Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Searching for answers in the latest Browns coaching search

NFL: Buffalo Bills-Training CampThe Cleveland Browns have now gone – gasp! – 24 days and counting without a head coach.

In the that time, the playoffs have gone along and we are now down to two teams. The college bowl season wrapped up and … that’s about it, really.

The Browns haven’t won or lost a game, haven’t drafted a player or signed one in free agency; basically they have been operating like every other team that is not in the playoffs. They are just currently doing it without a coaching staff, which, apparently, means the world is coming to an end in Berea. (Or at least more so than usual.)

We commented on Twitter earlier today that Cleveland is the only place where being methodical is seen as a sign of incompetence and weakness. When the team fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after the season-ending loss to Pittsburgh, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner promised fans that they would take their time on this search and, so far, they have been true to their word. Yet people are freaking out left and right because the Browns haven’t hired anyone.

It’s time to take a stiff drink, Browns fans, calm down, and let’s see if we can try to figure out where the Browns are right now and just how panicked everyone should really be.

No one wants to coach the Browns.

Much like the factually incorrect joke that the Browns were “the first to fire and the last to hire,” the notion that no one wants to coach the team is simply false. We may be splitting hairs here, but the Browns (to the best of everyone’s knowledge) have not actually offered the head coaching job to anyone, so how can anyone have turned them down?

The Browns asked Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase to interview and Gase ultimately decided he wanted to stay with his security blanket (Peyton Manning) in Denver. He is also represented by Bob LaMonte, who most likely has no warm feelings for the Browns. But Gase didn’t interview with anyone, it wasn’t just the Browns, but somehow his decision reflects negatively on just Cleveland.

Same with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Once it became clear that the Browns were not going to give McDaniels carte blanche to destroy what hope is left that the Browns can get this thing turned around, he ran back to his sugar daddies, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. None of the other teams in the NFL with job openings were willing to give McDaniels even a courtesy interview but, again, the Browns somehow are supposed to be the buffoons in this situation.

Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles? He didn’t hired anywhere else to be head coach, did he?

The Browns are now in panic mode.

Think about this one for a moment: if the Browns were truly in a panic to replace Chudzinski, wouldn’t they have hired someone in the first 72 hours after firing him? Would they really be coming up on four weeks since the firing without a coach if they weren’t committed to working through the process?

Who did the Browns miss out on during this process that truly would have been the difference maker at the coaching position this team needs? Mike Zimmer? They interviewed him last year and obviously were not impressed enough this year to talk to him again. Zimmer has been in the NFL since 1994 and, at age 57, this is his first head coaching job. What took so long?

Ken Whisenhunt? The Browns interviewed him for the second consecutive year and we’d be willing to be that if they had liked him enough to offer the job he would have taken it. He would have been a nice hire (same with Lovie Smith, who went to Tampa Bay), but it’s probably a stretch to say that missing out on either Whisenhunt or Smith is going to cost the Browns a chance at the Super Bowl.

Jay Gruden? Please.

Anyone else? That’s what we thought.

General manager Mike Lombardi is not at the Senior Bowl

While Lombardi reportedly only made a brief stop in Mobile, Ala., site of the Senior Bowl, this week to be part of the interview team that met with Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine for the second time, the Browns represented at the annual game.

The team’s scouts are there along with assistant general manager Ray Farmer, which is probably the best thing the team could hope for. While there is still almost zero evidence that Lombardi is qualified as a talent evaluator, Farmer is highly regarded throughout the NFL and many believe it is only a matter of time before Farmer becomes an NFL general manager. (Why that won’t happen in Cleveland is a topic for another day.) The more people (who are not Lombardi) who can have a voice (other than Lombardi’s) in the room with Haslam and Banner when it comes time to talk personnel, the better off the Browns will be.

In addition, whoever the Browns eventually hire as their next head coach is going to come from the ranks of current NFL assistants, many of whom are currently, wait for it, at the Senior Bowl watching practices. That knowledge presumably won’t be erased from their head once they enter the facility in Berea, so while it may not be the norm, it’s probably not the end of the world.

What does it all mean?

Honestly? We’re not sure, but only because the final scene has not been written in this year’s version of the tragic comedy that is the Cleveland Browns. If they wind up with the right coach, be it Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, or Pettine, or some “curve ball,” then it becomes completely irrelevant how long they took to make their decision.

The last thing that Haslam wants is to be going through this process again in a year or two (and that is the certainly the last thing that Browns fans want). The team simply has to get this decision right and they have to do everything they can to get it right.

There are still plenty of ways the team can screw this up. We want to believe that whatever mistakes were made last year during the coaching search have been corrected, but the same trio that decided they made a mistake with Chudzinski is still in place this year.

Can the Browns wait too long to make a decision? Most definitely. Have they past that point yet? Probably not. Can they still make the wrong hire? Certainly. But as long as Quinn and Pettine are in play, the Browns are in a good position.

But the coach is just one part of the off-season equation. There are still plenty of opportunities stress out over the Browns messing up free agency and the draft, but those can wait until a head coach in place.

As it stands right now, the Browns may be just around the corner from the light of day on the coaching front.

Let’s all just hope that when they turn that corner they are not facing a brick wall.

(Photo courtesy of USA Today)

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