Dear Mr. Lerner,
Although you can't tell it by the activity and interest around Butch Davis'
resignation today, the Browns are in danger of losing the most valuable asset
the franchise has.
Browns fans have a passion for the team and game that seems to be hard-wired
into our DNA. Every Sunday, win or lose, Browns fans are there, circled around
televisions or bundled up in warm coats to see the game in person.
It's the fans and and the team's storied legacy, not this year's roster or
coach, which makes the Cleveland Browns special.
My message to you is very simple: You are in danger of losing us.
Even the NFL's most passionate fans can be worn down over time. Over the past
fifteen years, Browns fans have endured more than any pro football fan base has
ever had to endure.
I know you don't take your responsibility lightly. You're new to this
football business, so you may be tempted to move slowly and carefully. But you
should worry also about doing too little.
The Browns badly need to re-engage their supporters and stop hard-core fans
from turning into fair-weather spectators.
If that happens, the Browns are just another team and you will lose the
legacy you hoped to maintain, not to mention the value of your asset.
It's real, as much as I want to not believe it. It's happening. I've seen the
passion of Browns fans lose a little bit of steam every year since 1995, and
perhaps as far back as 1992. It takes a long time to grind down something as
awe-inspiring as the passion of Browns fans, but it can happen.
Randy, I think you need to make some dramatic moves, and make them now.
I'm just a fan with no special qualifications other than running a web site
and a magazine for the past couple of years. You've got all kinds of guys in
$400 suits whispering in your ear. I don't expect you to listen to me.
That won't stop me, however, from telling you what I think you should do.
1. Step One is Complete: Butch Davis is Gone
I started to write this letter before today's news, but it's still the number
Davis had to go.
Not necessarily because he's a bad coach. I disagree with many of my visitors
about that, although I admit he has made a lot of mistakes. Rather, Davis had to
go because he had lost the fans and the media.
Butch Davis got a lot of bad breaks, but also took an unscientific method to
making important decisions such as draft choices and tossed out some good people
(e.g., Lal Heneghan) while consolidating his power base. I believe that Butch
Davis, like Bill Belichick, is too smart to make the same mistakes twice. He
will be successful at his next stop. But it was too late for him to recover.
2. Drape the Team in Past Success
You have to re-establish credibility in your football operations, and fast.
In this environment, your best move would be to bring in people who have a
track record of success with Browns fans. The choice can be either the GM or
Head Coach, but the name of one or the other needs to resonate.
The obvious choice here is Ozzie Newsome. If you have to give up your 2006 #1
choice to the repulsive Ravens to get him, then do so. We're salvaging the
future of the franchise now, and you can't be afraid to make bold moves. Ravens
draft guru Phil Savage might bring enough of Newsome's aura with him to help,
but you really want to get the man himself.
3. Fix the Offensive Line. Now.
Yes, we're looking at the big picture, and this seems like a detail point.
I have to tell you, however, your problems on the offensive line are more
important than just a hole in the roster.
Since the late 1980s, the Browns have been short-changed on the offensive
line. Nearly every Browns fan who follows this team knows that the offensive
line needs to be fixed. The time for half-measures (e.g., Everett Lindsey,
Kelvin Garmon) has passed.
Whoever comes in has to address this problem prior to the start of the 2005 season,
or they will lose credibility right off the bat. That may mean spending the #1
draft choice on an offensive tackle, or it may mean spending big bucks in the
off-season. Just do it.
4. Re-Build Your Relationship with the Media
The new Browns organization has wasted too much time and energy fighting a
battle they can't win. Herding beat writers into a windowless room, making it
tough to do their jobs with access restrictions, and giving special favors to
corporate media partners (e.g., Clear Channel) just makes things worse.
Despite the problems in the Modell era, the local media got used to wide-open
access to the team. You could sit down with the owner, talk to an assistant
coach, or have an off-the-record conversation. You could even interview the
coach without giving him hand-written questions in advance.
To make this work, you need the local media on your side as much as possible.
Yes, the team will have to deal with media criticism, now and always, because
it's part of the nature of the beast. Lighten up on the media and give them the
benefit of the doubt. If you don't, you shouldn't expect them to give it to you
5. Dump Expensive Washouts
Gerard Warren has come to symbolize all that was wrong with the Butch Davis
era, just like Tim Couch symbolized the failures of Carmen Policy and Dwight
A "gut instinct" draft pick who didn't pan out, Warren has worn out his
welcome with Browns fans with lackluster play and false promises. Warren's
special treatment by Davis raised the eyebrows of many, and caused observers to
speculate on Davis' objectivity.
Butch Davis' claims of Warren's greatness didn't wash with fans. His cost
exceeds his production, and that's all the rationale you need to let him go.
6. No "Rebuilding" Rhetoric
Browns fans will now get to see yet another set of guys in charge, another
plan, and another group who will probably say that they need a couple of years
to win. You can't afford this.
We have watched our team get stolen away from us, watched the owner (who we
grew to loathe) bask in the glow of a Super Bowl win. We have tolerated five
years of expansion era ineptitude and we have seen Bill Belichick use Cleveland
as a laboratory to grow skills which fans elsewhere have harvested.
It's too much.
We need to win, now. The team has Kellen Winslow and Sean Jones as "bonus"
2005 draft choices. Luke McCown, Andra Davis, Lee Suggs, Antonio Bryant, and
Anthony Henry are among a group of interesting young players.
We will have high draft choices and room under the cap (especially in light
of the step above) to upgrade our roster immediately this off-season. Don't wait
for 2007 - aim to win now.
7. Get Out of the Media Business
We once had an owner who told us that he would never move the team, and then
moved it. We had the NFL Commissioner in here who talked about how special
Cleveland was to the NFL, and then let existing owners have their way with us as
a bargaining chip.
We have gone through Carmen Policy's era of half-truths and obfuscations. We
have made it through votes of confidence, "non-weight-bearing bones" and
After all this, Browns fans have developed acute and sensitive "BS
Detectors". They have never gone off as much as they have this year.
We know better than to trust an NFL team to cover itself. Watching Inside
the Huddle with Butch Davis was a surreal experience, as we were shown fans
cheering after humiliating losses and heard nothing but softball questions. How
can a fan watch that and not be cynical about everything that comes from the team?
The team's web site, ClevelandBrowns.com, has top-notch writers like Pat
McManamon and Steve King who can't ever be truly objective when covering their
employer. When they weren't able to call for Butch Davis' head, it was all we
needed to see.
I admit that I'm biased. I run the web site that the team considers their
"biggest competitor", so much so that we're singled out for exclusion from links
on the team's media page. That and similar antics doesn't exactly win friends
and influence people in new media.
The Cleveland Browns are a football team. You don't want to be in the media
business, especially when you can make much higher margins elsewhere. Your
attempts to insert yourself into the media stream simply increases cynicism
about the team among fans and irritates the fourth estate (myself included). It
makes your problems with the media worse.
Winning football games and making profits through your licenses is your core
competency. Now is the time to focus on it, and nothing else, until this team
has restored its luster in the eyes of fans.
Randy, the time has come to deal with some of these franchise's problems.
Now that both Butch Davis and Carmen Policy are gone, you can re-build this
franchise the way it should have been done in the first place, with one hand
grasping the team's successful past and the other pointing to the future. This
may require you to take some risks - something all successful businessmen know
Randy, you need to take this opportunity to stem the tide.
You may not get another one.
Barry McBride ()
Bernie's Insiders Managing Editor
Browns Fan since 1974