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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the month “January, 2011”

Reading is Fundamental – NFL edition

With the end of the NFL season just around the corner, we thought we’d pass along some book recommendations for anyone needing a football fix.

Here are some NFL and college football related books that are worth checking out (we’ll do Browns-specific books later in the week). Some may no longer be in print, but if you can find a copy it will be well worth your time:*

  • Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders, by Peter Richmond. The Oakland Raiders of the 1970s were some of the most outrageous, beloved and violent football teams every to play the game. Peter Richmond tells the story of Oakland’s wrecking crew of castoffs, psychos, oddballs and geniuses who won six division titles and a Super Bowl championship under the brilliant leadership of coach John Madden and eccentric owner Al Davis.
  • Johnny U: The Life & Times of John Unitas by Tom Callahan. Johnny U is the first authoritative biography of Unitas, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with teammates and opponents, coaches, family and friends. The depth of Tom Callahan’s research allows him to present something more than a biography, something approaching an oral history of a bygone sporting era.
  • Saturday Rules: A Season with Trojans and Domers (and Gators and Buckeyes and Wolverines) by Austin Murphy. No two programs are more storied than Notre Dame and USC. With the inside scoop on these top-ranked teams, Murphy closely follows their arcs through the 2006 season, up to their late-November showdown in the L.A. Coliseum. Murphy puts you in the field, in the meeting room and in the huddle as both teams fight to keep alive their national title ambitions.
  • Boys will be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman. In Boys will be Boys, award-winning writer Jeff Pearlman chronicles the outrageous antics and dazzling talent of a team fueled by ego, sex, drugs – and unrivaled greatness. Rising from the ashes of a 1-15 season in 1989 to capture three Super Bowl trophies in four years, the Dallas Cowboys were guided by a swashbuckling, skirt-chasing, power-hungry owner, Jerry Jones, and his two eccentric, hard-living coaches, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Together the three built a juggernaut that America loved and loathed.
  • Going Long: The Wild 10-year Saga of the Renegade American Football League in the Words of Those who Lived It by Jeff Miller. From its inauspicious beginnings through its improbable Super Bowl victories and its ultimate demise, the American Football League had a colorful and sometimes bizarre 10-year history. Going Long takes you back to that thrilling decade with the men who made the AFL – and who made it great.
  • Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look by Pat Kirwan. This is not a beginner’s introduction to football, nor is it a technical manual for only the most studious of fans. Instead, it clearly and simply explains the intricacies and nuances that affect the outcomes of every NFL game. Take Your Eye Off the Ball explains the pros and cons of different personnel groups, tells you what to look for when projecting a college quarterback’s success in the NFL and gives fans a simple, easy-to-remember checklist to help them understand the action on the field. Baseball claims to be America’s national pastime, but football is its passion. Take Your Eye Off the Ball will make fans feel like they’ve got their own personal head coach by their side each and every Sunday, enhancing the fan experience by making football more accessible, colorful, and compelling than ever before.
  • The Last Coach: A Life of Paul “Bear” Bryant by Allen Barra. The Last Coach traces Paul Bryant’s rise from a family of truck farmers to recognition as the most successful and influential coach in the game’s history. At the height of the Depression, football took Bryant to the Rose Bowl with Alabama’s 1934 national champions and on to a career as an assistant and, finally, a head football coach, where he matched wit and grit with the greatest coaches of two generations, men like Tennessee’s General Robert Neyland, Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson, Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Penn State’s Joe Paterno. Through it all, Bryant’s influence has not only endured but prevailed as his former players and assistants continue to define the best in not only college but professional football.
  • Perfect Rivals: Notre Dame, Miami and the Battle for the Soul of College Football by Jeff Carroll. College football is a sport of rivalries – and no two teams were ever more perfectly matched than the Miami Hurricanes and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In Perfect Rivals, award-winning sportswriter Jeff Carroll takes us inside the locker rooms and onto the gridiron, as two storied programs with very different cultures battle for national supremacy, school pride and the soul of the game itself.

