pointing out that his signing comes at the expense of dropping the only quarterback the team has had since 1999 who has played more than ten games and had a winning record.  It’s just that his signing doesn’t move anyone’s needle.  McCown was terrible last season, played well in spots in previous seasons, and overall brings absolutely nothing to the mix assuming the goal was to stabilize the quarterback position.  He’s what Brandon Weeden would have been in a few years, when he turns 35, had the Browns kept him.

So why did the Browns sign McCown?  Good question and one the team hasn’t really ventured to answer.  But you can read into some of McCown’s comments, the most telling of which is that he both understands that he is not nor does he have any interest in being the team’s near, mid or long-term answer at quarterback.  He just wants to contribute, you know, do what’s asked.  That apparently conflicts with Hoyer’s perfectly understandable view that given his success with a team that otherwise lacks any, he both wants to start and be paid like one.

In other words, in signing McCown the Browns weren’t interested in a fierce competitor with his eye on the prize.  They wanted a caretaker, a guy willing to shut his pie hole and sit in the corner happy with a  contract that guarantees him a little over $6 million by the time he exits Cleveland, probably at the end of next season.  That narrative also fits well into the larger issue of branding, doesn’t it?

There is much else in Berea from which the Browns would want its fans distracted, like the disastrous general manager with the happy texting fingers.  Then there’s the news that the Browns nixed solid trade offers for Josh Gordon last season only to now find themselves clinging to a player with no market value on a team in desperate need of someone who can catch the ball.  The overhang, of course, is just the general specter of another draft, a passel full of draft picks, and a track record that says they’re more likely to blow every one of them than get any one of them right.
Yea, sure, now is exactly the right time to re-brand, just as it is the right time to sign McCown, and the right time shrug your shoulders at it all and move on, secure in the knowledge that no matter which way the Browns arrange the deck chairs the ship is still sinking.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Steep Learning Curve Indeed

