Bill Cowher has become a folk hero in Cleveland. Or maybe even a messiah.
As we wait for the guy who can make everything all better during yet another foundering Browns season, many of us are looking chinward to the histrionics of Cowher. The man with the passion for the game, the man who yells and screams, the coach who will whip the Browns' sorry butts into shape, unlike the Human Snooze Button, Romeo Crennel.
If only the Browns would be willing to jettison Crennel and give Cowher whatever he wants to take the reins of the Browns, surely better days would be ahead. Not only would Cowher inspire, lead and discipline where Crennel has failed to do all three, hiring the former Steelers boss would be like stealing Pittsburgh's thunder, a chance to give the Steelers a taste of the humiliation they've been heaping on us for most of the past decade.
It would be perfect. A real head coach with real experience, served with a side of freshly-chilled revenge against our arch-rivals.
At least that's the way we want it to happen. In reality, unfortunately, we'd have to file our newfound love for The Chin under "unrealistic expectations." It's another chapter in our futile search for the One Guy who can eradicate the Browns' losing culture.
The Browns could end up firing Crennel and hiring Cowher, but it's probably not going to shape up quite the way you want it to. Like previous regime changes, it would begin with a messy, lengthy process of tearing down the old regime.
First off, if Cowher goes anywhere near the Browns, it won't be until the end of the season. His contractual obligation to the Steelers ended after last season, but there is nothing that says a successful former head coach would want to step in and try to clean up another coach's mess in the middle of the season. Cowher doesn't need to do that, and he wouldn't.
If Cowher takes the reins of the Browns, he won't ride in on a white horse. He'll walk in with a sledgehammer and start demolishing the old roster and coaching staff. Cowher won't be the magic elixir simply because he is familiar with a 3-4 defense and might be able to use some of the same players Savage has collected.
Rob Chudzinski? Gone. Mel Tucker? Adios. Braylon Edwards? Kellen Winslow? Jamal Lewis?Who knows?
The Browns might be in need of another rebuild. Maybe we've seen everything we're ever going to see out of the Savage-Crennel regime. In that case, maintaining continuity for continuity's sake is a bad idea. If Randy Lerner honestly believes that it's time to blaze a new trail, then by all means, he should pursue Cowher, fire Crennel and prepare to tell Savage that Cowher is getting the final say on roster moves -- along with preparing for Savage's inevitable resignation following that news.
But it's an either-or proposition. Hiring Cowher and taking the mythical "next step" in 2009 are mutually exclusive.
Lerner can allow Cowher to come in and spend the next several years stripping down and building up, which would mean several more years of losing, minimum. Or he can try to make it work with his current guys -- at the very least, Savage and another coach who won't demand the decision-making power that Cowher will. But bringing in Cowher, ditching Crennel, forcing Savage's resignation in the process and contending next year is like having your cake and eating it, too.
Pine for Cowher, but understand that it's going to take several more years for him to rebuild the organization in his image. If Savage and Crennel have turned the Browns organization into the quagmire we believe they have, the least Lerner can offer Cowher is the chance to do things his way.
That also means the chance to succeed or fail. Cowher has never built an organization, he's never had to eradicate a losing culture on the field, in the locker room, and perhaps most dauntingly, throughout a fan base that tends to treat 21-point losses like a sign of the Apocalypse.
We'd all like to believe The Chin is still a Brown at heart. He wore the Browns uniform as a player and Cleveland is where his coaching career started. We'd like to believe that when the Browns' Bat Signal beams across the sky, Cowher will answer the call like a caped crusader should.
But that's the problem. Cowher isn't a superhero, he isn't a messiah, he isn't a magician, he's not even a front office guy. He's a coach. More accurately, he's a coach who benefitted from standing on the solid foundation the Steelers provided him for a decade and a half. Outside of the Steelers' fortress, we don't really know what Cowher can do.
Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark came to the Browns from San Francisco 10 years ago. They were well-decorated and well-respected football guys who helped turn the 49ers into the envy of professional football throughout the '80s and into the '90s. Then they were asked to build a football team from scratch and they failed miserably.
Cowher wouldn't have to work with a first-year expansion team should he take over the Browns. But he would have to venture into the uncharted waters of organization-building. That's a task that has already proved to be too large for Policy, Clark, and Butch Davis after them. Now it seems like Savage and Crennel are venturing dangerously close to the same fate.
All of them came from winning organizations. All of them had impressive resumes. Just like Cowher.
Knowing how to win isn't all it's cracked up to be if you don't know how to stop the losing first.