If you do decide to check one of these out, you won’t be disappointed. And remember to shop at your local bookstore. If you don’t have one in your area and are in the Hudson area, it’s worth a stop at The Learned Owl.

If you missed it, our basketball book recommendations are here and our baseball books are here.

*Summaries are all taken from the individual book jackets.

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Thanks to Scott at WFNY, who found this column by Clay Travis at Fanhouse.

After writing about how the Terrible Towel is Terribly Stupid, Travis posted a column with the response of Steeler fans.

We especially like the one hoople head who was considerate enough to leave their phone number in the death threat they sent to Travis.

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Speaking of Terrible Towels, we’re pretty sure this constitutes child abuse.

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Fox Sports Florida is the latest to pile on the Cavs.

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If we had known Liverpool were going to turn into the Cleveland Indians

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Alex Mack thinks touchdowns, not field goals.

Missing what you never had

I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone …

If you have a few moments, take a look at this set of photos of a Cleveland and a Northeast Ohio that no longer exist, except in our memories.

The good guys at Two One Six Sports passed along the photos to Cleveland Frowns, which is where we found them.

We especially like this one of a Fourth of July celebration in Maple Heights from 1970. It’s just so perfectly Northeast Ohio – the lawn chairs that always leave marks on the back of your legs, the small BBQ grill, having a party in the garage. Just perfect.

As Frowns said on his site: “I’ll never let anyone tell me a man can’t lose something he never had.”

Cavs flirting with absurdly historic lows

OK, we admit it, we talked ourselves into the Cavs not being completely and utterly awful this season and, clearly, we were wrong.

We knew the team would struggle post-LeBron, but we didn’t know they could potentially become not only one of the worst teams in franchise history, but in NBA history as well:

  • Tuesday’s lost to Boston was the Cavs 22nd consecutive on the road, breaking the team record of 21.
  • The Cavs have also lost 18 consecutive overall and 28 of their last 29 games.
  • The Cavs can tie the franchise record for consecutive defeats in a season if they lose to Denver on Friday. If they can’t get past the Nuggets, the record will certainly be broken Sunday against Orlando.
  • The Cavs are a threat to break their franchise record for longest losing streak – 24 games – that was sent over the course of the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons.

But wait, it gets worse.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Cavs could finish the season last in both offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). The Cavs are currently last on the offensive side, and next-to-last on the defensive side.

If the Cavs pull it off, they would join the 1986-87 Clippers and 1992-93 Mavericks as the only teams to hit that dubious achievement since the 1979-80 season (the start of the 3-point era).

In the process the Cavs have become a team that opponents worry about – because they don’t want to be the team that loses to the Cavs. Plus there are plenty of teams looking for payback for the beatings the Cavs put on them the past few years.

While the current team is playing as poorly as the 1981-82 squad that finished 15-67, they are no where near as dysfunctional. That Cavs team went through four coaches – Don Delaney (4-11), Bob Kloppenburg (0-3), Chuck Daly (9-32) and Bill Musselman (2-21) – was plagued by in-fighting and was owned by the infamous Ted Stepien.

Say what you will about Dan Gilbert and his fondness for Comic Sans, but he’s no Stepien (although Gilbert can’t be happy with the latest news from Forbes, which said the team’s value has dropped 26 percent since LeBron left). And we can only imagine what Stepien would have been like with access to a Twitter account.

In Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, authors Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff detail some of the shenanigans from that lost season:

  • The Cavs traded both Mike Mitchell (an All Star from the previous season) to San Antonio and Bill Laimbeer to Detroit
  • Stepien tried to fire Daly while Stepien was in the midst of judging a lingerie show at a downtown club
  • Musselman wouldn’t use the office phones for fear of being overhead and spied on people during road trips
  • Stepien met with officials in Toronto and actually unveiled a logo for the Toronto Towers – the name the Cavs would take when he relocated them to Toronto

So while things are bad now, older Cavs fans now it could be far, far worse. That’s the one thing about Cleveland sports: when things go bad you can always find a team from the past that was worse.

