The Cleveland Browns are a dysfunctional joke. In a league characterized by its parity and sudden shifts from worst-to-first, this constant in Cleveland holds. The players change, the coaches change, the GMs change, and even the owners change. But December with the Browns, the offseason in Berea, stays a goddamned depressing mess.
The Browns are so dysfunctional that they've put themselves in the position of bearing the brunt of public outcry for transactions to remove people who are otherwise deemed incompetent or incorrigible. Parting with people like George Kokinis, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, and now Kyle Shanahan and Dowell Loggains might typically prompt a "That seems prudent" response. But with the Browns, it's always, "What an irredeemable mess they got there in Cleveland!" It's an accomplishment, really.
This turnover was supposed to end with the transition in ownership to Jimmy Haslam from Randy Lerner, who inherited the team from his father and never felt comfortable owning and running it. But since Haslam assumed ownership, the Browns have rifled through three front offices and three coaching staffs in three seasons (one staff he inherited from Lerner's tenure). After a decade of constant turnover and failure under Lerner, Haslam took the reins in Oct. 2012 and preached "continuity." It was allegedly a concept he learned from the Rooneys as a part-owner of the Steelers, and through his business. Here's the NFL Network's Albert Breer as Haslam took ownership of the Browns:
Haslam is quick to note, too, that he isn't just cribbing from Pittsburgh on that. His chief officers in his lucrative truck-stop business have been with the company for 27, 24 and 16 years.
"That's the way our company has always looked at it," he said. "You get the right people in place and let them do their jobs."
Of course, that company was raided by the FBI and IRS less than a year after that quote and has since had a double-digit number of employees plead guilty to fraud. So you have to wonder about who he thinks are the "right" people to bring such continuity to his Browns.
On Thursday, the Browns parted with their offensive coordinator, Shanahan, and quarterback coach, Loggains, after just one season. Those departures come on the heels of another December in which the offense played three different quarterbacks -- in Haslam's three seasons of ownership, seven different QBs have played in the final month of the year.
One of the three quarterbacks to play this December was Johnny Manziel, the team's most recent first-round draft pick. Haslam stated the exhortation of a homeless man he met in Cleveland inspired his desire to select Manziel, and he reportedly pushed for the selection of Manziel when Loggains forwarded him a draft night text message from Johnny. The text stated Manziel would "wreck this league" with Loggains and the Browns. Haslam was convinced (via ESPN Cleveland).
"[Manziel] shoots me a text and says, ‘I wish you guys would come and get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. I want to wreck this league together,'" Loggains said.
"When I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach. I'm like, ‘This guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.' Soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, ‘Alright, pull the trigger, we're trading up to go get this guy.'"
Now just nine months after having that influential direct text line to the owner, Loggains is gone.
The entire process of hiring Shanahan was a bit of a mess. After firing Rob Chudzinski, the Browns went through a drawn-out coaching search full of embarrassing reports of disinterest and rejection (two members of that search process, Banner and Lombardi, were let go after it was concluded). Mike Pettine was hired almost a month later, but with no concrete plan for an offensive staff in place. Loggains got a job, but just as a quarterbacks coach and before an offensive coordinator was found. Gary Kubiak was wanted for the job, but he went to Baltimore. Bill Callahan was targeted, but Dallas, who had actually just demoted him, would not let him out of his contract. Shanahan's interview with the Browns, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, did not go well and he was unlikely to get the job.
"My understanding is that it is a long shot for (Shanahan) to be able to land the Browns job," Rapoport said on NFL Network's "Super Bowl Live" on Thursday. "I'm told the meeting did not exactly go as planned, and I would be surprised if the Browns made a move and hired either of these guys (Shanahan and DeFilippo) quickly.
Two days later, it was reported that the Browns had hired Shanahan.
Shanahan, who was booted from Washington unceremoniously, actually achieved some success with middling talent in Cleveland. There was an article on the team's website titled "The mastermind that is Kyle Shanahan." They started 7-4. Brian Hoyer looked competent. The offensive line was good. The run game was great. Then, as it always does with the Browns, December happened. The final month was ugly, but the team, particularly the offensive side of the ball, was depleted.
Shanahan had a healthy dose of, and was a part of, the dysfunction in Washington. Then he got a helping in Cleveland as the season came to another tumbling finish. Reports this week that the personnel operation and front office were clashing with the coaches is nothing new for the Browns. That text messages were reportedly sent from a high-ranking personnel member down to the sideline about play calling is a tasteful new nugget of Browns dysfunction. Shanahan and the coaches may be a one-sided source of those reports on friction with the front office. Regardless of who was doing the talking, the Browns were a mess again and Shanahan, reportedly popular among the players, was about to be gone.
It became official Thursday and now the Browns are at the start of another offseason with major coaching staff changes, plus either a quarterback controversy or the search for an entirely new one. The dispute between the coaches and the front office reportedly rose over Manziel. The coaches didn't think they could win with him, while the front office wanted him to play and reportedly "forced" Manziel into the starting role at the end of the season. So even with Shanahan gone, that potential point of conflict could just be heating up in Cleveland.
Anyone who was convinced things were heading in the right direction at 7-4 at the end of November did not have the experience or acquired intuition of following the Browns since the franchise returned in 1999. December is always a disaster, and the offseason is always rocky.
This time last season, after dismissing Chudzinski following just one year as head coach, Haslam sat next to Joe Banner, who would himself be removed just over a month later, and bristled at the suggestion that these were just the "same old Browns" but with a new owner.
"We take this extremely seriously and it galls me when you all write -- and you have the right to do it -- 'same old Browns.' It's our single mission to change that."
It may be that Kyle Shanahan is not good at his job and the person the Browns replace him with will be better. But that won't change the fact these are still the same old Browns.
So who might be up next in the persistent search for stability, continuity, and success?
As reported earlier this week, look for Charlie Weis to be among the possibilities to replace Shanahan in CLE— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 8, 2015
Same. Old. Browns.