There is just one team in the NFL who does not have a head coach for its roster, and that is the Cleveland Browns. They were the first team to fire their coach after the season and now stand as the lone suitor in professional football’s version of The Bachelor.
The reason the Browns are the only girl who still has no date to prom is as much about perception as it is about reality. While the Browns have launched a public relations campaign to highlight the attractive features of the position, the rest of the world only sees a joke.
On Wednesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam sent a letter to season ticket holders saying, “We believe the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a very attractive position,” via Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We have one of the youngest teams in the League, a roster that includes five Pro Bowlers. In addition, we have more salary-cap room than all but one NFL team. We also have three of the top 35 picks in the upcoming draft and five of the top 83 selections.”
This is the narrative that the Browns will continue to try to push. They want the available candidates to know that there is a young core of talented players, tons of cap space and high draft picks available to turn this franchise around quickly.
That narrative is very accurate. Cleveland should be an attractive job for a young coach who is confident in his abilities to lead a young, talented roster. If that coach happens to really like one of the quarterbacks at the top of the draft, then the job is that much more attractive.
The battle they continue to face, however, is the public perception. It is not just the fact that they fired a coach after just 11 months, either. National media members have lined up to bash and question the sanity of whomever elects to take the Browns head-coaching job.
You get the increasing feeling, talking to people around the league, that the Browns job is seen as radioactive. Tough spot for them.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 12, 2014
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Browns coaching candidates have reached out to former head coach Rob Chudzinski, and the reviews have not been favorable.
"He's been honest with them," Rapoport said via NFL.com. "When you talk to people involved in these interviews, it doesn't sound like Banner, Lombardi and Haslam have all been on the same page."
The perceived front-runner for the job, Josh McDaniels, pulled his name out of the running shortly after his interview last weekend. This left many feeling like the Browns had already missed out on their top target.
Then Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles pulled his name out of the running on Wednesday, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports.
Cardinals DC Todd Bowles has told the Browns to withdraw his name from their list of HC candidates, source tells @FOXSports1.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 14, 2014
Even though he was likely never a real candidate for the job but more likely an interview to satisfy the Rooney Rule, it still looks bad.
At this point the Browns are being so "deliberate" in their search.. they've decided to re-hire Rob Chudzinski— trey wingo (@wingoz) January 15, 2014
In Jimmy Haslam’s letter to season ticket holders, he said the team wanted to make sure it went through its entire list of possible candidates. That list includes guys who are still currently coaching in the playoffs.
Mike Klis of The Denver Post reported Tuesday that the Browns would indeed wait until the Broncos are eliminated from the playoffs to interview offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Most national reporters feel that Gase is now the Browns’ leading candidate.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that Gase was the first coach the Browns sought permission to interview after firing Chudzinski. Still, the perception of being hot and heavy over a coach who has one year of coordinator experience and worked with Peyton Manning isn’t all that great.
Fans have voiced their displeasure. The media has made its jokes, and the Browns have responded with a message of patience and wanting to perform their job thoroughly.
This is the right way to approach the coaching search. Rushing into another bad hire only sets the organization back another season. The problem is that the longer this takes, the worse the perception becomes.
If the Browns wait until the Broncos are done in the playoffs, and Gase tells them “thanks but no thanks,” then what? The Browns will once again be stuck with hiring their third, fourth or even fifth option at head coach.
Only this time, because the search took so long, that option will not have the luxury of picking from the best assistants and coordinators. Those guys will all already have jobs.
That is the exact moment where the perception about the Browns' head coaching job being a terrible option and the reality of it being a terrible option meet. This is the bed the Browns made for themselves, now they must lie in it.