As frustrating as the Cavs currently are, it’s actually better that they are horrible than a middle-of-the-road team. This team needs to take a beating for a couple of years and rebuild through the draft. With a little bit of luck, this down cycle will not last forever.

Don’t forget, it was only six years after that ’81-’82 season before the rebuilt Cavs were back as legitimate playoff contenders.

For more on the ’81-’82 Cavs team, check out Chris Tomasson’s piece at AOL Fanhouse: Will These Cavs Sink as Low as Old Cavs?

What was it you said, guv’ner?

Disappointing – but not surprising – news that English football analyst Andy Gray has been sacked by Sky Sports for a string of sexist comments.

The Daily Mail quoted a Sky Sports statement saying that: “Sky Sports has terminated its contract with Andy Gray. The decision which is effective immediately was made in response to new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour.

“The new evidence relating to an off-air incident that took place in December 2010 came to light after Andy Gray had already been subjected to disciplinary action for his comments of 22 January 2011.”

Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis added: “Andy Gray’s contract has been terminated for unacceptable behaviour. After issuing a warning yesterday we have no hesitation in taking this action after becoming aware of new information today.”

Gray was originally in trouble for criticizing Sian Massey, a female assistant referee, off the air during Saturday’s game between Liverpool and Wolverhampton.

It got worse though when video footage surfaced of Gray making lewd comments to fellow Sky Sports personality Charlotte Jackson. According to published reports, the video shows Gray asking Jackson to tuck a microphone pack down his pants, saying “Charlotte, can you tuck this down here for me love … Tuck this down here.”

It’s disappointing because we enjoyed Gray’s work on ESPN during the 2008 European Championship and on Fox Soccer Channel during last summer’s World Cup.

Gray’s dismissal comes just a few weeks after ESPN fired announcer Ron Franklin after Franklin called a female colleague “sweet baby.”

This leaves us wondering how something like this happens in 2011. Haven’t we reached the point where people realize you can’t talk to co-workers like that? Even if you are an ex-athlete like Gray?

Apparently not.

For more, check out Martin Samuel: Listening to Richard Keys and Andy Gray was like a visit to a 1970s cabaret club

and Laura Williamson: Do me a favour, love … Sky duo’s attack was no joke

Sleazy people can be good at their jobs

Great read from Sam Mellinger at The Kansas City Star, who writes that just because Ben Roethlisberger is going back to the Super Bowl doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.

Mellinger writes: Roethlisberger is about to be deified by too many. He is the winner, the strutting quarterback fresh off helping the Steelers to a 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC championship game on Sunday, and we’re about to get two weeks’ worth of redemption stories.

The narrative will be about a young man maturing, of working through mistakes and growing into an all-time great worthy of your admiration. Hopefully enough of us keep some perspective. One’s got nothing to do with the other.

Sleazy people can be good at their jobs.

Gerry Callahan from The Boston Globe came through as well:

This is, of course, is only the beginning. The two-week deification of Roethlisberger begins. It’s been less than a year since he plied a group of college girls with alcohol and allegedly had his way with one of them in the bathroom while his stooge cop friend stood guard. Now Roethlisberger kneels and prays on the field after games. Now there is hardly a reminder of the behavior that got him bounced from the league for six games (later reduced to four).

It will be interesting to see how Roethlisberger reacts when he arrives in Dallas and receives a daily dose of Milledgeville questions, but here’s a Super Bowl prediction for you: Somehow it will be easier for Roethlisberger to put his troubles behind him than it would have been for Michael Vick or even Brett Favre. By gameday, Roethlisberger’s story will be one of redemption and recovery, of a lost soul who is now found.

Mellinger and Callahan are right. After numerous stories came out in the preseason saying that Steeler fans and the Rooney family would never embrace Roethlisberger because he betrayed the “Steeler way,” that all went away as soon as he started throwing touchdown passes.

It’s going to be a long two weeks.

