The last four months have been a learning experience for me as a Browns fan.
I've had my eyes opened to the complete and comprehensive damage done to this franchise by Butch Davis, and was then given a crash course on how things should be done by new Browns General Manager Phil Savage.
Looking back on The Butch Years, and knowing what I know now, I'm disappointed in myself that I couldn't piece together all the warning signs that foreshadowed our team coming apart at the seams. By the time I publicly gave up on Paul Hilton Davis, most of the city had already done so.
Throughout the process, and even during the downward spiral that climaxed with Butch "resigning", I kept reminding myself what Butch had done at the University of Miami of Florida. And that he led this team to the brink of a road playoff win in 2002 with a team that had no business even being there from a talent standpoint. I helped rationalize shaky efforts in free agency in 2003 and 2004 on the fact that foolish spending in Al Lerner's last years as owner (in the hopes of immediate contention) severely limited our options from a talent acquisition standpoint.
I think many fans shared these sentiments.
My over-inflated optimism blinded me to the fact that Butch was in far over his head, which was confirmed by just about every player on this team that I've talked to since he departed.
Here was Terrelle Smith's take on Butch from my interview with him for Bernie's Insiders Magazine.
Terrelle: "I think what happened was that Butch lost a lot of guys in that locker room. Some of the younger players were a little confused, didn't understand that is how the business goes. There were a lot of things that could have been nipped in the bud that went negative, that could have stayed positive. Being an outsider initially, and then turning into a guy that was a leader that was trying to work and help the situation, what I found is that a lot of players didn't believe the coach anymore. That's something you don't want. And the way I viewed it; and it's something you can't have at this level."
Butch Davis demanded total control and ultimate veto power over all personnel matters, and who could blame him at the time? He had just brought a major university back from the depths, and he wielded the same control there in doing so. We had a buffoon of a GM in Dwight Clark, and fans were starved for someone with a keener eye for talent.
Little did we know what loomed ahead. Butch proved to be completely overmatched at nearly all facets of the management of the team, from the establishment (or lack thereof) of a scouting and talent evaluation system, to learning how to control a locker room. The Browns were never a very talented team under Davis, and in his final seasons here ... those marginally talented players lost their desire to play for the man.
Butch proved to be a terrible judge of NFL talent, but even more pathetic was his judge of character. In college, it's enough to just pursue the most talented players. In the NFL, talent will only get you so far. You need to acquire the right type of talent, not necessarily just the fastest and strongest players.
The damage that Butch did to this franchise is now being exposed by his very competent (in my mind) successor. The two men are polar opposites in their philosophies on what types of players are needed to build a winning football team, evidenced by Savage's extreme makeover of the roster these past couple months.
I absolutely love the moves Savage has made, and am very optimistic going
He made a statement early, moving on two of the top available offensive guards in free agency, and landing both Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman almost immediately after the signing period began, filling two gaping holes on the offense. And he immediately sent a message to malcontents Jeff Garcia, Gerard Warren, and William Green that they were no longer wanted. Warren was turned into new starting QB Trent Dilfer, and Willie should yield at least a 5th or 6th round selection by draft day. The plug was pulled on the Courtney Brown experiment, who was deemed to unreliable to allocate any serious cap money towards.
Anthony Henry was lost in free agency, but was immediately replaced by Gary Baxter, a very capable replacement ... if not an upgrade at the position. Matt Stewart and Jason Fisk were brought in to contribute to the teams new 3-4 set, and Kyle Richardson was signed to punt for the team. Ekuban and Myers, two players viewed as shaky fits for a 3-4 front were dealt to Denver for RB Rueben Droughns.
Andra Davis and Ben Taylor, the promising young duo expected to be our starters at ILB, were resigned as well. Brian Russell was added at the expense of Earl Little.
Savage even managed to chip away at our division rival and his former employer, the Ravens, forcing them to match a three million dollar offer sheet for RB Chester Taylor, who the Browns attempted to sign away as a restricted free agent.
And he has done all this adding only quality individuals, and still has the team in a very flexible cap position with some free agent options still floating out there and the draft approaching.
I'm genuinely excited by what Savage has done, and expect him to finish off the off-season with a strong draft that will most likely see the team deal down from their #3 position.
Have we come full circle in four months? It sure seems like it.