Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s letter to fans Wednesday regarding the team’s coaching search was a nice gesture.
But it might as well have been a news release from Pilot Flying J on its newest brand of coffee. There was none of the passion Haslam displayed at his introductory news conference Aug. 3, 2012. There was no hint of emotion over what transpired during a 4-12 season that cost first-year coach Rob Chudzinski his job.
If an owner is going to write a letter to fans in Northeast Ohio, he has to realize it will be measured against the one sent by the Cavs’ Dan Gilbert in the wake of The Decision. As outrageous as that was, you knew Gilbert cared. He spoke the people’s language. He was as upset as they were. You could picture him torching a LeBron James jersey, even if that was the over-publicized reaction of a disgruntled few.
Haslam’s letter read more like an admonishment of Browns’ critics. Albert Breer of NFL Network tweeted over the weekend that their coaching vacancy is considered “radioactive.” Last week during an interview on 92.3 The Fan, Michael Silver of NFL Network said in league circles there is a perceived “shadiness” concerning the Browns front office because of “invisible” General Manager Mike Lombardi, the federal investigation into rebate fraud at Pilot Flying J that commands much of Haslam’s attention and CEO Joe Banner’s reputation as “a very, very shrewd man who’s not going to put his arm around a head coach.”
“We believe the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a very attractive position,” Haslam’s letter said. “We have one of the youngest teams in the league, a roster that includes five Pro Bowlers. In addition, we have more salary-cap room than all but one NFL team. We also have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft and five of the top 83 selections.”
That was more than a slap on the wrist for Breer, Silver and the local media.
All of the points Haslam mentioned are valid ones. On those merits alone, the Browns job should be a plum position. But when the coach’s predecessor was given less than 12 months to prove himself, there will be fallout. On the night of Dec. 29, most presumed the Browns had someone in mind to replace Chudzinski. Perhaps they did.
Yet Haslam tried to quell fans’ teeth-gnashing over the fact that the Browns job is the last of seven NFL coaching vacancies to be filled. The delay dominates talk shows, especially as many they’ve interviewed accepted other positions or pulled out of consideration. The search has reached its third week and could go on until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
The Browns should not fast track such an important decision. There is less urgency this year because the draft has been pushed back until May 8. The personnel department will handle all-star games and the Senior Bowl. The Browns vacancy will be filled before the NFL Combine on Feb. 19-25 and the start of free agency March 11. College players of primary interest will be brought to Berea for visits, so if the new coach misses any key interviews next week in Mobile, Ala., he’ll get another chance.
Assistants in the playoffs who deserve to be considered for top jobs have long been left out as teams make a rush to judgment. The biggest downside might be that the path the Browns are taking will leave their coach slim pickings for his staff.
But Haslam must understand asking fans to sit tight will not go over well with some. They’ve been shelling out thousands of dollars to watch an inferior product and can tell him something about patience. They’re also worried that the Browns will wait for Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and he will turn them down.
Haslam’s letter was a public relations ploy by a team that regularly fails in that regard. It is not confirming candidates who have interviewed, as some organizations do. It has frozen out local beat writers during the process of Chudzinski’s firing and the hiring of his replacement. Nuggets come from members of the national media who have Banner’s or Lombardi’s ear. If the Browns were more open during the search, Haslam would not have needed to put pen to paper or fingers to laptop.
There was not a candidly — a favorite word for Haslam —to be found in the letter and I almost wish there were. Then his words would have sounded more real. At this point, a few genuine candidlys would serve Haslam and the Browns well.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.