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Peter King, in his Monday Morning QB column, had some soothing words for Browns fans still worried about the hiring of Pat Shurmur:

King writes: I start to seethe when I hear so many of the fans in Cleveland going crazy about the qualifications of Pat Shurmur to be the new head coach. Specifically, about how it’s agent Bob LaMonte’s hire, or that the fix was in because club president Mike Holmgren and Shurmur share the same agent, and LaMonte orchestrated the hire. Idiocy.

The Browns did what so many teams have done in the last five years: put a good franchise architect in place (or have a good franchise architect in place), then hire a coach to work with said architect.

The tote board: 12 of the 20 coaches hired into classic structures from 2006 to ’09 made the playoffs at least once; that’s 60 percent. Nine of the 20 (45 percent) won at least one playoff game. Five of the 20 (25 percent) won a conference championship game or Super Bowl.

Shurmur’s a smart, anonymous kid, on the same fame level as Mike Smith when the Falcons hired him. He might have the kind of accurate, smart kid who will make a good West Coast quarterback in Colt McCoy. I don’t know how good a GM Tom Heckert will be; we’ll see, but he has a good background in the game, the way Thomas Dimitroff had when he left the Patriots to run Atlanta. I know you’ve heard this before in Cleveland, but give the kid a chance, will you?

That’s the key part: Shurmur hasn’t run a practice, an OTA, a training camp or anything yet and some are ready to run him out of town.

And it’s not as if Mike Holmgren got rid of Paul Brown to bring in Shurmur. Eric Mangini was 10-22 with the Browns and 33-47 for his career. Shurmur deserves a chance to at least see what he can do before we start worrying about whether or not Holmgren made a mistake.

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Speaking of the Browns and coaches, Mike Tomlin will be entering his fifth season as Pittsburgh coach this fall and will be facing his third Browns head coach in that time period.

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Browns center Alex Mack is now on the Pro Bowl roster after Jets center Nick Mangold was injured in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He joins left tackle Joe Thomas, who was named to the AP’s All-Pro team on Monday.

“I’m very excited to be able to go to Hawaii,” Mack said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that Nick had to get injured for me to go, but I’m looking forward to representing the Browns. It has been a lifelong dream for me and from here on, it’s working to make many more. I’m excited to be going and I can’t wait to play in this game.”

This is the first time since 1981 that the Browns will have two offensive linemen at the Pro Bowl. That year, guard Joe DeLamielleure, center Tom DeLeone and tackle Doug Dieken were all selected.

Browns finally getting defensive

The Browns finally made an addition to new coach Pat Shurmur’s staff, hiring Dick Jauron to take over for the departed Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator.

Shurmur has ties, naturally, to team president Mike Holmgren, having coached the defensive backs in Green Bay for three years under Holmgren.

Jauron has head coaching experience with Chicago (1999-2003) where he was 35-45, and in Buffalo (2006-09) where he was 24-33. Throw in his 1-4 record as interim coach in Detroit and he wasn’t very good as a head coach, as 60-82 career record indicates.

So while it’s good the Browns are not bringing him in to be the top man, Jauron should be able to offer Shurmur some guidance about being a head coach.

“He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is an excellent teacher,” Shurmur told the Associated Press. “His experience in the NFL as a player, position coach, coordinator and head coach will be a huge asset to our staff.”

Cleveland fans should be familiar with Jauron from his time with the Bears, especially from the 2001 season when the Bears won back-to-back overtime games on interception returns, the second coming against, of course, the Browns.

“There were many elements of this job that were attractive for me,” Jauron said in published reports. “I have known Pat and his family for a long time, and in fact I played for and coached with his uncle Fritz. I believe with people like Pat Shurmur, Mike Holmgren and [GM] Tom Heckert in place, this organization is building a solid foundation. I can’t wait to get started with the Browns.”

So what are the Browns getting in Jauron?

In Buffalo, the Bills defense ranked 19th, 14th, 31st and 18th during Jauron’s tenure. In Detroit, his defenses were 20th and 22nd.

His best year came in 2001, as the Bears ranked first in the NFL in points allowed and second in rushing yards allowed.

