How to fix the Cleveland Browns in 10 easy steps
Jonathan Knight, author of several books including Sundays in the Pound and Kardiac Kids, spoke Wednesday evening at the Hudson Library and Historical Society.
During an entertaining hour-long presentation, Knight, who started a newsletter about the Cleveland Browns when he was 8 years old, pointed out that while the Browns are very good at reminding everyone that they were once a winning franchise, team officials don’t look to the past when building the current team, resulting in the poor product that fans witness week after week and year after year.
“This presentation is going to be like The DaVinci Code,” Knight said. “If you look into the nooks and crannies of Browns history, we can find clues that tell us what the team is doing wrong and why they are failing.”
Knight then laid out his 10 (mostly) tongue-in-cheek steps to fix the Browns (everything in quote marks is from Knight):
1. Dress for Success
“The Browns have always had a simple uniform that has evolved a little bit over the years. While we applaud them for trying something new, the problem lately has been the Brown pants. The team’s record is now 3-11 all-time when they wear Brown pants, but they don’t seem to realize the bad karma. When you look through the team’s history you can see patterns emerge. The white pants are the only pants that have a winning record and the combination of the brown jersey with the white pants has the best winning percentage in franchise history.”
2. Stop Drafting Quarterbacks
“The Browns have drafted six quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL Draft and none of them have had success in the NFL. They’ve drafted 14 quarterbacks in the first three rounds – six of whom never started a game in the NFL and four of whom never even got into a game. Only two of those 14 ever started a playoff game, Milt Plum and Mike Phipps, and Plum is the only one to make the Pro Bowl.
“The five most-successful quarterbacks in team history were not even drafted by the team. It’s time to stop drafting a quarterback and work to find one somewhere else.”
3. Make a Conference Call
“The Browns made a mistake in 1970 when the NFL merged with the AFL. By moving to the AFC North, Art Modell abandoned the history and gravitas the team had built up since 1950. If you want to look at a true demarcation line in Browns history, it is that decision. After moving to the AFC, the team pretty much went downhill as they abandoned some great rivalries with teams like the Giants, Lions and Eagles. I wonder how cool it would have been if the Browns had switched to the NFC when the league realigned in 2002 and re-established those rivalries?”
4. Pick Your Day
“There are certain dates on the calendar where the Browns are historically better and there is only one day of the week where the Browns have a losing record – Thursdays. The team should go to the NFL and say we want to be selective about when we play. Saturdays are the most-successful days for the franchise, maybe they can nudge the NFL to let them play on Saturdays. December is the only month with a losing record, but October and November is better than September, so anything the team can do to get more games in those months is good. The Browns are 8-2 all-time when they play on either Nov. 18 or Nov. 20; they should ask if they can play on those dates. They are also 8-17-1 on holidays, so they should avoid playing on any day that is a holiday.
“And let’s work on taking the bye in Week 1 so the team can get off the streak of losing 15 of their past 16 openers.”
5. Hire an Entertainer as Coach
“Ten of the team’s 14 full-time coaches have finished with losing records, but we only remember Sam Rutigliano fondly from that group because he was fun and the team was fun to watch. Everyone hated the Bill Belichick era even though his record is essentially the same as Rutigliano’s. We need a guy who can make this fun, because we certainly need some fun.”
6. Keep Calm and Auto Draft
“The Browns need this because when the human element gets involved things go out the window. They always wake up on draft day and make the wrong decisions. So they should compile all the rankings they can find from the experts and put them into a spreadsheet. Then, when their turn comes up, they should just take the highest-ranked player on the list, no matter what. They won’t get every pick right, no one does, but if they were to just go by the averages they would be better off.”
7. Recruit Hollywood
“There is a movie coming out called Draft Day that is so close to reality it is scary. I can understand why Browns fans might be hesitant about the film making fun of them and the team, but we should be excited. Twenty-five years ago Major League came out and there was a similar response, but now the film is revered. That movie also changed the zeitgeist of the Indians – a year after the movie came out Cleveland agreed to pay for Jacobs Field, five years later the Indians were in the World Series and everything changed. Could Draft Day do the same for the Browns? I don’t know, but I like it.”
8. The Scavenger Solution
“How have the Browns ever been good if they can’t draft well? Because they have been outstanding scavengers and found ways to build a team. In the AAFC, Paul Brown went to work finding players two years before the team even played a game. When the AAFC shut down and the Browns moved to the NFL, Brown grabbed players from the disbanded teams. And then the USFL folded in the 1980s, the Browns were better than any other team in picking up players. If you take away guys like Frank Minnifield, Paul Fike, Kevin Mack and Mike Johnson, then the 1980s are a different chapter in Browns history.”
9. Live in the Past
The Browns have always talked a good game about the team’s past. One of the best things they could do now it to permit bars to broadcast old, great Browns games on Sunday afternoons to get the fans excited again. It is not fun now to watch the Browns on Sundays, so they need to make it fun again. Let’s celebrate the team’s past, give the fans something fun to watch and keep the habit of being entertained going. Then, when the Browns get good again, the fans will return.”
10. Exorcise the Patriarch
“Paul Brown died on Aug. 5, 1991, and another demarcation line can be found on that day, not only for the Browns but also for the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to his death, the Browns had an all-time winning percentage of .627, while the Bengals were at .504. But since then the Bengals are at .395 and the Browns are .353.
“A lot of people in Cincinnati think the Paul Brown cursed the franchise and there may be something to that. Since his passing, the Browns and the Bengals have combined for one playoff win and Massillon High School, where Brown started as a coach, hasn’t won a state title.
“And now that his name is not anywhere on the stadium, the Browns may need to prepare for retribution from the ghost of Paul Brown.”
Knight closed his talk by pointing out that the Pittsburgh Steelers were far worse than the Browns for the first four decades of their existence, but since 1970 have been one of the league’s best franchises. If they can turn things around, why not the Browns?
We’ve been reading Knight’s books for a number of years and often turn to them as reference sources when writing. This was the first time we’ve heard him speak and we highly recommend the experience.
Knight laid out a blueprint for the Browns to turn this thing around. Now we just have to wonder if anyone in Berea is willing to pay attention.
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