|Where does he rank?|
Before their move to Baltimore in 1995, the Cleveland Browns had employed 9 full-time head coaches over a 49-year span. Since their return in 1999, that count is 6, with the 7th being hired sometime in the next few weeks. Before the next in the line of mediocre-to-terrible field generals is introduced, let's reflect on just how awful things actually have been, and who exactly has been the least awful. Enjoy.
INCOMPLETE: Terry Robiskie, 2004, 1-4
|Even his mustache is frowning.|
How Bad Was It? Robiskie took over for Butch Davis with 5 games left in the 2004 season after Davis was fired. The Browns lost their first 4 games under Robiskie, getting outscored 110-29 (which would look even worse if not for a 10-7 loss to a 3-11 Dolphins team in Week 15). It certainly does not appear as if the troops rallied around Robiskie to get him the full-time gig, but he walked into a nearly impossible situation (for instance, Luke McCown made his first 4 NFL starts during Robiskie's winless streak). Robiskie was retained after the season to serve as Romeo Crennel's wide receivers coach.
Fun Fact: Rob Chudzinksi served as the interim offensive coordinator under Robiskie. He made the first of his three exits from Cleveland after the season.
6. Chris Palmer, 1999-2000, 5-27
|We should have known things weren't going to work out when he showed up wearing khakis.|
How Bad Was It? In Palmer's own words, a "runaway train". Five times during Palmer's tenure the Browns were shutout (including the 43-0 shellacking at the hands of the Steelers in the first game back, which obviously is a hole Cleveland is still trying to escape), eleven times they failed to eclipse 200 yards of total offense in a game, and eight times they failed to tally double digit first downs.
Lowlight: The opening loss to the Steelers was obviously a crippling defeat, but don't sleep on the 48-0 debacle at the hands of Jacksonville in Week 14 of the 2000 season. Spergon Wynn made the start at quarterback, and proceeded to run exactly zero plays on the Jaguars' side of the field the entire game (the closest the Browns came to crossing midfield was their opening drive, which stalled out at the 49). Final tallies of 2 first downs and -9 yards passing led to Palmer's infamous "runaway train" comment and put the final nail into his coffin.
Highlight: With a 2-2 record vs. the Steelers, Palmer is the only coach of the new era to avoid a losing record against Pittsburgh. Palmer is also responsible for the first use of the Wildcat formation that I can remember in an NFL game, unleashing it against Philadelphia the week after the Jacksonville debacle (Dennis Northcutt carried the ball 7 times for 37 yards, mostly off of direct snaps).
Who the Browns Could've (Should've) Hired Instead: Brian Billick (Baltimore), Andy Reid (Philadelphia)
5. Pat Shurmur, 2011-12, 9-23
|A typical Pat Shurmur press conference response: "..."|
How Bad Was It? Shurmur once called a fullback dive for TE Alex Smith that led to a Smith fumble. When asked why he would give the ball to a tight end who hadn't rushed in a football game since junior high, Shurmur explained that he didn't know Smith was in the game at fullback. He (or at least his staff) inserted Colt McCoy back into a Thursday night game versus the Steelers when McCoy was clearly concussed (see picture below). Mike Lombardi (who in hindsight may have had ulterior motives when speaking about the Browns) once told Bill Simmons that guys at NFL Network who had run the West Coast offense could predict the Browns' next play simply by looking at the formation. It is an odd bit of irony that one of the most unimaginative offensive minds I've ever seen (and being a Browns fan, I've seen my fair share of dullards) is the offensive coordinator of perhaps the most innovative offense the NFL has seen in recent memory.
|Colt McCoy, clearly boondoggled out of his gourd.|
|Okay, maybe he couldn't.|
Who the Browns Could've (Should've) Hired: Ron Rivera (Carolina), John Fox (Denver), Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco)
4. Rob Chudzinski, 2013, 4-12
|This look of disdain can only be in response to Brandon Weeden's continued employment.|
How Bad Was It? Not that bad, really. Yes, the Browns still lost a lot of games, but no one was expecting a division title this year. Josh Gordon emerged as one of the 5 best players in the NFL, and Jordan Cameron joined Gordon, Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, Alex Mack, and T.J. Ward as core building-block players. The quarterback play was spotty at best, but that will happen when you cycle through three different players under center (and one of those players is Brandon Weeden). Nothing happened to make me think Chud didn't deserve another year, but I guess everyone in the front office thought differently.
