Monday, December 29, 2008

Lerner's lesson

In the coming months, Randy Lerner will hire the fourth leadership regime to head the Browns since the NFL hastily awarded a replacement expansion franchise to Cleveland in 1998.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's two years of Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark and Chris Palmer, four years of Policy and Butch Davis, and four years of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. Ex-president John Collins overlapped the previous two regimes for a couple of years.

It would be easy to lump the previous 10 years into one pile labeled "bad decisions." But each regime was hired under different circumstances and failed for different reasons.

Working in Lerner's favor: Savage and Crennel were the only two football operations heads hired under Lerner's direct supervision. The first two regimes were constructed primarily by Policy, who took the leadership role in the organization while Lerner's father took a far-more-comfortable background role.

By 2005, Al Lerner had died, Policy was back in northern California pursuing a second career making wine, and the buck stopped with Lerner the junior. Hindsight being 20/20, his first football hires reflected that of an executive who had a beginner's knowledge of NFL ownership, possibly put too much trust in the wrong people (such as Collins) and didn't take enough initiative when researching potential candidates.

In the end, Savage was hired because he has a reputation as a good talent evaluator. Little else factored into the decision-making process. Crennel was hired because he is a no-nonsense, candid, humble, down-to-Earth kind of guy with long-standing connections to Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. In other words, Crennel was the anti-Butch Davis with five Super Bowl rings.

Savage and Crennel both showed their Super Bowl-winning resumes to Lerner, and to the inexperienced Lerner, that was enough to impress.

But candidates from good organizations don't always equal good hires, even if they seem like the right men for the job at the outset.

From purely a talent-accumulating standpoint, the hire of Savage was defensible at the time. The Browns were quite possibly the most talent-deprived team in the NFL after Davis exited midway through the 2004 season. The Browns needed more talent, plain and simple, and Savage could -- and did -- ramp up the talent level of the roster.

Even if Savage felt that his place was on the road, scouting the upcoming draft class, instead of at the home office carrying out administrative duties, we as fans could live with that if Savage could string together a few solid drafts and make the Browns competitive again.

We could have lived with it through 2008 and beyond if the homefront was supervised by a head coach who had built a strong team identity and a culture of accountability. Obviously, that wasn't Crennel. So the burden fell back onto Savage to step in and take control, which he never really did.

The fundamental flaw that led to the demise of the Savage-Crennel regime was failing to develop an organizational identity and direction. A GM can amass all the talent in the world, but if he and the head coach haven't worked together to develop a method for developing and utilizing that talent, discord will follow in the locker room and the front office, and the losses will continue to outpace the wins.

Savage and Crennel might have been cordial, even friendly at times, but they didn't work well together. Lerner never demanded that they work well together. Lerner never demanded that they develop a system for working well together.

Savage and Crennel both seem to prefer the background to the spotlight. They're specialists --Crennel in his 3-4 defensive scheme and Savage in scouting -- so even with a system in place, both might still have proved themselves incapable of adapting to a larger set of responsibilities. But Lerner didn't give his first NFL hires the best chance to succeed.

Good owners don't meddle and undermine the authority of the people they hire. But good owners stay involved with their teams. Only those on the inside of the Browns organization truly know Lerner's level of involvement over the past four years, but the public perception is that he hired Savage and Crennel, told them to play nice with Collins and left a "call me if you need me" note on the lunch room bulletin board.

As we remember, it took less than a year for Collins and Savage to develop an irreconcilable rift, with Collins departing.

Lerner must handle things better on his second go-around. Even if he hires Bill Parcells, Scott Pioli or any other experienced NFL coaching/personnel guru, he must stay involved in the process of building the identity of his team. He must insist that he stay involved.

For many years, the Browns have survived on their municipal-heirloom and storied-franchise status. The only identity the Browns have had over the past 20 years has centered on Jim Brown, Lou Groza and grainy footage of the franchise's glory years. It's great to remember and honor your history, but if your franchise's relevance is based solely on building bridges to the past, something is wrong with your present.

