The Suburbanite
  • Steve Doerschuk: Time for Haslam to deliver for Browns

  • If the Jimmy Haslam regime is an improvement over the one it bought out, it will have to hire the right head coach. It would be so much more convincing if Haslam can deliver a producer, such as Jon Gruden, than a projection, like Bill O’Brien.

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  • Jimmy Haslam wants style over substance. He can do without a rock star if he becomes convinced a lesser name will have him standing in a confetti shower while “We Are the Champions” is playing.
    He can have both. He should do everything in his power to get both.
    If his ability to deliver as an owner is greater than that of the previous owner, here’s a quick chance to prove it.
    Haslam’s attempt to make the Browns’ first effective head coaching hire since the mid-1980s seems simple.
    He can hire an intriguing NFL projection, a Chip Kelly or Bill O’Brien, or an NFL projection of a far greater magnitude, Nick Saban.
    Or he can hire an exciting NFL producer, Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher.
    No one would please everyone, but if it were put to a vote among the millions of Browns fans who haven’t given up the ghost, and those five were the choices, we do not think the vote would be close.
    We think Gruden would win the vote, with a clear margin over the runner-up, Cowher.
    We think Saban would attract substantial support, but notably less than Gruden or Cowher.
    We think Kelly and O’Brien each would attract less than 5 percent of the vote in this field.
    We will not make ours a secret ballot. Putting it forth as a ranking, it would be 1, Gruden; 2, Cowher; 3, Saban; 4, O’Brien, and 5, Kelly.
    Here’s how we view each candidate — and there would be a lot of disappointed customers if at least the top three were not embraced as candidates, although we suspect each is.
    He was a baby when he led the Raiders to an 8-8 record as a 36-year-old first-time head coach in 1998. The Raiders had gone 4-12 the previous year under Joe Bugel. By 2000, Gruden’s Raiders were 12-4.
    His path from there can be debated — I seem to recall a recent disagreement on Gruden at the Meyers Lake YMCA. We think we are in a majority of the opinion that his path from here could be sensational in Cleveland.
    Adam Caplan, a well connected national radio reporter, said Monday that Gruden and Joe Banner did not have a great relationship during Gruden’s run as offensive coordinator of the Eagles, his last job before he became the Raiders head coach.
    On that basis, Caplan dismissed Gruden as a Browns option.
    Banner was working his way up to the Eagles’ presidency when Gruden joined the team. He now is Haslam’s right-hand man.
    In our view, dooming Gruden’s candidacy on the basis of whatever might have happened when he was in his 30s would be foolish. It would be as unfair or as unwise as, say, indicting personnel man Michael Lombardi for mistakes he made with the Browns in the 1990s when he was in his early 30s.
    Page 2 of 4 - We don’t know what Banner’s relationship with Gruden was then or is now. We do know that both men should be all grown up, Banner due to turn 60 next month, Gruden at age 48.
    Perhaps this could be THE situation in which the dynamic Haslam makes all the difference, maybe saying something like, “Why don’t you two gentlemen shake hands and see if you could be friends?”
    Gruden was born in Sandusky, began his college football career about 60 crow-flying miles at Muskingum, then transferred to Dayton.
    Time for this one to come home.
    The Steelers were competitive but had stagnated under Chuck Noll.
    They stirred immediately under Cowher and mostly stayed in the stratosphere during his 15 seasons as head coach.
    Noll’s last seven Pittsburgh teams went 7-9, 6-10, 8-7, 5-11, 9-7, 9-7 and 7-9.
    Cowher’s first six Pittsburgh teams went 11-5, 9-7, 12-4, 11-5, 10-6 and 11-5.
    Cowher endured his own stagnation, going 22-26 from 1998-2000. He finished out his run with seasons of 13-3, 10-5-1, 6-10, 15-1, 11-5 and 8-8.
    All in all, pretty good stuff, with down periods
    “Our goal,” Haslam said the other day, “is to be good for a long period of time. Not to knee jerk and get to where we’re 9-7 next year and we feel good, but we all know it’s built on a house of sand.”
