The Cleveland Browns have been the punchline to plenty of NFL jokes, especially since their return in 1999. Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns continued lack of success provides plenty of ammunition. 

The last time the Browns reached the playoffs was in 2002 with head coach Butch Davis and quarterback Kelly Holcomb leading the Browns to a Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns own the longest active playoff drought in the National Football League.

The last time the Browns won a playoff game, someone by the name of Bill Belichick led them to a victory in 1994. 

The ineptitude still haunts the storied Cleveland franchise. The Fumble. The Drive. The Move. 0-16. Hue Jackson. And now, Jimmy Haslam. 

Jimmy Haslam’s resume with the Cleveland Browns

Since Jimmy and Dee Haslam bought the team in 2012, the Browns have dismissed five head coaches and five general managers. The longest-tenured coach in that time is Hue Jackson, who has the second-worst winning percentage in the league’s 100-year history.

In addition to missing the playoffs for the 17th straight time, the Browns finished the 2019 season with a sub .500 record for the 12th consecutive year.

Relatedly, during this span, the Browns have started 14 different quarterbacks and have the worst record in football.

Where is the Leadership?

Haslam’s leadership is suspect in his primary business. Twenty of Haslam’s former employees at his company, Pilot Flying J, have either pleaded guilty or been convicted in a scheme that defrauded customers out of millions of dollars. Haslam’s company, which is America’s largest diesel fuel retailer, paid tens of millions of dollars in criminal penalties and civil settlements. Shockingly, Haslam was not charged in the scheme.

His leadership reared its ugly head with the Browns as early as February 2014. Haslam surprisingly fired his general manager Michael Lombardi and president Joe Banner unexpectedly. 

Haslam decided to promote assistant general manager Ray Farmer to the public manager position without interviewing Farmer for the job. Farmer became the second-youngest GM in the NFL just two months before the 2014 draft.

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Browns chose Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel because Haslam was rubbed the wrong way by Bridgewater’s handshake when the two had dinner.

Additionally, Haslam became enthralled by Manziel based upon a text that Manziel sent to then-QB coach Dowell Loggains that he wanted to “wreck this league together.” The only things that Manziel wrecked were his career and the Browns chance of obtaining a franchise quarterback.  

The John Dorsey Years

After winning a total of four games in three years, Haslam attempted to adjust his leadership style of dysfunction and chaos and hired an experienced general manager in John Dorsey. 

Haslam attempted to provide Dorsey with ultimate control, well, at least in the beginning.

Dorsey made what should be the easiest decision ever made by a general manager: Dorsey fired head coach Hue Jackson.

Jackson finished 1-15 in his rookie season as a head coach. Inexplicably, Haslam asked Jackson back for the 2017 season, when the Browns became the second team in NFL history not to win a single game in a season. In an absurd puzzling move, Jackson was brought back to coach in the 2018 season.  

Dorsey went against the mass audience and chose Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. His reputation and the future of the franchise rested upon the former Sooner quarterback. 

Finally, Dorsey ended the nightmare by firing Jackson after the Browns started 2-5-1. Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor got injured, so the Browns inserted Mayfield into the starting lineup and interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens shined for the remainder of the 2018 season.

He orchestrated an electrifying offense led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. All the Browns quarterback did was break the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes with 27. The Browns finished with a 7-8-1 record and had the city of Cleveland talking about the playoffs. 

The 2019 season

The hype train in Cleveland was moving at a tremendous speed. The momentum built upon the success of the ending of the 2018 season, along with the offseason moves, catapulted the Browns into unfamiliar territory.

The Browns were not just talking playoffs but Super Bowl-bound. 

The trade for Odell Beckham Jr. and the additions of Kareem Hunt, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson had everyone drinking the Kool-Aid. Dorsey chose to name interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens head coach. The duo was going to build upon their success last season with more offensive weapons and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

The 2019 season ended as a colossal disappointment with a 6-10 record. What went wrong?

John Dorsey grossly underestimated the ability of Freddie Kitchens to lead this Cleveland Browns team. The team lacked discipline and attention to detail and was the fourth-most penalized team in the NFL. 

The Browns offense sank to the 20th ranked scoring offense this season — certainly a disappointing result considering the offensive additions and a full season of Kitchens leading the attack. 

Beckham was supposed to be the alpha dog in the Browns offense and create a receiver duo with Jarvis Landry that should have been lethal to opposing defenses. Beckham finished the 2019 season with 74 catches, 1,035 yards, and a measly four touchdowns. How does your biggest offensive threat only score four touchdowns?