Lowlight: Letting Brandon Weeden play. With Jason Campbell and (especially) Brian Hoyer providing competent quarterback play, the Browns looked like they could have easily challenged the San Diegos and Miamis and Pittsburghs of the AFC for the final wild card spot. Weeden was a disaster, and his mere presence in the starting lineup seemed to deflate the entire team.
On a personal note for Chud, taking this job in the first place is probably a lowlight. He was at best the new brass's third choice, and he had to know he was on a short leash (but I don't think he knew it was this short). If he stays in Carolina this year and they have the season they had, he probably enters this off-season as one of the hottest coaching candidates out there. Now, he's got the Cleveland stink on him, and he probably will have to spend a few more seasons as a coordinator somewhere before he gets another (a first?) shot at being a head coach.
Highlight: The Brian Hoyer Era (yes, all two-and-a-half games of it). Hoyer energized not only the franchise, but the entire fan base. For all of the deserved crap Chud took for ever starting Weeden in front of Hoyer, the coach needs to be given credit for going with his third-stringer even with Campbell healthy for the Week 4 start in Minnesota. If Hoyer had any idea at all how to properly slide, Chud would probably still be on the sidelines.
|Cameron knew right away that that is no way to slide.|
3. Eric Mangini, 2009-10, 10-22
|High-five attempt, or Nazi salute?|
How Bad Was It? Similar to another gentleman further down this list, Mangini is actually a pretty good coach. His teams were almost always prepared to play, and for a brief stretch during the 2010 season, it looked like he might actually coax a winning record out of a pretty awful roster. But, just like that other guy we'll talk about later, that awful roster was largely Mangini's own fault, the result of an atrocious draft haul in his first season that the organization is still recovering from. There was some weird drama involving the mysterious George Kokinis, as well as political tensions with Mike Holmgren that contributed to Mangini's ouster as much as any football-related issues, but more than anything Mangini's legacy will be the disastrous 2009 draft.
|Green means good, red means bad.|
Who The Browns Could've (Should've) Hired: Rex Ryan (NY Jets)...and that's it. It was an awful coaching carousel that year (other hires: Todd Haley, Tom Cable, Mike Singletary, Steve Spagnuolo, Raheem Morris, Jim Schwartz, Josh McDaniels, Jim Caldwell, & Jim Mora).
2. Romeo Crennel, 2005-08, 24-40
|He is #1 on my Huggable Coaches rankings.|
How Bad Was It? Save for the flukiest of fluke years, just as bad as it's always been. You would never know it from watching good old Romeo, though. Whether Phil Dawson was drilling a 53-yard game-winner in the snow, or Charlie Frye was scrambling right into the arms of pass-rushers in a 30-point blowout loss, Romeo held steady, staring intently at some unknown object just past the opposite side of the field. If you were to play a drinking game where you took a shot every time Romeo talked to one of his players on the sideline, you would have finished up Romeo's four seasons as sober as a Mormon.
