It’s been an alarmingly optimistic offseason for the Cleveland Browns. Fans and pundits alike are disregarding the 1-31 record from the past two years, instead tossing around the word “playoffs” and laying down big bets in Vegas.
Personally, I understand why the mood surrounding the Browns is more positive than usual, as upgrades have been made across the board. Despite this, there’s a reason I’ve resisted the urge to drink the punch.
If anything is going to intervene with success this year, it’s coaching. As it stands, we’re already seeing cracks in this foundation. Enough so that, if things do indeed start off ugly this year, we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned.
As entertaining as HBO’s Hard Knocks has been, it’s also gone a long way towards shining a light on what could potentially undo Cleveland’s season.
It took one episode for us to see offensive coordinator Todd Haley push back on the concept of veteran off days, pointing out the negative impact this causes on the team’s toughness. Haley was also shown on the sideline of one of Cleveland’s preseason games scoffing at another penalty and blaming it on the way the team practices.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has (unsurprisingly) had no trouble letting his voice be heard, continually taking his hard-ass shtick to new heights.
This past weekend, he claimed rookie cornerback Denzel Ward could’ve avoided his recent back injury had he not been “stupid” with his tackling attempts. When asked yesterday how he plans to keep his linebackers happy with their playing time, he politely responded, “I could give a sh*t about keeping them happy, they need to keep me happy then they’ll get to play.”
These examples, in a vacuum, aren’t too much to fret about. At least until you consider how Hue Jackson has been responding to all of this, each route he takes seemingly defined by the number of eye-rolls it induces.
When called out by Haley, Jackson waxed on and on about how he’s the boss, how he’s driving this bus. When addressing Williams’ comments on Ward, the Browns head coach scolded his defensive coordinator for criticizing his player through the media, seemingly forgetting the fact he spent the 2017 season routinely doing the same thing.
These, combined with Jackson’s various contradictions and questionable power moves, sure paint the picture of a tenuous situation between the top three coaches on the org chart.
On the surface, it can all be shrugged aside in a “nothing to see here” manor. For now, at least. Situations like this seem like no big deal until you add some adversity, some gas to what appears to be a manageable fire.
Like, say, regular season losses?
Make no mistake, should the Browns get off to another rocky start, this tense situation with the coaching staff could escalate in a big way. Suddenly you have a coach on thin ice and two coordinators with head coaching experience likely having more trouble keeping their opinions to themselves.
Considering Jackson has already spent training camp talking down to his coordinators when they question his methods, or calling them out for using the media to criticize players, who’s to say he won’t hesitate to start critiquing them should the Browns kick off another season with losing?
Anyone who’s followed this team since Jackson arrived knows such a concept isn’t far-fetched. He’s spent the past two years responding to losses by throwing anyone he can find, be it players or front office staff, under the bus. His willingness to do so has shown no bounds.
Should this happen, who’s to say Haley and Williams hold their tongues? Both have more wins in their respective head coaching careers than Jackson, and likely wouldn’t hesitate to point this fact out should they start hearing him point the finger of blame their way while explaining once again why he’s the man in charge here.
Honestly, has anything we’ve seen this summer indicated such an outcome is unrealistic?
This may all end up being a mountain/molehill situation should Cleveland finally start winning. That said, if the Browns are boasting an ugly record midway through the season, and we’re hearing more rumors about division between the coaches, the last thing we can do is act surprised. The writing has been on the wall all summer long.