After about a week or so of letting the latest fire inside the Berea headquarters of the Cleveland Browns burn indiscriminately, owner Jimmy Haslam has spoken with the kind of earnestness that suggested a belief that his words would douse the flames while calming the masses. 
To lead with the positive, at least Haslam answered the questions posed. To point out the obvious, though, it didn’t help his case, the situation or the overarching narrative that the team remains where it’s been, in the gutter.
The biggest revelation, and taking a page from Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s book,  was Haslam trying to get ahead of the NFL’s imminent announcement that Ray Farmer, the team’s general manager, indeed brake league rules by texting coaches during games by announcing it himself.  Yes, apparently, Farmer did as alleged. 
Perhaps the bigger news though is that Haslam couldn’t care less.  Rather than offering up even an ounce of criticism that his chosen pick as general manager may be out of his element or, at the very least, not setting the right leadership example for others to follow, Haslam instead supported Farmer as if he had just pulled off the biggest coup since Kevin Costner procured Vontae Mack, Ray Jennings and Seattle’s top punt returner while still getting back the three first round picks he foolishly gave up to get the Johnny Manziel-like Bo Callahan.
In a story from Thursday’s Akron Beacon Journal, Haslam called Farmer “smart,” a description that’s hard to square with the stupidity of his misconduct.  He lavished praise about Farmer’s work ethic and his all around awesomeness.  Haslam even went to great pains to say that while he hates that his organization now looks like it’s run by dumbbells, he “hate[s] it more for Ray Farmer.  I can tell you it eats him up every day.”  Well, there is that.
It’s nice and good for team unity I suppose for Haslam to publicly support Farmer, even in such an over the top manner, but in many ways it’s done at the expense of slapping the fans across the face, hard. The NFL hasn’t yet announced the punishment the team will get but irrespective of whether it’s just a suspension of Farmer or something more serious, such as lost draft picks, is irrelevant.  The fans are left trying to justify for another whole off season exactly why they root for a team, let alone spend money to support it, that seems not just off message but off mission.
Then when you couple it with Haslam’s real intent, to rally the fans behind a guy who in just his first year of running the draft botched two first round picks and failed to secure any credible receivers despite knowing at the outset that Josh Gordon wasn’t going to be available to them, it makes you wonder whether Haslam even understands that he didn’t buy the team as a means to give goofs like Farmer a job, he bought it to supply entertainment to fans who just want the team to win once in a while.
 It’s all well and good that Haslam has such trust in Farmer.  The real question is why?
It’s as if that that question never occurred to Haslam.  Haslam responded to the question as to why Farmer shouldn’t be fired with the kind of praise one might reserve, say, for the general manager of the New England Patriots, not the beleaguered general manager who swung wildly and missed on two number one picks in the same draft.  Haslam said “I think you’ve got to look at [the] individual’s body of work, and we’re comfortable with Ray’s body of work.  We’re very comfortable.”  I’d love to know who the “we” is in that sentence.  Stated differently, that “we” certainly doesn’t include the fans.
In any event, it’s really quite fascinating stuff.  In the first place, Farmer’s body of work is pretty small, so even in that context “comfortable” wouldn’t seem to be an appropriate word. At best it would be “cautious.” For most it would be “scared.”  In the second place, what there is  of his body of work isn’t pretty.  He bungled the draft.  He knowingly broke NFL rules subjecting himself and his team to sanctions.  By all accounts he was at the center, if not the cause, of all the other dysfunction that resulted in the team virtually imploding once again by year’s end.  Maybe Haslam is satisfied because he’s comparing Farmer’s sins to those he’s presiding over at his own personal ATM, Pilot Flying J, and thinks, “at least Farmer wasn’t cooking the books.”
While his defense of Farmer is just downright puzzling, his defense of the way things are run generally in Berea call into question Haslam’s own judgment, if not his competence.  Responding to Jason Canfora’s widely reported story about the dysfunction in Berea Haslam  said “I don’t at all want people to think we think everything is great.  OK? We don’t.  What I want you to understand is we do work together.  It’s not dysfunctional….All I want to convey is we do get along, we do work well together and we’ve got a common goal.”
Concede that they do have a common goal and put that aside.  But even the most casual of fans can readily tell that this is a franchise that doesn’t work well together and hasn’t since Haslam and before Haslam.  In fact if there’s anything that’s been remarkably consistent it’s the inability of the front office to work well together irrespective of the people involved.
When a front office is working well together an offensive coordinator still under contract doesn’t put together a 32-point presentation on why he should be let out of his contract after one troubling year so he can go anywhere else.  A front office that’s working well together doesn’t dump still another quarterbacks coach in favor of someone even less accomplished than the guy they just let go.  A front office that works well together doesn’t pressure its rookie head coach into starting a quarterback who was no more ready for real NFL play than the fictional and aforementioned Bo Callahan.  A front office that’s working well together doesn’t ignore the red flags of the mercurial and controversial quarterback it drafted and then act surprised that said quarterback is now in rehab.  And for God’s sake, a front office that’s working well together doesn’t see the need to take a 3-day retreat immediately after the season in order to, as Haslam said, clarify roles, strategy, where it wants to go and how it’s going to get there.  If it really had been working well together, a retreat would have been the last thing it needed.
For all his cluelessness though, you can’t say that Haslam isn’t without humor, even if it was unintentional.  Talking about that recent retreat that Haslam and the front office took, he said “I actually felt that since our family bought the Browns, it’s the best week we’ve had.”  What about the fans?  When are they going to get their best week, which most as define as one that culminates in a Super Bowl title and a parade through Public Square. 
Haslam is a passionate owner, no doubt.  He is in the midst of a steep learning curve, as he admitted. What the interview revealed though is that Haslam is still pretty far down on that curve and that it’s getting steeper.  His faith in Farmer is misplaced if only because, although not certainly because, Farmer so embarrassed the organization at exactly the moment Haslam has been trying to project calmness and competence.  What ultimately will be Haslam’s undoing though as an owner is not this kind of misplaced faith disguised as loyalty, but his abiding miscalculation of the fan base he inherited.  The fans are fed up with the circus and don’t want to pay 30% more for the privilege of looking like fools and their money.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Rock Bottom, Again