Lerner has one more crack at getting this right before he faces massive pressure from around Northeast Ohio to sell the team. These next hires need to reflect an owner who has learned from his past mistakes, an owner who will hire the best all-around candidates, with evaluation, leadership and organizational skills, and stick with them to make sure they're developing the organization properly.

There is still hope for Randy Lerner as an NFL owner. But it's flickering hope at best, and at stake are more than just wins and losses. The true tragedy would be if Lerner leaves the Browns organization -- his father's work -- as a failure.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sideshow Braylon

Give Braylon Edwards this much credit: He stays true to himself.

Sports commentary is so drab with countless talking heads and scribes droning on and on about "team first," "grind it out" and "shut your mouth and play." It's like Eric Wedge's Indians postgame press conferences have taken over the world.

Edwards and the rest of his Browns teammates have undoubtedly heard time and time again how great teams are focused on common goals, how great teams stomp out the brush fires of infighting and pettiness before they become raging conflagrations. How truly great players know how to make their teammates better.

Edwards tried that shoe on last year. It didn't fit. So rather than become something he's not, this year, the back of the jersey is the new front. Jeff "Independent Contractor" McInnis pioneered the style with the Cavs a few years back.

This year, public whining, outbursts and self-martyrdom are in on the shores of Lake Erie. Even Phil Savage got in on the act. And if the general manager can't resist the occasional public F-bomb, what can be expected of his players?

Following Monday's 30-10 loss to the Eagles, Edwards set the gripe bar so high that other notable whiners like Kellen Winslow and Jamal Lewis will be hard-pressed to top it. It would take something along the lines of Brady Quinn complaining that women don't find him attractive enough.

Edwards spouted to the media his belief that he's underappreciated in Cleveland. That he has a target on his back in Ohio because he went to the University of Michigan. That he doesn't care about the fans and what they have to say about him. Which of course means he cares very much about what others have to say about him, otherwise his reaction to criticism wouldn't be so bitter.

If it wasn't official before, it's official now: 2007 was an aberration for Edwards. The well-behaved, mostly-reliable, pass-catching Edwards was a one-year wonder. His default setting is loud-mouthed, mercurial, and way too concerned with what others have to say, which plays into the mental cloud that seems to consume him whenever he's open and notices the ball sailing toward him. It's a dark side of his personality he'll have to fight for his entire career.

Players like Edwards become habitual pass-droppers for one reason: When a pass is heading toward them, they feel 75,000 sets of eyes staring at them. That's why Edwards seems to drop easy passes in the open field, then proceeds to catch difficult passes heaved through a thicket of defenders. He doesn't have time to think about the difficult catches.

That hypersensitivity seeps out of Edwards in multiple ways. After the Dallas game in Week 1, when LeBron James showed up at Cleveland Browns Stadium to root for the Cowboys, Edwards wondered aloud if LeBron even likes playing for Cleveland. It didn't amount to anything, but no one could have blamed Cavs management for going to Browns management and telling them to cram a sock in their wide receiver's mouth.

It's ironic, since a dislike of playing in Cleveland was exactly the sentiment Edwards conveyed to several national media outlets in 2006, after the Browns careened to a 4-12 record.

Idiotic braying from receivers is something of a phenomenon around the NFL. The Browns have two Chatty Cathies in their receiver corps alone. But what Edwards did trumps even the memorable "piece of meat" comment from Winslow earlier this season.

Winslow's remark was aimed at Browns management, Phil Savage in particular, and was likely a jab in the ongoing sparring session between Winslow and Savage over the former's contract demands. It was lacking in tact, it had no place in public view, but there was a motive beyond simply griping.

By contrast, Edwards' sniveling soliloquy on Monday was so forced, fabricated and sopping wet with self-pity, it's reasonable to ask if he really meant it, or if he was just having an emotional episode in the wake of another blowout loss.