    Old rock-jaw’s résumé promises winning now and winning later. The Browns have been 5-11 or worse five straight years. Cowher was never that bad in 15 years.
    Is there too much Pittsburgh in Cowher for Cleveland to be comfortable? That’s up to him to decide.
    A case could be made that if he wants back in the NFL there would be no better place than the AFC North, where he is a spiritual fit, and no better city than Cleveland, where he both played and began his NFL coaching career.
    Cowher will be 55 in May. He is six years younger than Bill Belichick.
    He is older than Belichick. He turned 61 in October. Belichick won’t be 61 until April.
    He is Belichick.
    A grinder, a taskmaster, a freakishly organized “A person,” in charge and unapologetically humorless, for the most part, in public.
    Saban hired Josh McDaniels before Belichick did, years after working as Belichick’s Browns defensive coordinator.
    Gruden’s energy is swashbuckling and laughing. Saban’s is seething and tight-lipped.
    In private, Belichick and Saban are known as regular guys who have expanded their human sides as they grew older.
    It might be more fun to win with Gruden, but Gruden has not won big as much as Saban. Saban’s championships came in college, though.
    Page 3 of 4 - The Browns were 31-33 when he was their defensive coordinator. The Dolphins were 15-17, with a 22-0 loss to Romeo Crennel’s Browns, when he was the head coach.
    Our sense is that Saban likes his life at Alabama but could be persuaded to join the Browns. We wonder if he would even have to be talked out of Alabama. If he beats Notre Dame, maybe he will want out.
    A move would whet his appetite for a challenge, maybe one last challenge, at his age.
    It wouldn’t be if he has spent his life avoiding Ohio. He chose to play at Kent State, and coach at Kent State, Ohio State and Toledo, and in Cleveland.
    The Browns are comically bad in season openers, 1-13 in the expansion era.
    O’Brien can relate, at least to the extent that in his debut as head coach at Penn State on Sept. 1, he lost 24-14 to the Ohio Bobcats.
    Of course, he took over under such daunting circumstances that no one was surprised. His ability to win eight of the remaining 11 games was somewhat stunning, although it helped that it was a weak year for the Big Ten.
    O’Brien is 43, with a thin résumé dominated by his example of leadership at Penn State.
    As recently as Cowher’s final year with the Steelers, he was offensive coordinator at Duke.
    Belichick liked him, which always gets the attention of NFL types. In a five-season Patriots run starting in 2007, he was an entry-level assistant, a wideouts coach, Tom Brady’s position coach and finally, in 2011, offensive coordinator.
    He has an odd background for an offensive mastermind, having been a defensive end and linebacker at Brown.
    Prior to the last two or three years, his credentials couldn’t touch, say, Pat Shurmur’s. His personality and his year at Penn State might start to carry him.
    He can come off as a know-it-all. The consensus is that he knows pretty much.
    His fairly recent past is similar to O’Brien’s, in that he was in the middle of nowhere as recently as 2006, when he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire. His work there got him a job offer at Oregon. After two years as a coordinator there, he was promoted to head coach, replacing Mike Bellotti, who became athletic director.
    Kelly’s Ducks have gone 10-3, 12-1, 12-2 and, going into this week’s Fiesta Bowl, 11-1. His 2010 team went 12-0 in the regular season, averaging 49.3 points and 537.5 yards. The Ducks fell to Auburn 22-19 in the national championship game on a last-second field goal.
    Kelly is older than you might think for a coach who has been on the national radar for only a few years. In fact, he is older than Gruden, having turned 49 in November.
    Page 4 of 4 - The Browns have other options, and they will need them if they can’t hire the man they want.
    But that is the first big question of the Haslam regime. Can they get who they want? Or will they have to “settle?”

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