Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Cleveland Titanic Puts Charlie Frye in a Lifeboat to Seattle

Apparently, Romeo Crennel flipped a coin again and now Charlie Frye has completed a stunningly quick descent from starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns to trade bait for a sixth round draft pick. While this is a humiliating loss of status for Frye, the good news for him is that he has just gone from an organization that has no clue to the Seattle Seahawks, a team that made it to the Super Bowl just two years ago. Interestingly, the player who until very recently the Browns thought could be a quality starter will apparently be the third stringer in Seattle.

After the Browns' embarrassing 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh in the home opener on Sunday, General Manager Phil Savage said, "I think you run into trouble if you change your plans after one game." Yet that is exactly what the Browns have done. After spending all of the offseason conducting a quarterback competition between Frye and Derek Anderson that resembled nothing so much as two toddlers in a potato sack race, the Browns made Frye the starter only to bench him in favor of Anderson before halftime. Now Frye is completely out of the picture, Anderson is the starter, Brady Quinn is the backup and weak-armed Ken Dorsey has been re-signed to be Quinn's mentor. Dorsey may have an excellent football mind but he does not possess the physical tools to be an NFL quarterback. Quarterback is the most important position in football and arguably the most important position in team sports. The Browns seem to have drafted a good one in Quinn, but one wonders if he can reach his maximum potential playing for an organization that should use the Keystone Cops as its mascot.

In the 1990s, the Cleveland media and fans all but ran Bill Belichick out of town and since then he has proven that he is one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Is it possible that I am judging Crennel too quickly or too harshly? Anything is possible but the statistical evidence suggests that this is highly unlikely. It is important to remember why Belichick was so unpopular during his run in Cleveland: the media hated him because of his monosyllabic press conferences that provided no quotable material for their articles, while the fans could never forgive him for cutting hometown hero Bernie Kosar. I don't evaluate coaches based on how talkative or friendly they are because, frankly, that is idiotic and unprofessional. As for the Kosar situation, Belichick handled it poorly purely from a public relations standpoint but the fact is that Kosar played in just 18 more games after he left Cleveland and was never again a regular starter in the NFL. Kosar won a Super Bowl ring with Dallas in 1993 but his performance in a playoff game versus San Francisco that year (5-9, 83 yards, 1 touchdown) was essentially his last hurrah as a player. Belichick was right from a technical standpoint even though he should have handled the matter with more sensitivity and tact considering Kosar's contributions to the franchise.

A comparison between Belichick's record in Cleveland and Crennel's record in Cleveland is very revealing. Here are the raw numbers:

The Belichick Years:

1991: 6-10--293 points for, 298 points against, -5 differential
1992: 7-9--272 points for, 275 points against, -3 differential
1993: 7-9--304 points for, 307 points against, -3 differential
1994: 11-5--340 points for, 204 points against, +136 differential
*1994 Playoffs--1-1, 29 points for, 42 points against, -13 differential
1995: 5-11--289 points for, 356 points against, -167 differential

The Crennel Years:

2005: 6-10--232 points scored, 301 points against, -69 differential
2006: 4-12--238 points scored, 356 points against, -118 differential
2007: 0-1--7 points for, 34 points against, -27 differential

Belichick took over a Browns team that went 3-13 in 1990, scoring 228 points while giving up a league-worst 462 points, a -234 differential. It is important to note that the team's wins doubled immediately the next season and never decreased until his fifth season (more about that in a moment). By year four, the Browns were not only a playoff team but they actually won a playoff game, something that the team has not done since then. That 1994 Browns team ranked first in the NFL in points against and third in point differential behind Dallas and San Francisco, the teams that won every Super Bowl between 1992 and 1995. Point differential is a very important indicator of how competitive a team is. What about the drop in 1995? The Browns started that season 4-4 and were coming off of an overtime win over division rival Cincinnati when word leaked that owner Art Modell planned to move the team to Baltimore. Belichick later said, "There's no situation I've been in, before or since, that even would remotely approach that one for negativity and affecting the overall focus of the team. Not within 100 miles. It touched every single person in the building, every secretary, every ball boy. I felt badly for everyone involved." The Browns went into a 1-7 tailspin and Modell fired Belichick after the season. Belichick had built the foundation for the Browns to be successful but Modell's betrayal of the Cleveland fans wrecked everything.

"We had a damn good football team in Cleveland in '94," Belichick told Sports Illustrated in 2005. "I told Art several times, you've got a good staff here, coaching and scouting. That's not the problem. I feel like the point has been proven 10 years later."

It is unlikely that in 10 years anyone will look bask wistfully at the Romeo Crennel era. Crennel took over a Browns team that went 4-12 in 2004, scoring 276 points while giving up 390 points, a -114 differential. During his tenure, there has been no tangible improvement in either the team's record or its point differential. The bottom line is simple: the Browns are not competitive and show no signs of being a competitive team any time soon. That is unfair to the team's extremely loyal fans and should be unacceptable to team owner Randy Lerner. Saying that Romeo Crennel should be fired is not something that I take lightly. I realize and respect that this is his livelihood and that his job status affects him and his family--but there is simply no indication that he is the right man for this job or that he can produce a winning team in Cleveland.

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