First of all, exactly what are we supposed to be appreciating about a wide receiver, a former No. 3 overall pick, who has just three touchdown catches all year? What are we supposed to say to a guy who made a bet with Olympic superhero Michael Phelps that he'd catch twice as many touchdowns as Phelps won gold medals? It's like flipping fate the bird. Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing, if you didn't hear, and Edwards was going to be hard-pressed to equal last year's 16 touchdown catches.

With Ken Dorsey under center, it's highly unlikely that Edwards will catch another touchdown all year.

You catch the ball, we appreciate you. You become a serial pass-dropper, you make foolish, highly-publicized bets with Olympic royalty, you wonder aloud if our superstar basketball player wants to be here, then you don't get appreciated. Because, as a receiver, there is but one way to appreciate Braylon Edwards. He must receive the ball, as is described in his job title. The bet with Phelps, the snarking about LeBron, could all be overlooked if he'd catch the ball.

Second, the Michigan comment. Admittedly, Cleveland is the biggest Ohio State hotbed outside of Columbus. But there are plenty of Michigan fans in Northeast Ohio as well, and plenty of cross-pollination of college allegiances among Browns fans.

Never once have I heard a Browns fan utter "I can't stand Braylon Edwards because he went to Michigan." There are probably a few Ohio State honks out there who feel that way, but they're in the minority. If Edwards thinks he's in enemy territory wearing brown and orange on Sundays just because he wore maize and blue on Saturdays, he has a vivid imagination.

Edwards seems to have a hard time differentiating between a fan base that is upset with him over a dismal season and a fan base that hates his guts because of who he is and where he went to school. Edwards is taking his struggles, and Browns fans' collective reaction to his struggles, way too personally -- a sure sign of immaturity.

If it were up to me, I'd put this 2008 season to bed right now. Tell the Bengals and Steelers to save themselves the trips to the stadium the next two Sundays. Nothing good can come of these final two games for the Browns. And Braylon Edwards, an incredibly talented athlete who still factors into this team's future, will likely experience nothing that will contribute positively to his career or his perception of Browns fans.

Alas, that won't happen. NFL teams play 16-game seasons and Edwards will have to play out the string. But two more weeks of Edwards in the spotlight and growing increasingly frustrated with each loss means two more weeks for him to potentially pop off to the waiting cameras and microphones, further alienating himself from a fan base that has already seen way too many talented young players crumble in a Browns organization with no leadership.

Edwards will almost certainly return to the Browns in 2009, no matter how hated he feels in Cleveland. But anymore, I'm starting to wonder if his mouth, not his hands, will ultimately end his Browns career.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Before you start ledging...

Saturday's 97-92 loss in Atlanta was the Cavaliers' first in 24 days. It dropped their record to 20-4. It marked the end of an 11-game winning streak, tying a team record, and a stretch of 19 wins in 20 games.

Saturday's game was the end of a four-in-five-nights stretch, without Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Daniel Gibson, against a quality opponent on the road. In short, they were bound to lose a game at some point, and if we were honest with ourselves as fans, we probably drew a mental circle around this game.

Yes, the Cavs have yet to beat a quality opponent on the road. You can look at it in one of two ways: Either they have yet to get that long-sought "statement" win on the road, or they're losing the games they had the highest probability of losing. Either way, obsessing over four losses while shrugging off 20 wins would amount to giving a gift horse a dental examination. This is still the best start in Cavs history.

But over the past week, without Gibson or Ilgauskas in the lineup, the Cavs have been struggling to keep up their pace. The string of double-digit wins ended Wednesday in Philadelphia, when Z went to the bench with a sprained ankle. The rematch Friday in Cleveland was a comfortable 16-point win, but the Cavs only really outplayed the 76ers in the second quarter, winning it 27-14. The two teams more or less battled to a draw in the other three quarters.