Compare that to the Browns, who over the past seven years have seen their rush defense finish the season ranked 27th, 28th, 28th, 27th, 29th, 30th and 32nd. So if he brings anything to the table for the run defense, the Browns will be ahead of the game.

A former defensive back, and longtime secondary coach, Jauron should be able to accelerate the learning process of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.

Just the news that the Browns were looking at Jauron set off a debate over his preferred 4-3 defense vs. the 3-4 defense the Browns have been trying to run for seemingly forever. Now that he is officially on board, the debate should only intensify.

In his excellent book, Take Your Eye off the Ball, Pat Kirwan says that, if a team is smart, it can convert from one system to the other in two years. He also brings up an interesting point:

When most of the NFL played a 4-3 scheme, a 3-4 team like the Steelers faced little competition for their kind of player. Once half the league started running a 3-4, with everyone looking for their own massive nose tackle, it became harder to land the best players for that system. Eventually, so many teams will be playing the 3-4 that teams who stick with the 4-3 will regain the advantage.

Think about that, the Browns may actually be gaining an advantage? How nice that would be for a change.

Kirwin also talks about what teams look for when building a defensive line for the 4-3, citing the Vikings as an example with Kevin Williams (311 pounds) and Pat Williams (317) eating up space at the tackle positions.

It’s pretty easy to see Ahtyba Rubin (330 pounds) and Shaun Rogers (350 pounds) in those roles.

But here’s the important part: it doesn’t matter what defense the team uses – 4-3, 3-4, 0-11 – if the coaches don’t know how to teach the system and if the team doesn’t have players who can excel in the system. And don’t forget, both the Saints and the Colts – last year’s Super Bowl teams – run the 4-3.

If GM Tom Heckert can get the players Jauron needs, and if Jauron can coach them in the proper way to run the defense, then the 4-3 is the perfect defense for the Browns. Sometimes it really is that simple.

While there may be some growing pains as the Browns refit the front seven to the new defense, that is much smaller in importance to getting the right coaches in place, picking one system and sticking with it. You can’t do it in one year; it’s a building process that grows year after year when done right.

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Eric Mangini may be back on the sidelines in 2011, as he is reportedly a candidate to take over as defensive coordinator in Tennessee.

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New Orleans fullback Heath Evans? Not a fan of Brian Daboll.

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The Browns are playing both Tennessee and Miami at home next season.

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We know we have money on the Steelers for Sunday’s game against the Jets. And while we bet with our heads, there is no scenario known that will allow us to root for the Steelers.

So … J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!

Championship Weekend Picks

Three games to go.

First place on the line.

The 2010 Cheddar Bay Invitational at Cleveland Frowns.

Let’s roll:

Green Bay (-3.5) vs. Chicago

Money pick: Pittsburgh (-4) vs. NY Jets

Was it something someone said?

The Browns continue to have trouble filling the openings for the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators.

The Browns have failed to land Mike McCoy, who chose to stay in Denver, and Bill Musgrave, who chose the Vikings instead, where he will work with Tavaris Jackson, Patrick Ramsey and Joe Webb at quarterback.

The team is now reportedly looking at former Steelers quarterbacks coach and Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

We have to wonder how much new coach Pat Shurmur’s stated desire to continue calling the offensive plays on game day is factoring into the search. That didn’t sound like a very good idea when Shurmur talked about it during his introductory press conference; if it is hindering the team’s ability to hire someone for the position then it sounds even worse.

On the defensive side, the Browns interviewed Philadelphia secondary coach Dick Jauron, but Jauron may be inclined to stay in Philly now that Jim Mora has said he’s not coaching this year.

The Browns are also interviewing Arizona defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who also has former ties to the Steelers, having worked their as linebacker coach under Bill Cowher. That sounds promising, but this year the Cardinals gave up the most points in the NFL under Davis.

Why does all of this seem harder than it should be?

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We’re enjoying the ads on the NFL Network for the upcoming senior bowl, where players reminisce about their experience in the game. But we have to wonder: what happened to the Charlie Frye commerical?

