INDIANAPOLIS: In mid-October, after the organization failed to punish Johnny Manziel for his in-car fight with girlfriend Colleen Crowley, former Browns coach Mike Pettine didn’t believe the team lacked accountability.
Taking a number of questions on the issue, Pettine might have felt like he was under attack, but he refused to buckle. It was almost as if Pettine didn’t comprehend the trickle-down effect the Browns’ coddling of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Manziel was having on the rest of the locker room.
On Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, the contrast with new Browns coach Hue Jackson couldn’t have been more stark. He tried not to criticize the previous regime, but Jackson made it clear he will not tolerate the off-the-field incidents that have plagued the franchise.
In doing so, Jackson sent a message to current and future Browns — not just to Manziel, expected to be released March 9 after another incident with now-ex-girlfriend Crowley on Jan. 30 left her with a ruptured eardrum. It is being investigated by the Dallas Police Department and could also draw a league suspension.
Jackson was talking to other problem children like wide receiver Josh Gordon and linebacker Armonty Bryant, as well. Gordon awaits reinstatement by the league after serving a year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bryant pleaded not guilty to felony drug charges Wednesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court after being found in possession of Oxycodone and Adderall during a Christmas morning traffic stop.
“We made a statement two weeks ago about Johnny Manziel, and I’m going to stand by that and I think his future on our team will be addressed pretty soon,” Jackson said. “Obviously, there were some people involved in this situation, and I feel very bad about those things as they do happen.
“But I want to make sure we all understand that that behavior will not be tolerated. Our organization is going to take a stand, and we’re going to move on from those kind of situations as we move forward.”
Jackson’s “take a stand” statement likely was not just against domestic violence. He seemed to make it clear there will be no more lenience for repeat offenders, no more looking the other way on transgressions of high draft picks, or anyone, for that matter.
He seems poised to rebuild the franchise with a stronger foundation.
“I want guys that have high character and guys that have high football character, and I think those two are a little different,” Jackson said. “Obviously, there’s been some things well-documented about some players here. I take them on a case-by-case basis and see if they fit exactly what it is that I’m talking about.
“But I’m not going to bend them. I don’t think this day and age in pro football that you can. I think it’s too important to the football team and too important to the organization.”
Much of this sounds familiar. Former coach Eric Mangini tried the same approach in 2009-10. But Mangini served as his own general manager and couldn’t find high-level talent to go with the high character he wanted.
There is much for Jackson to clean up in Berea. More holes on the roster than one draft can fill. A losing culture to erase. A lack of passion in the locker room.
Jackson said when players report for the offseason program on April 4, they will see something different.
“I think there’s an excitement in the building and I plan to keep it that way,” Jackson said. “I think there’s an expectation in the building and I plan on keeping it that way. I think there’s a way we’re going to go about our business and I plan on making sure that’s what we do.”
But most of all, there will be accountability. Jackson doesn’t know how far the Browns have to go in that regard, but he has a plan for that, too.
“We’re all going to start at zero, and we’re going to earn the right to respect each other and be accountable to each other,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have a clean slate when they walk in the door, but it’s got to be built day by day.
‘‘And it goes both ways. It’s from players to coach and coach to players.”
It’s too soon to say Jackson’s approach will turn the laughingstock of the league into a model organization. But it’s long past time for Browns players to be put on notice, long past time for someone in Berea to take a stand.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.