Just a draft, or the winds of change?

According to legend, many years ago a bus driver transporting legendary Cleveland coach Paul Brown and his team to a rival football stadium became hopelessly lost. Visibly shaken by the snafu, the poor driver apologized time and again to Brown. Finally, the coach tried – in his own inimitable way – to calm the man.

"I don't blame you, my friend," Brown reassured the driver, "I blame the man who hired you."

Certainly, there have been far better endorsements in the annals of sports anecdotes, but I find this story analogous to the present state of the Cleveland Browns. That's where the buck has to stop with the Cleveland Browns: Mike Holmgren. Even though it's typically the owner who sets the tone of any sports franchise, Randy Lerner hired Mike to be the guy who cares – instead of himself – but it's been quite obvious Mike hasn't been under a whole lot of pressure to produce – until now, perhaps.

It's no coincidence that one of my biggest criticisms of the current management group of the Cleveland Browns has been the total absence of a sense of urgency. Ever since Mike Holmgren was hired midway through the 2009 season to become the "face of the franchise," he has preached patience while asking the fans to hang in there and "trust us." Now, I'm certainly a pillar of patience: having witnessed the rebuilding plans of the Indians in the 60s, 70s, 80s, half the 90s, and the better part of the last decade. So, if nothing else, I do know patience, Bub.

I'll be the first to admit that when the new "face of the franchise" had a visibility quotient which ran about even to that of, say, Punxsutawney Phil's, I became a little uneasy. 

My pulse increased a bit when King Mike went all "Queen of Hearts" on Eric Mangini and lopped off his head coaching title, citing the Browns record of 5-11 as being "just unacceptable." I think most Browns fans concurred with him in that regard; it's just that we didn't expect Mangini's replacement, Pat Shurmur to reward Cleveland fans with a record of 4-12. On the other hand, Mike never said 4-12 wasn't acceptable, just 5-11. The guy's cagey like that: he got me on a technicality.

In any case, I'll have to admit I was really starting to become concerned with the direction of the franchise when a number of the team's draft choices were not, in my estimation, making the kind of impact necessary for a team that was – by its own admission – going to build almost exclusively through the draft. Guys like Greg Little and Montario Hardesty were risky picks, and yielded, well, little. As a result, not much was done to improve the offense. Consequently, my nerves were taking an awful hit; I was eating Ho-Hos and Little Debbies like there was no tomorrow.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to Weight Watchers: the NFL draft. And, for the first time since Holmgren, Heckert, and to a lesser extent, Shurmur took over, the Browns were drafting like there was no tomorrow. Like other NFL teams, the Browns drafted in the first round like they actually were concerned about winning some games this year! They finally put their big-boy pants on! Impact players, in Trent Richardson and (hopefully) Brandon Weeden? Be still, my heart.

What brought about the change, you ask? I can't prove this, but my guess is that Randy Lerner finally said "enough" to the snail's pace at which the Browns were progressing and told Holmgren and his band of brothers that they weren't just on the clock at the draft; they were on the clock in Cleveland as well.

In other words, I think Mike was told to either step up his game or pack up his bags. That's probably why Mike wasn't available for comment after the first round of the draft - he was too busy licking his wounds over having his hand forced in the way it was.

Will the Browns actually turn it around this year? Better stated, can the Browns turn it around this year with Pat Shurmur as head coach?

Wait a tick, I can't really blame Shurmur, can I?

I blame the guy who hired him.

Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits.

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 10:15 AM, 05.01.2012