Saturday, the vulnerabilities of the shorthanded Cavs finally resulted in a loss. Without Z, the Cavs were outrebounded and none of the Atlanta big men had to concern themselves with contesting jump shots out to 20 feet. Without Gibson to provide scoring off the bench, other players had to step up and provide an offensive spark alongside Mo Williams and LeBron James. To that end, Delonte West (5-for-19 from the field) and Wally Szczerbiak (0-for-5) didn't answer the bell.

Now, the games against Denver this week and Houston next week have sprouted red flags. If the Cavs can lose to the Hawks, they most certainly can lose on the road against the Nuggets, a first-place team that received a new lease on life when the Pistons dropped Chauncey Billups into their laps earlier this season. If the Rockets come to The Q with a healthy Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and Yao Ming, they're going to pose a legitimate threat to hand the Cavs their first home loss of the year.

If the Cavs head into their Christmas Day contest with Washington as losers of three of their last five, not only will they start fading in Boston's rear view mirror in the race for the East's one-seed, the naysayers who are dismissing the Cavs' fast start as the product of growing fat on lottery teams will have some legitimate evidence to go along with their bellyaching. No Z, no Boobie, no difference, they'll say. Championship teams find ways to overcome adversity and win.

That's true. And if the Cavs start treading water, as opposed to building on their fast start, they will have let adversity start to get the best of them. But the good news is, this team still can find other ways to overcome adversity. And the first place Mike Brown might want to look is the starting lineup.

Brown is right to trust his bench players to step up in times of need. Anderson Varejao has moved into the starting lineup in lieu of Ilgauskas and performed admirably. But Andy in the starting lineup means a domino effect on the bench, as rookies Darnell Jackson and J.J. Hickson are pressed into service, helping to eat up the bench minutes that would normally go to Varejao.

Jackson and Hickson, as many rookie big men do, commit fouls at an alarming rate. Jackson committed two fouls in five minutes on Saturday. A third-grader could have calculated that Jackson would have fouled out in 15 minutes at that rate. Hickson committed one foul in three minutes, putting him on pace for a dismissal after 18 minutes.

Hickson and Jackson are not ready for big minutes, or meaningful minutes. Not less than two months into their rookie seasons. But as long as Varejao remains in the starting lineup, edging the rookies into the rotation will be a matter of necessity, not an option. And if Ben Wallace tweaks a back muscle, heaven help us all.

The other solution -- one that Brown might have to examine should Z's absence drag into the middle of next month -- is to move Varejao back to the bench, shift Wallace to the center spot, LeBron to power forward and start either Szczerbiak or Sasha Pavlovic at small forward.

Ideal? No. But it's a move that might fit the Cavs roster more naturally than starting Wallace and Varejao side-by-side.

Wallace was a center throughout his career until coming to the Cavs and moving to power forward so he could coexist with Z. Wallace knows how to play the center position, as long as he has some proficient scorers alongside him in the frontcourt. LeBron, at 6'-9" and 260 pounds, has a power forward's body. Playing a power forward's game might limit him to an extent, but his off-the-charts talent will allow him to take liberties playing virtually any position on the floor. He'll figure out a way to impact a game from the four-spot.

Inserting Wally at small forward might sacrifice some athleticism, but at 6'-6" and 240-odd, he can play the position and stretch defenses when his shot is falling. Same goes for Pavlovic, though he's a little smaller than Wally.

The argument here is that it's better to insert Wally or Sasha into the starting lineup, drawing on a position where the Cavs have real depth, instead of Brown starting his lone rotational bench big, leaving two rookies and Lorenzen Wright in reserve.

Any way Brown tries to mask it, the absences of Z and Boobie will be evident until they return. They're just that important. But dealing with adversity is all about making the best out of what you have.

As long as the wins keep coming, Brown doesn't need to look at more drastic solutions. But while Saturday's loss in Atlanta was just the fourth in 24 games, it also might have been a warning sign.

