It’s been about 20 years since the Cleveland Browns made their return to the NFL. I’d say there were maybe two or three instances in said time span where they even remotely looked like a functional franchise.
It’s even worse when narrowing it down to the time since Jimmy Haslam purchased the team in 2012. Countless bad decisions have been made under his watch, blunders which helped drive the Browns into the ground, and then a little lower than that.
However, it appears things are finally changing for the better. If you need proof, just look at how Cleveland handled its latest coaching search. The hire the team made, and the details surrounding it all seem to indicate the Browns have finally figured out how a football team is supposed to be run.
Sure, on the surface, some may not see the team making interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens its new head coach as proof Cleveland is finally taking the right approach to build a team. Kitchens has spent the bulk of his NFL career living under the radar, and a major reason for his promotion was the success seen from his eight weeks as OC this past season.
However, compared to previous hires made under Haslam’s watch, this move was night and day.
The Browns hired Kitchens because he’s a perfect fit. He was someone who may not have had everyone’s attention, but who’s exactly what the team is looking for.
In the past, Haslam breathlessly pursued flashy hires. He and his front office staff spent hours schmoozing with Chip Kelly in 2013, only to get stood up at the last second. Cleveland’s owner has also chased after New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. When neither attempt worked out, Haslam settled for guys like Rob Chudzinski or Mike Pettine, two men many weren’t even aware were serious candidates to begin with.
The one time he did land a splashy hire, it was Hue Jackson. The positive initial response to the move is all I can use to explain why Jackson stuck around for over two years despite a winning percentage of 8%.
The Browns could’ve tried the same routine this year. Haslam could’ve targeted Mike McCarthy. He could’ve gone after McDaniels again.
Instead, he let his front office hire the man it felt perfectly fit the bill. He allowed the team to go with the best guy for the job, not the one who’d get the most attention.
The most important news about Haslam came not from the hire itself, but from what we learned soon after. Kitchens will officially be reporting to GM John Dorsey, which bucks a recent trend of everyone reporting directly to the owner.
Words can’t describe how huge this is for the Browns moving forward. One could argue nothing caused more damage over the past few years than Haslam’s disastrous power structure.
Under this setup, he was able to give final say on decisions like drafting Johnny Manziel. Under this setup, Jackson was allowed to go around former executive Sashi Brown so he could complain directly to Haslam. Under this setup, he created an environment where coaches and front office execs could get in a standoff about trading two draft picks for freaking AJ McCarron.
Which is why removing this policy and allowing Kitchens to report to Dorsey (i.e. someone who knows what he’s doing) is crucial. The Browns finally appear to be heading in the right direction, and they couldn’t afford to have progress stunted by interference and ass-backwards policies from the owner.
Make no mistake, this team was never going to get back on track if Haslam kept sticking to his typical tactics, forcing hires and insisting upon having the final say in decisions he lacks the expertise to make. If anything could’ve derailed the momentum Cleveland was creating, it was Haslam’s overbearing ownership. It’s done so in the past. Frequently.
Based on how this coaching search played out, he’s finally made this realization. As a result, we’re suddenly seeing the Browns being run the right way.
It only took six years. Here’s hoping it was worth the wait.