Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Cleveland

Its mid-January in Cleveland and the Cavs are off to their best start in franchise history, pushing towards a potential first seed in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is looking like the clear cut NBA MVP due to an elevated intensity on the defensive end and a willingness to play offense without controlling the basketball. Mike Browns has opened up the offense, without sacrificing his trademark defense first philosophy, by turning over some of it to assistant John Kuester.

Across the country, he Indians are just under a month from taking the field at their new spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona hoping that the namesake of their new home is an understatement of what they will accomplish in 2009. For the maybe first time ever the Dolan Family opened their pocketbooks despite a crumbling economy. Mark Shapiro took advantage by being aggressive and creative after an off-season of sitting on his hands in 2008 blew up in his face.

While I love the rosy prospects for both the Cavs and the Tribe in 2009 I find myself fearing and loathing the Browns at so many levels it shrouds my excitement for everything else Cleveland sports related. Right or wrong, the Browns are the team that is associated with and defines the city. LeBron may be able to chance that in the very near future, but for now when one thinks Cleveland, the Browns come to mind.

I love the fact that Randy Lerner does not want to sell the Browns and I appreciate that he does not want to be the face of the franchise. However, it scares me to death that he is so introverted that he can not even speak in front of a camera for ten minutes to explain his rational behind hiring a head coach. It is embarrassing when Team President Mike Keenan, who has been around for about a year, has to introduce himself at a press conference before he introduces the head coach.

I appreciate that Lerner seemingly found “his guy” in Eric Mangini and that he values a coach more than a General Manager even though it is an ass backwards approach to me. But I wonder what Lerner would have done if Mangini had not come available after Bill Cowher and Scott Pioli became unviable options.

And what if the Ravens’ George Kokinis decides to stay in Baltimore? I have no faith that Lerner has even considered that situation. It looks like the Browns only fallback options are Shack Harris who resigned from the Jacksonville Jaguars GM post after free agent signings of Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence blew up in his face and he was unable to get first round draft choice Derrick Harvey into camp on time. Former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist is begging Lerner for an interview which does nothing to sooth my fears.

I even have concerns about Eric Mangini, who I actually am intrigued by, as the head coach of the Browns. I may not like they way that Lerner went about selecting Mangini but I do think the scrutiny of the New York market and three years of actual head coaching experience will benefit him.

It does scare me that while coaches in their second go round do experience success many of them, like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, either took time off from football or went back to the coordinator ranks before their next head coaching gig. The 14 days off that Mangini had between being fired by the Jets and hired by the Browns makes me worry how much he could really learn from his mistakes in that short time.

So instead of celebrating the success of the Cavs or analyzing the potential of the Indians I find myself worrying about the Browns when they should be an afterthought in my mind. Fearing that an organization has failed to learn from its worst decade of football in franchise history and loathing the fact that we may be looking at another decade of the same.

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