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Two One Six Sports takes a look at What Went Wrong with the Cavs

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Rex Ryan has made considerable changes to the Jets roster since taking over in 2009 and has the Jets in the AFC Championship game for the second year in a row.

Some easy links on a chilly Wednesday

Nice article from Mike Lupica in the New York Daily News on how Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has worked with coach Rex Ryan to build the Jets into Super Bowl contenders.

“Sometimes in this business, the easy part is the talent,” Tannenbaum said in the article. “The hard part is making it work. And that’s where Rex comes in. He enables me to ask the most important question of all in evaluating players: What’s in our best interest? Even if it involves taking a bit of a risk.”

The coach gets so much of the credit, and deserves it. You can’t imagine it happening this way for the Jets without him. But it doesn’t happen this way without Mike Tannenbaum, either. He is the guy who has given his coach the horses. No coach, no matter how much of a talker and motivator he is, ever wants to try it without them.

Here’s hoping, now that everyone is reportedly on the same page at Browns HQ in Berea, that Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur can build this kind of relationship.

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This new development in beer dispensing is cool but still won’t solve the problem of concession stands serving watery swill like Bud Light or Coors Light.

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We don’t remember Michael Bianchi and The Orlando Sentinel being upset when it was LeBron leaving Cleveland.

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Good piece from The New York Times on the oldest rivalry in the NFL – Bears vs. Packers.

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Browns fans like to complain about owner Randy Lerner, but it could be far, far worse.

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Waiting for Next Year takes a look back at the Mark Sanchez and Braylon Edwards trades.

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In the other kind of football: 10 Funny Football Wikipedia Edits.

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Over at EPL Talk, they tried to create a European soccer supporters map of the US based on this one for London.

Pretty cool idea; but we were a bit disappointed the Cleveland was not represented.

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Finally, Don Kirshner died on Monday. We can remember when his Saturday night show, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, was one of the few places to see bands perform.

Boy, does that make us feel old.

Gaining a little bit of payback

Cleveland finally got a piece of payback on Miami, as deposed offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is expected to be named to the same position with the Dolphins.

And let’s just say the reaction from Dolphin fans is a bit different from when LeBron James announced he was signing with the Heat.

From PhinPhanatic:

“I found that one article to show my displeasure wasn’t enough. I simply can’t grasp this hire. Not at all. … I was a little under the weather earlier and had to go find a dark place to lay down for awhile. The good news is that I wake up, still sick, read about this hire, and now suddenly the reality of how bad the Dolphins offense is going to be, suddenly makes me feeling sick somewhat better.”

And Fins Nation:

“The Dolphins have continued an uninspiring offseason by apparently adding an uninspiring offensive coordinator. Brian Daboll … has signed on to the Miami Dolphins … to run the league’s 21st ranked offense After being the guy … that ran the league’s 29th-ranked offense!!! And that was just last year! In 2009, Don Coryell Jr. over here lead the Cleveland Browns 32nd-ranked offense.”

And Phinfever:

“With the fans getting on board with the possible hiring of Chargers TE Coach Chadzinski and installing that high octane Chargers offense, Coach Sparano named former Browns Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll as the new Miami Dolphins OC. Some fans are committing suicide …”

The Daily Dolphin blog at The Palm Beach Post isn’t very impressed either.

It’s no real surprise when you consider the off-season the Dolphins have had so far, with bumbling owner Stephen Ross having to apologize to his coach for trying to hire John Harbaugh and not realizing “it would be national news.”

The real laugh comes from Ross stating he wants to see a “wide-open” offense out of the Dolphins this season.

Ross must not have caught too many Browns highlights from the past two years, but unless his view of a wide-open offense includes conservative play calling after turnovers, leaving your Pro Bowl-caliber fullback on the bench in short yardage situations and having your receivers run four-yard patterns on third and long, he’s going to be disappointed.

Now if the Browns could just convince the Dolphins that they need to bring Jake Delhomme to South Beach to teach the “Daboll Way” then all would really be good.

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