The upcoming games against Denver and Houston will show us if the Cavs are approaching their first hardships of the season in the right manner. If they aren't, here's hoping that Brown is willing to make the necessary adjustments.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A tale of two records

When your team is 18-3 and has its sights locked squarely on a world championship, individual records seem rather trivial.

In May and hopefully June, when the Cavs are battling it out in high-stakes playoff games, attempting to end Cleveland's sports title drought at 45 years, few are going to remember a damp night in early December, when Zydrunas Ilgauskas and LeBron James each carved a notch in the Cavs record book.

The ring is most definitely the thing, but as far as the plodding marathon of the NBA regular season goes, Tuesday's 114-94 win over the Raptors was pretty special.

Before we even get to the accomplishments of Z and LeBron, the Cavs created some of their own NBA history, winning their ninth consecutive game by 12 or more points. No team -- not the 1996 Bulls, not the 1986 Celtics, not the 1972 Lakers -- has ever done that. They also set a franchise record by winning their fourth straight game by 20 or more points.

Naysayers will point out that the Cavs' great start has included wins over the Knicks, Bucks, Thunder and Bobcats. But in the 30-team NBA, the talent disparity between teams is relatively small, and the Cavs are still routinely treating their opponents like North Carolina treats midmajor schools on the college level.

This type of dominance doesn't typically happen in the NBA. But so far, the Cavs have been all about making history this season.

Which brings us to Z, LeBron and the records they broke on Tuesday. Ilgauskas is now the franchise's all-time leading rebounder with 5,230. LeBron is the franchise's all-time steals leader with 737. The men they passed were not-so-arguably the two greatest players in the franchise's history prior to LeBron: Brad Daugherty and Mark Price, respectively.

LeBron and Z are two starkly different players who have taken two starkly different roads to the record books. Yet they share a bond that seems to go deeper than most NBA teammates.

Ilgauskas' road to the rebound record is one of perseverance. If you've followed the Cavs over the past 12-plus years, you know the story by now. Ilgauskas came to Cleveland in the 1996 draft, eight picks after the team selected Vitaly Potapenko out of Wright State. Ilgauskas was something of a project player, tall and gangly, but with quick feet and a soft shooting touch.

But his feet soon started betraying him. Broken bones in his feet caused him to miss his would-be rookie season of 1996-97, after missing his last professional season in Lithuania due to a broken foot. He recovered to make the All-Rookie Team in 1998, but was on the shelf again for the 1999-2000 season. He returned and helped the Cavs out of the gate to a 15-8 start in the 2000-01 season, but just before Christmas, during a game in Miami, he broke his foot again.

Bitterly discouraged, Z contemplated retirement. The following summer, the Cavs drafted seven-foot high schooler DeSagana Diop as Z's potential replacement. But Z gave it one last try, a radical restructuring of his left foot. After months of grueling rehab, Z took the floor again in December 2001.

It was a watershed moment. Z has been among the most durable centers in the league since then. Now, his aging back is of greater concern than his feet. Eight years ago, no one thought he'd reach the bad-back portion of his career, something just about every 30-something big man deals with in pro basketball.

Not only did Z return, he became a borderline-elite center, earning all-star nods in 2003 and '05, improving his shooting stroke from outside and morphing into one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. Somehow, his march to the Cavs' all-time rebounding record became a matter of "when," not "if."

Z's early-career injuries seem to have given him perspective on what is happening now. In an ego-first era of NBA basketball, when many players with two all-star berths to their credit might have a hard time accepting a supporting cast role under LeBron, Z not only tolerates it, he enjoys it.

Z was one of the first players LeBron sought out after the 2003 draft, promising Z that he'd turn the Cavs into a winner. Even if LeBron didn't embrace the Cavs as a kid in Akron, Z's story still made an impact on him.