Lowlight: The 2008 season had fans the most hopeful they had been since the Browns had made their return. There were four Pro-Bowlers on the offensive side of the ball, and while the highest drafted rookie wasn't selected until the 4th round (the Slowest Man Alive, Beau Bell), Shaun Rodgers was brought in to shore up what had been a porous defense in 2007. Things started off shaky, as the Browns entered the bye only 1-3 and Romeo's seat got hot. The team responded with possibly their best performance since their return, a 35-14 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants on Monday Night Football. It would be the last flicker of hope, though, as the season quickly derailed. Derek Anderson was ineffective, and then hurt, and Brady Quinn proved to be an enormous bust. Not only was the season a disappointment, but the promising future built around Anderson or Quinn, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow went up in smoke.
|...and Romeo kept staring the whole time.|
Highlight: The 2007 season is still shocking even though I already know what happened. The Steelers, as they're known to do from time-to-time, embarrassed the Browns in the opener 34-7. The wheels already seemed to have come off the season as starting QB Charlie Frye was traded (given) to Seattle seemingly immediately after the game. That left Derek Anderson--recently signed off the Ravens practice squad--as the starting QB. 328 yards and 5 TD passes in an insane 51-45 win over Cincinnati the following week set the stage for an explosive season no one saw coming. In classic Cleveland sports fashion, the year the Browns finally win 10 games is the year 10 wins isn't an automatic playoff berth, but it was a fun season fueled by exciting young players. Although it ultimately proved to be fleeting, it was nice to finally have some legitimate hope about the Browns.
|...and Romeo kept staring the whole time.|
Who The Browns Could've (Should've) Hired: The Browns actually made the best hire of the 2005 off-season. The Dolphins hired Nick Saban, who could have been a good hire if he hadn't bolted for Alabama (or crippled the franchise by choosing to sign Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees), while the 49ers hired Mike Nolan.
1. Butch Davis, 2001-04, 24-34
|Not his son.|
How Bad Was It? In a macro sense, things are pretty awful if Butch Davis is the best coach the new Browns have had. But he is, and things are indeed that awful. He finished 7-9 in his first season with many of the same players that had won a combined 5 games the previous two seasons. The Browns made their only playoff appearance since the return the following season, and they should have had their first playoff win, too, if Davis didn't get ultra-conservative in the second half of their Wild Card match-up with the Steelers. Butch then proceeded to shove his head up his own ass the next two seasons, but there's no doubt the man coached his ass off those first two years.
The success of Butch Davis the coach affected Butch Davis the GM, as the second half of his tenure was marked by moves that make sense only if you believe your head coach is more important than his personnel (which can be said about Bill Belichick and...Bill Parcells?). Following the playoff appearance, the entire starting linebacker corps was sent packing to make room for 2002 draftees Andra Davis, Ben Taylor, and Kevin Bentley. Tim Couch's development was undermined by the constant pressure being applied by Kelly Holcomb's presence, and Davis did nearly nothing to alleviate the situation. Couch would ultimately be cut, Holcomb would be alienated, and their replacement--Jeff Garcia--would clash horrifically with a-now-out-of-control Davis.
It's often said Butch Davis the GM was Butch Davis the coach's worst enemy, and while many of the personnel decisions made by Davis hamstrung his efforts on the sidelines (Gerard Warren over Ladainian Tomlinson and Richard Seymour in the 2002 draft, for instance), his ego and hubris were a far larger factor in his demise.
Lowlight: The Holcomb/Couch controversy was a distraction up until Couch's release, and kept the team from ever building sustained momentum following their playoff appearance. In 2003, Davis should have either named Couch his unquestioned starter, or traded Couch and ridden the hot hand of Holcomb. Either Couch continues his (admittedly modest) development into a (possible) franchise quarterback, or the assets acquired in exchange for him could be used to accelerate the youth movement Davis obviously was trying to undertake (see: starting all 2nd year players at linebacker). Davis's final season was a soap opera, but nothing damaged the long-term health of the franchise as much as his inability to pick a quarterback and move forward.
Highlight: The 2001 7-9 team is my favorite team of the new era, a scrappy bunch that was actually 6-4 at one point. For most Browns fans, though, the unquestionable highlight of the past 15 years has to be the "Run, William, run!" game vs. the Falcons on the last day of the 2002 season. It sent the Browns to the playoffs, William Green looked like he was about to break out, and it looked like things were on the rise in Cleveland.
Who The Browns Could've (Should've) Hired: Dick Vermeil (Kansas City), Herm Edwards (NY Jets)