By the time you read this, the Butch Davis saga might be changed, or it might be over.
Tuesday was one of the strangest days that I have seen in over 30 years of covering sports in northeastern Ohio. It began with Chris Mortensen's report that Davis almost got fired after the embarrassing 10-7 home loss to the New York Jets, would certainly be fired if he lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. A later ESPN.com report said that Davis would be kept through the end of the year.
The Browns then issued a strange press release saying that the organization would stay ‘intact', although it didn't say for how long. As evening fell, reports were coming out of Florida that the University of Florida head coaching job was Butch's for the taking, as soon as a buy-out was agreed-upon with the Browns.
There are two possibilities for the Browns, who hold all of the cards right now.
As of today, as the team starts to prepare for Sunday's game, Butch Davis is the biggest ‘cancer in the clubhouse', and, on one hand, the sooner he leaves, the better. On the other hand, naming an interim coach makes no sense. Interim coaches win about 30% of their games in the NFL. This season is long gone, so what's the difference if they finish with 3, 4 or 5 wins (other than a higher draft placement which would add to any salary cap problems they may already have)? Dave Campo or Terry Robiskie would not be retained as head coach next year (they could be kept by the new head coach as co-ordinators), so what do they need it for? In addition, the NFL might not look too kindly if they overlook a potentially qualified African-American (Robiskie), and if they did name him to the position, they might have a problem releasing him when the new GM arrives.
In addition, there's a part of me that wants to see Davis ride this thing out so that his resume shows a 3-13, 4-12, or 5-11 record, rather than 3-7. It's ironic that he might be starting Kelly Holcomb in Sunday's game. As far as I am concerned, the defining moment of the Butch Davis occupation of the Cleveland Browns is the ‘gut feeling' decision to name Holcomb the starter last year over Tim Couch, who led the team to seven of the last ten wins and a playoff spot, before getting injured, and an NFL leading 6-2 record on the road. Holcomb turned out to be totally ineffective, and an injury cannot be an excuse because he never told the coach how bad he was hurt.
As we have all seen---and as I noted over the past three years and some of you are just getting it---the quarterback was the least of their problems. Jeff Garcia, who does scramble better than Couch---but not much else---has the same problems that Couch did with the offensive line, although he has the luxury of a better running game than Couch ever had.
As bad as things were here under Bill Belichick, public opinion of the head coach of the Browns has never been as negative as it is now.
For several weeks, callers and e-mailers to my television show have said that I was one of several members of the media responsible for running Belichick out of town, and I should not do the same to Davis.
First of all, if I am given any credit for getting Butch out of town, fans should be thanking me. Secondly, only revisionist historians would say that Belichick was run out of town. When the Browns left for Baltimore after the 1995 season, Bill was still the head coach of the team. It was Art Modell, and only Art Modell, who decided it would be a PR disaster if Belichick was in charge of the new Ravens team.
Let's get back to Davis's game day coaching.
It seems that every chance he is given to screw up clock management, he takes advantage of it.
In Sunday's loss to the Jets, the Browns had a fourth down punting situation, with a one second difference in the play clock and game clock at the end of the half. Incredibly, Davis called a timeout with 12 seconds left, instead of running the clock down to 2 seconds, or taking a five yard penalty for delay of game with one second left. The Browns punted the ball and New York had one play, but decided to run the clock out.
What if there was a bad snap to punter Derrick Frost? Or a blocked kick? Or, heaven forbid, a seven yard punt? Or a Hail Mary pass to end the half? None of those things should have happened, just like Philadelphia's Hail Mary pass (which could have easily been caught) could have ended regulation time with a Philadelphia win, as the mis-managed clock gave the Eagles the extra plays.
‘More Sports & Les Levine' can be seen from 6-7pm with replays from 11pm-midnight on Adelphia Channel 15. e-mail him at www.leslevine.com