It’s both hard to imagine but yet easy to reconcile that the Cleveland Browns, already at the bottom of the NFL’s pecking order of desirable franchises, has actually found a way to get even lower.  If this isn’t rock bottom then it better get here soon because that sucking sound being heard all over Northeast Ohio are Browns fans in a collective gasp over  the disaster that is their team of choice.
You know that show “Hoarders” where a borderline mentally ill individual can’t seem to navigate a clear path from kitchen to bathroom because of the accumulated clutter of years of neglect?  The Browns’ house is far worse.  Short of a league intervention, in the way a professional helps the hoarder, the Browns franchise is in real danger of suffocating to death among the piles of mess it’s created and can’t clean.
It’s enough to make you wonder what Jimmy Haslam really sees when he takes a look at the asset he’s devalued as he makes fans actually long for the relative salad days of Randy Lerner’s reign of ineptness.
In just the last week we’ve learned that it’s probably time to remove the word “functional” in front of the word “alcoholic” when it comes to describing quarterback Johnny Manziel.  We’ve learned that Josh Gordon indeed will be suspended for at least a year from the NFL.  And we’ve just learned that general manager Ray Farmer is likely about to get the team sanctioned and himself punished by the NFL for texting his grandiose thoughts on play calling to the coaching staff during games.  This latest just confirms that when it comes to personnel decisions Haslam has about the worst instincts possible.
Seriously, can it get any worse?  The sad truth is that indeed it can get worse.  Just because things are both bad and ridiculous now doesn’t mean that Haslam and his front office staff can’t find a way to make it even worse.  In his short time as the owner Haslam has made each offseason more disruptive than the previous.  With the mess the team is now in how exactly can it even hope to better its 7 win total of last season with a quarterback situation as big a mess as it’s ever been, and that just for starters?
You can say that the flameout of Manziel was expected, at least by anyone actually paying attention, so the only surprising thing when it comes to him is how quickly he devolved into a player needing inpatient rehab treatment.  And before we bestow bouquets upon his breast for the supposedly brave decision to volunteer to seek treatment, let’s remember all the problems he caused, all the red flags he ignored, all the enabling done by the front office and the coaching staff to dress this pig up as a rose.  Manziel was out of control long before he came to Cleveland.  His personal revelation, with his career certainly hanging in the balance, isn’t a stroke of bravery to be admired.  It is what it is, the last rope being grabbed by a desperate man finally realizing he’s drowning in a cesspool of his own creation.
You can say similar things about a nearly unrepentant jackass like Gordon, too.  His open letter to his critics was a passive-aggressive attempt in which he appeared to take responsibility for problems while offloading them to his own immaturity and rough upbringing.  It was what it was, a last ditch attempt to win back the fans who rightfully have turned their backs on him as he set fire to his career because of a raging ego unchecked by the prior punishments he endured.
But when it comes to Farmer, it is a little surprising I guess to find out that he’s mostly an intervening and insufferable prick afflicted by the seemingly contradictory maladies of delusions of grandeur and fears of inadequacy and incompetence.  You don’t have to be a big Kyle Shanahan fan to at least empathize with his need to exit Cleveland the moment the clock read 00:00 in the season’s final, miserable game.  Shanahan knew, unlike most of the coaching staff, that he had other more viable alternatives than wallowing in Cleveland’s mess any longer.  Why should he, why would he, endure that kind of behavior from the general manager during games, let alone between them?
Don’t forget, the hierarchy that Haslam created had the coaching staff, via head coach Mike Pettine, reporting directly to the owner, not the general manager.  Having created the structure it was up to Haslam to enforce it.  Instead he let problems develop and metastasize to the point where the franchise is once again on the precipice of completing falling apart.
If CBSSports’ Jason Canfora’s report is to be believed, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t, Farmer is far from the only problem child.  Alec Scheiner, the team president, is proving to be just as difficult to the point that despite operating solely on the business side he’s forced Pettine to sit with him and watch game film at 6 a.m. each Monday morning of the season. 
Scheiner, like Farmer, is supposed to be at the same level as Pettine yet in practice Pettine is the red-headed step child of a previous marriage.  That’s what comes with taking a job that no one else wanted or would otherwise touch without more millions that even Haslam could afford.  Pettine was desperate to become a head coach and it’s as if Scheiner and Farmer are relishing every opportunity to rub his nose in it.
Given this context, it’s actually hard now to muster much respect for Pettine.  He either lacks the wherewithal or the desire to compete with the sharp elbows of his counterparts on the business or player acquisition sides.  The result?  It lowers his stature in everyone’s eyes, including the players.  Put it this way, the players knew Manziel was both unprepared and too overmatched to actually start a game this season, let alone a game where the playoffs were theoretically on the line.  The players knew that Pettine knew it as well.  But when Pettine didn’t stand up to Farmer and/or Haslam and refuse to start Manziel, whatever respect there was for him in the locker room had to drop by half, or more.  It’s not just that  you can’t imagine Bill Belichick ever getting himself in that situation, it’s that you can’t imagine even Pat Shurmur getting in that kind of bind.
Indeed, I’d have more respect now for Pettine if he had just quit after one dysfunctional season, like Shanahan.  And I’d have more respect for Haslam if instead of keeping the circus intact and letting Shanahan go would have instead say goodbye to Pettine and installed Shanahan as the head coach.  That would have shown real vision on Haslam’s part not to mention a willingness to actually listen to the people running the games on a weekly basis.
What this team needs right now is exactly what they lost in Shanahan, someone willing to set ablaze his relationship with the owner in the name of doing what’s right instead of what’s expedient.  Instead fans are left with a team led by an owner all too willing to let his direct reports push each other around like kids on a playground as if the path to success is to be paved by whoever survives as the biggest bully.
Short of an indictment, which would have come by now if it was coming at all, Haslam isn’t selling this team.  That doesn’t bode well for as far as the eye of the Browns fan can see or his mind can dream.  Haslam wasted several days a few weeks ago by taking a retreat with his front office to figure out what went wrong.  He doesn’t need a retreat.  He needs some of that faux courage that his favorite son Manziel exercised, recognize that rock bottom has been reach and raise his hand and ask for some real help from the league.  It’s very clear at this point that Haslam can’t fix this mess by himself.