Passion + Losing = Impatience – Part I
This is the time of year that Browns fans typically relish talking and debating about – the offseason. Whether it’s the “upgrading” of the coaching staff (I use quotes as turnover seems to regularly be perceived as upgrades), the opportunity to sign available free agents, or the options in the April draft (we have the #4th, #22nd, and #37thpicks, by the way); football fans of the team from Lake Erie look forward to the possibilities of improving the team as much as possible in a small time frame. However, over the past few years, many are growing tired and impatient with team ownership. The two main factors for this are the recent track record of the team and the undying affection of the franchise from those who support it.
Cleveland Browns fans are some of the most knowledgeable, passionate, and proud people in the world. There are several local television and radio stations that exclusively cover the team on a daily basis (some all year-round like “Browns Daily” on WKNR). The Browns Backers Organization has 360 chapters that spread over ten countries. Heck last year they voted a Browns player (who many considered undeserving) on the cover of the Madden video game. This outspoken base cares deeply about their team.
Additionally, they seek to puff out their chest and proclaim their team as superior to all others. However, since returning to the league in 1999, the team has seen little success (68 wins and 141 losses – including one playoff loss) while supporters’ frustrations mount. This has led to a transformation in fan support – from previously giving the team time to rebuild and grow to winning now and worrying about the future later.
The firing of the head coach has been a popular offseason move in the past few seasons. Looking back at a few full-time (not including interim coaches) leaders of the team such as Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Butch Davis, and Chris Palmer; one notices each man receiving four years or less at the position. This is a short time period for a coach to accomplish many of his goals. This trend has becoming the norm in the National Football League lately, as fans grow quickly tired of the current staff and assume the next one will turn the team around.
What most fans don’t realize is that when there is turnover without a foundation in place (like the Browns), the team will likely continue to struggle. An NFL team rebuilds each time a new coach is hired whose philosophies differ from the previous regime’s. Without a strong front office that has been in place for years, the franchise will expect to see rapid changes (personnel, schemes, etc.); it will take a few seasons to see the final product.
Fans perennially used to losing and disappointment get upset when the playoffs roll around without their team being represented. Browns fans have seen this all too often and voice that something be done now so they can be good the following year. Having said that, each season appears as if every coach’s job is on the line which is not a good philosophy for the coach or the team.
Winning at all costs (see Mangini bringing in older vets to snare an extra win or two) can stunt the development of the team down the road. When this occurs, mediocrity sets in and two years later the coach would be fired and a whole new rebuilding process occurs. The Browns have followed this model way too many times in the past thirteen year period. From this, one thing the fan base should now possess is patience.
Reviewing the tenures of coaches around the division; Pittsburgh (Mike Tomlin – five years after following Bill Cowher’s fifteen year stint), Baltimore (John Harbaugh – four years after following Brian Billick’s nine years as coach), and Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis – nine years as coach) have all had coaches that endured fairly lengthly coaching terms. Not surprisingly, all three teams made the 2011 NFL playoffs; something the Cleveland Browns were miles away from doing.
This proves that giving a coach time to work with his roster can lead to success in the NFL. One example is Jeff Fisher, who suffered five losing seasons before seeing the playoffs. He eventually turned that into a seventeen year term with Houston/Tennessee with five playoff appearances and a 142 win and 120 loss record. Additionally, Gary Kubiak was with the Texans for five seasons and finally made the playoffs in the team’s sixth season; the team appears to have a bright future. Mike Holmgren, after sneaking into the playoffs in his first season at Seattle in 1999, had three seasons of futility before his five-year playoff run beginning in 2003. Finally, Jim Schwartz had seasons of two and six wins respectively before reaching the playoffs in 2011. Give the coach the right resources and success will likely occur; it does not always happen instantaneously. If the team can be patient with the coach, why can’t the fans?