Baker regressed this season and was close to having a 1:1 ratio in touchdowns (22) and interceptions (21). He believed the hype around him more than anyone else on the team. Mayfield seemed to have lost focus except when he was off making commercials. 

The offense had the talent to be a powerhouse with the two stud receivers and a running back in Nick Chubb, who amassed 1494 rushing yards this season. 

Unfortunately, the team desperately needs a better coach. Shockingly, with his 6-10 record this season, he finished with the best record a full-time coach achieved under the Haslams. 

The 2019 season ended with a loss to the 1-14 Cincinnati Bengals, which also ended the first and last season as the head coach for Kitchens. They fired him on Sunday, which was a no-brainer decision. He was over-matched, and the job was too big for him. 

John Dorsey leaves the Cleveland Browns 

Haslam announced Tuesday that John Dorsey, hired in December 2017, is leaving the organization. Haslam reportedly wanted to change the structure of the team’s front office, but couldn’t agree with Dorsey on his role in that structure, so the two parted ways.

Dorsey reportedly lost a power struggle with chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. DePodesta, a former baseball executive and once a crucial front office assistant for Billy Beane with the Oakland Athletics, is best known as the loose inspiration for Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball. Haslam hired DePodesta as an adviser to general manager Sashi Brown in 2016.

Dorsey achieved more success than any of his Browns’ predecessors. He improved the team to the tune of 13-18-1 in 2018 and 2019 — a significant upgrade after suffering through a dreadful 1-31 record during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. 

With his success, there were failures. The most glaring is the hiring of Freddie Kitchens as the head coach. Dorsey has the reputation of someone challenging to get along with, especially if he doesn’t get his way. Kitchens was a YES man, who would never get an opportunity as a head coach anytime besides here in Cleveland. 

Kitchens had no previous head coaching experience and had never even been a coordinator before getting elevated to offensive coordinator following Hue Jackson’s firing in 2018. 

Dorsey accumulated the most talented Browns roster in decades. However, this is not fantasy football or Madden. He left a massive hole in the offensive line with the trade of guard Kevin Zeitler. Mayfield always seemed to be running for his life. The offensive line issues contributed to the demise of the potentially explosive offense. Dorsey did not address these concerns, and with the Browns trotting out Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard to protect their franchise quarterback, it has to make to stop and ponder what Dorsey was expecting from this inept group. 

Dorsey attempted to fix the Browns roster quick, and while there is talent, there is zero cohesion on this team. 

Hindsight is always 2020

In typical Haslam fashion, the head coach and general manager search is already a circus. In a recent press conference, Haslam explained that DePodesta would stay in place and lead the coaching search. Additionally, they are also going to hire a coach then hire the general manager who will build the roster. Are you serious? Shouldn’t that be reversed?

The Browns faithful have unfortunately been here before. I could write this same article almost every year with names changed. 

So who are the leading candidates for the Cleveland Browns?

Every NFL fan is familiar with the names mentioned.  

  • Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy
  • New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels
  • Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
  • San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh
  • Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski
  • Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy
  • Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll
  • Former Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer

Haslam insists his team will focus on coaches with NFL experience, so we have to assume Meyer is out of the running. 

According to PFN insiders Tony Pauline and Benjamin Allbright, they have learned of two head coach/general manager pairings that are currently at the top of the wish list. 

Can Cleveland Browns have faith that the Haslam team will make the right decision? Based on their past digressions, that would be a big fat NO! 

“Players want leadership,” Haslam said. “They really do want strong leadership, so we’re looking for a strong leader, one, someone who’s smart, two, has really good football acumen, three, and then, will work within the organization.

The Cleveland Browns fan base also wants a leader and not what Haslam has exhibited in his days as the Browns owner. 

Essentially, hiring a head coach BEFORE, the general manager, is stupid. 

Being a good NFL owner involves hiring competent NFL people and provide the resources to let them do their jobs. Give them space and time and allow them to build the team and a winning culture. Haslam needs to stay away from ANY football decisions and let his team hires to make the decisions to shape this team.

NFL fans should expect an inundation of reports about who is getting interviewed and their respective outcomes. However, the biggest takeaway is that Haslam believes his wealth provides knowledge and that he genuinely believes he is smarter than everyone else. 

His reputation precedes him, and it has to play a significant part in why the Browns will not get top-notch candidates to come to Cleveland and coach the storied franchise. 

Finally

What everyone has been waiting for

What went wrong with the Cleveland Browns?

The answer is quite simple: Jimmy and Dee Haslam

The Cleveland Browns fans have a question: Can we hire the next Cleveland Browns owner?