When the Cavs clinched their first-ever NBA Finals berth in 2007, LeBron sought out Z for an emotional bear hug. This was less than six weeks after Z and his wife lost a son and daughter, delivered stillborn.

Perhaps even more than some fans, LeBron realizes what Z has been through and what Z means to the Cavaliers organization. In the days leading up to both players' record-setting night, LeBron was attempting to deflect attention off himself and onto Ilgauskas, openly campaigning for Z's No. 11 to hang from the rafters at The Q someday.

To that, I say: As long as it's alongside No. 23 and a couple of NBA championship banners.

Appropriately, LeBron and Z each set their records in their own, in-character ways. LeBron did it with speed and flair as he picked off a pass from Jose Calderon less than a minute into Tuesday's game, sprinted down the floor, took a return pass from Delonte West and threw down a vicious dunk. No fuss, no muss, and when Mike Brown took a timeout so LeBron could feel the love from the crowd, LeBron walked to center court, raised his arms and soaked it in.

As has been the theme throughout his career, Z's record-setting moment came after a period of waiting. He quickly grabbed three boards to tie the record, then was sent to the bench as the reserves came onto the floor.

Z didn't nab his record-setting rebound until two minutes remained in the first half. In true Ilgauskas form, it wasn't pretty, but it was effective. And it came with a little help from LeBron, who was poised to snatch from Z a carom off a Jason Kapono miss. But in midair, LeBron relented, the ball bounced to the floor, Z scooped it up and set the record.

When Z's took his curtain call, it was nowhere near center court and involved a quick wave to the crowd. It wasn't Z being standoffish, it was Z wanting to get back to the business of letting LeBron take up the spotlight.

Through all six years of the LeBron Era, the relationship between he and Ilgauskas has been the one constant on the basketball floor for the Cavs. It's a work-related friendship that doesn't get a ton of press, but it has endured. And it is a central part of what makes the Cavs work so well as a team.

Tuesday night, both players had a chance to take an individual bow for their accomplishments. But when, and if, the Cavs ever hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as the NBA's world champions, rest assured it will be because LeBron and Z worked together to get there.

Someday, we might be able to look up at the banners hanging from the rafters of The Q and re-live it all.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Maybe Marty

He never won the big one. He never even played for the big one.

That tagline might follow Marty Schottenheimer around for the rest of his days. His failure to get a team to the Super Bowl in 21 NFL head coaching seasons is the most famously infamous line on his resume.

The fact that during his tenure coaching the Browns, he presided over two of the most spectacular playoff flameouts in team history -- you know them as "The Drive" and "The Fumble" -- might cause you to proceed with caution when warming to the idea of giving the 65-year-old a second crack at resurrecting Cleveland professional football.

And to that, I say: If you're worried about what might happen should the Browns reach another AFC Championship Game, someone needs to check your garage for paint fumes. Give me The Drive and The Fumble any year over the decade-long procession of failure that has been the Cleveland Browns since 1999.

Rumor has it that Schottenheimer wants back in the coaching game, and he'd be interested in a second tenure with the Browns -- though he has vaguely denied an interest in a return to coaching on several occasions, most recently Thursday night on NFL Network.

Not that denials are to be 100 percent believed. Generally, money talks and other stuff walks in the world of professional sports. Schottenheimer is likely no exception.

If Bill Cowher's allegiance to the the Rooney family and Steeler Nation is strong enough to withstand the gobs of cash Randy Lerner appears poised to throw at him after the season, Schottenheimer is a worthy (if nearly as expensive) Option 1A.

There is an overwhelming reason why: wins and losses. Schottenheimer has far more of the former than the latter.

Schottenheimer has a career 200-126-1 coaching record. In 21 seasons with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers, he's led a team to a losing record only twice. His teams have won double-digit games 11 times. He's won eight division titles.

Unlike Cowher, Schottenheimer's body of work can be judged outside of the context of one team. With few exceptions, he's won wherever he's gone.

