Heading into this season, the vast majority of Browns fans were of like mind
in their thinking that this was a make or break season for Butch Davis.
We now find ourselves halfway through the season, and the vultures are
beginning to circle over the embattled head coaches head. Nearly every major
media outlet in this town has used their respective forums this week to make
their claims that Butch is overmatched, and deserves to have the hammer dropped
on him at years end. The debates over whether Butch should be retained have
also raged mightily on the message board forums of this website this week, where
more Browns fans come to talk shop than anywhere else on the web. For every
thread discussing this week’s game against the rival Steelers, there are two
that debate the merits of retaining or releasing this head coach at the
conclusion of the 2004 campaign.
Had a couple of plays went the other way in the Philadelphia and Baltimore
games, would the vultures still be circling this week? Even if the team had
pulled out one of those two closely contested games, and sat at 4-4 as opposed
to 3-5, would the entire city still be angrily calling for Randy Lerner to wield
the axe and lop off Davis’s dome?
I’m just not ready to decide yet whether or not I want to trudge forward with
this coach. If that makes me indecisive, or a fence-sitter, so be it. I told
myself I needed to watch and observe Butch for the entire season before making
my own personal decision on what the man’s fate should be in this town.
There are a couple things that I know already. One, a general manager needs
to be added to the Browns front office this season, regardless of what happens
with Davis. There are select few in this league that can pull off the double
dip, and Davis clearly needs a top personnel guy brought into the fray if he
survives this season. Despite the savvy additions of Garcia, Terrelle Smith,
and Antonio Bryant …it’s obvious that this team has not built the depth in the
last four years to withstand the predictable rash of injuries nearly all NFL
teams sustain over the course of a five month season.
Secondly, Butch should be held fully accountable for the disaster otherwise
known as our offensive line. There were opportunities to upgrade it this
season, and we did not. John Tait was signed by the Bears, and was just named
to the Sporting News halfway point All-Pro team. Guards Chris Snee and Justin Smiley, both second round picks, are both starting and performing well for the
Giants and 49ers respectively. If the line continues to plague this offense,
and the team stumbles its way to a five or six win season … I feel Lerner will
be justified in making a change based on Butch’s incompetence in this one area
alone. The sequence this week that saw Kelvin Garmon jump off-sides repeatedly
before being wheeled off the field and replaced by an amazingly even more inept
Melvin Fowler was a microcosm of this franchises inability to address the
inadequacies of that unit over the last six seasons.
These two items aside, I am not yet convinced that changing head coaches
after this season would be in the best interest of this franchise. Possibly the
last eight games will change my mind, but I’ve seen enough progress this season
to warrant at least keeping an open mind the rest of the way out. Garcia is a
winner, I love the Suggs/Green/Smith trio, and our defense is good enough to win
with and is led by one of the top defensive minds in the game.
For me, it all goes back to the offensive line. If this team had a quality
offensive line, we would be contending right now. So do you punish the man
responsible for that mess? Or give him one more year to fix it, knowing the
other parts are already in place for this team to finally achieve the success
we’ve all been waiting so long for?
It’s a tough question to answer, and one that Randy Lerner will be forced to
answer at season’s end.
But with eight games still to play, including an enormous game this weekend
against a hated foe, shouldn’t we still be focused on the season at hand? I
personally invest way too much time following and observing this team in the
seven month off-season to throw in the towel on the year because some bad breaks
have landed us at 3-5 at the midway point.
Butch Davis deserves these last eight games to make his case for his 2005
status before fans start to throw him under the bus. I realize that is asking a
lot from the many passionate fans of this success-starved town that seem to have
already made their mind up about this coach. Instead of dividing ourselves over
the future of Butch Davis, we should be united in trying to figure out a way to
put a stop to this insane six game winning streak Ben Roethlisberger is on.
When it’s all said and done, it could be a no-brainer to let Butch go this
coming January. But as fans, we should all be praying it doesn’t come to that.