clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Cleveland Browns and Why Bad Football Organizations Stay Bad on the Field

The Patriots are very lucky that everyone in the organization is on the same page.

Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia could be the next coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia could be the next coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The last time a Cleveland football franchise was a serious contender was back when Bill Belichick was coaching the team in the 1990s. The Browns were 11-5 in 1994 and defeated the New England Patriots in the Wild Card round that postseason. The Browns tanked in 1995 after owner Art Modell announced the team was moving to Baltimore and they haven't been able to sustain any sort of success since becoming an expansion franchise in 1999. Since re-joining the NFL, we've seen a merry-go-round of coaches, quarterbacks, and general managers. It's difficult to find the right people for those three very important positions, so often bad organizations are quick to fire coaches when results aren't there immediately.

In the NFL, we can see the clear difference between a well-run organization in the New England Patriots and a dysfunctional organization in the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots have NFL Hall of Famers in both the coaching and quarterback part of the equation. The Browns most recognizable quarterback can't stay out of trouble. The team hired an analytics unit to research whether Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. The analytics team recommended the team draft Bridgewater, but the team wound up drafting Manziel instead with the 22nd pick of the 2014 draft. Bridgewater was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, who won the NFC North division because they are one of the well-run organizations in the NFL. That's the type of stuff that happens when the owner is allowed too much power in the football decisions. We saw that type of power struggle between Robert Kraft and Bill Parcells in the 1996 season, with it ending ugly for both sides.

The biggest part of a well-run organization is continuity. Typically you want to give the people you hire a chance to have the time to implement their plan, but there are some teams that lack the patience to see things through. We saw that happen in Philadelphia this year, where the Eagles ownership did not want to see the process through because the team had limped from a 9-3 high mark after 12 games to a combined 7-12 record in the last 19 games that Chip Kelly coached. We all know that the Eagles coaching job can be difficult, you can ask Andy Reid about that. With a similar role to Chip Kelly, Andy Reid brought an era of success to Philly but was unceremoniously dumped when the team showed signs of trouble in 2011-2012. With Chip Kelly unwilling to give up the personnel power, the Eagles wound up firing him with just one game to go this season.

Another factor necessary to run a successful franchise is trust from the top to the bottom, with the top being ownership and the bottom being the players. Ownership has to trust that the coaching staff and personnel people are doing their jobs and working hard to make the team better every day. At the same time, the coaching staff needs to make sure that the higher-ups aren't trying to circumvent the process and take the carpet out from under their feet. Then you have the trust between the coaching staff and the players to work out any potential issues. I really dislike it when a player goes to the owner instead of the coaches to air out any grievances because it circumvents the whole hierarchy and creates turmoil in the locker room. We saw that with Demarco Murray and the Eagles, where Murray complained to the owner that he wasn't being used right and that started the Domino Effect that led to Chip Kelly's demise.

The hardest thing to do in the NFL is to rebuild from nothing. That's where the Cleveland Browns are at right now and that's where the Jacksonville Jaguars were at prior to 2014. When building from the ground up, teams will typically draft their franchise quarterback and have him grow with the same head coach. The Jaguars certainly are taking the slow rebuild route, which NFL teams typically did to accumulate high draft picks together and build a strong core. After taking the quarterback, they need to surround him with reliable pass catchers and/or a strong running game to take pressure off the quarterback. In the case of Tom Brady in the 2000s, the Patriots relied on a strong running game and a defense that was mostly constructed in the Bill Parcells Era. The Patriots did not have a weak roster when they hired Bill Belichick, although he certainly got rid of the players that didn't buy into the program quickly and with no regrets.

In the NFL, coaches and GMs almost need to operate with no fear of what could happen if the team makes a controversial move. We've seen the Patriots do this basically every year, yet the team remained unscathed over the long haul. As GM of the Browns, Mike Lombardi tried to gage the value of Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon who were two cornerstone pieces of the franchise. Lombardi traded Richardson for a first round pick, which was later used on Manziel, and tried to sell Gordon for best value possible. Once again, the clash between the GM and the Front Office costed Lombardi a job, which is kind of sad because I thought he had them starting in the right direction. Instead we see the team operating from the same starting point in the cycle.

I have no idea what direction the Cleveland Browns are taking, but they're basically swinging for the fences and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. It will be interesting to see what type of hires they make for the primary GM and head coaching job. The Browns own the 2nd pick with the draft and with Tennessee already having a franchise QB from last year's draft, they won't likely be picking a QB at 1st overall. Perhaps the one name I expect the Browns to draft is University of California QB Jared Goff. Goff isn't a player who is as talented as your prototypical first round QB, but given the demand for a quality signal caller they'll reach for him and hope to surround him with viable weapons. In terms of pass catchers they have Duke Johnson out of the backfield and Gary Barnidge at TE who can help them now. The Browns can't bank on Josh Gordon helping them out at any point, even though he's under team control thanks to his own impulse control issues.

When you take a look at the top NFL organizations this year, you look at the Patriots, Seahawks, Cardinals, Panthers, Packers, Steelers, Chiefs, Bengals, and Vikings. The Vikings current regime hasn't been around long enough to really stick, but the GM has preceded the head coach and QB, whose jobs are basically married with each other. The common theme here is continuity from the top to bottom. All the QBs on those teams have played with the same head coach for at least 3 seasons or 100% of their football career, as is the case with Bridgewater. In addition to continuity, the QBs for the team are also performing at a high level because of the trust between the coaching staff and the QB. Not surprisingly, all these teams will be competing for the Lombardi Trophy over the next four weeks.

If you're the Cleveland Browns, you pick your trio of QB, coach, and personnel decision maker and stick with it long enough to see it through. It will take 3-4 years to build up a franchise from rock bottom. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is one of the few names linked to that job, I hope he gets it and helps turn around that franchise. In today's NFL, most coaches aren't getting enough time to build their own program and weed out the players that don't buy in, even if they were stars from a previous regime. Any break in the trust between any level of the organization spells disaster for an organization and leads to horrific seasons. The Browns will have an interesting offseason to put things together and it starts with who they hire to the GM and head coaching positions.