He's won with quarterbacks ranging from Bernie Kosar to Steve DeBerg to Joe Montana, Steve Bono to Rich Gannon to Elvis Grbac, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. He's won with running backs ranging from Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner to Christian Okoye, Barry Word, Marcus Allen and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Different players, different systems, different styles. Schottenheimer has adapted to his resources and kept winning.

The belief here is that Schottenheimer would be an excellent foundation-building coach for this Browns team, which has a decent amount of talent, but lacks discipline, fundamentals and a collective identity.

Schottenheimer is a coach who can step in and establish instant credibility with his players, something Romeo Crennel appears to have done only by playing the role of Mr. Nice Guy. Where players like Crennel personally, they'd be forced to respect someone like Schottenheimer. The respect factor is obviously absent from the current coach-player relationship in the Browns locker room, no matter how many players stick up for Crennel.

Schottenheimer would bring a dominant personality to the head coach's position, and a sense of law and order will likely follow. You don't last more than two decades as an NFL coach without being good at developing discipline in your players, eradicating mistakes and sloppy play, and getting everyone focused on a common set of goals.

Twenty-one seasons as a coach says Schottenheimer understands that in order to build an army, you need to build soldiers. Right now, the Browns are more like a ragtag militia.

Of course, there would be a catch to Marty's second tenure as Browns coach: It likely wouldn't last more than a few years. At 65, it's reasonable to wonder how much gas Schottenheimer has left in the tank. Three or four years of organization-building might be enough to drain the remaining juice out of Schottenheimer's engine.

That's why, should he be hired as Browns coach, Schottenheimer would need a very specific short-term goal: To turn the foundation of the Browns organization from quicksand to concrete. Schottenheimer would be called in to lay the framework for future success by reforming the team's football operations (which might or might not include the assistance of Phil Savage or another general manager), getting rid of the rampant fundamental flaws currently plaguing the team on and off the field, and developing a well-defined team identity.

All the while, Schottenheimer would need to be developing a successor -- maybe son Brian, currently the offensive coordinator of the Jets. His successor could then hopefully build upon the foundation laid by Schottenheimer and turn the Browns into a perennial contender.

A great coaching system is what teams like Patriots and Steelers have, and what teams like the Browns need. And when you get right down to it, save for a rough-around-the-edges Bill Belichick, the last time a Browns coach developed anything resembling a successful system was Schottenheimer nearly 25 years ago.

The other major drawback to Schottenheimer is his checkered history with the management of teams he's worked for. Friction with Art Modell over a lack of an offensive coordinator paved his way out of Cleveland in 1988. Redskins owner Dan Snyder fired Schottenheimer after one season in Washington to make way for Steve Spurrier. Schottenheimer's relationship with Chargers president Dean Spanos was notoriously icy, and ultimately led to his firing after a 14-2 season in 2006.

In much the same way it would be difficult to envision Savage and Cowher coexisting for long, it would be difficult to envision Savage and Schottenheimer sharing space without stepping on each other's toes. Whose side you take would depend on whether you believe talent evaluation or coaching is more important to a team's success.

The most important quality the next Browns head coach can possess is a track record of success as an NFL head coach. It appears that Randy Lerner concurs on that point. But beyond that, it's time for Lerner to dig a bit deeper and look at how the success of his coaching candidates has been achieved.

A candidate from a successful organization does not always equal a successful hire. Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Savage and Crennel have all proved that to greater and lesser degrees. Cowher has 15 seasons and 149 victories with the Steelers as his main selling point. But until he successfully runs a second NFL team, the eternal debate will rage on whether he was the generator or beneficiary of a rock-solid organization in Pittsburgh.

Viewed through that lens, Schottenheimer is something of a safer pick than Cowher to lead the Browns out of the doldrums. He developed perennial winners in three of his four NFL coaching stops, which means there is reason to believe he could once again develop the Browns into a winner -- or at the very least, do the dirty work of organizational muck removal.