I went to bed on Thursday night with a pit in my stomach. Not because of the delicious burger and hot dog I ate at Steak and Shake but rather because of my frustration with the Browns coaching search. While I was initially very disappointed Mike Holmgren allowed Rob Ryan to leave for the Cowboys, my disappointment was lessened somewhat because I was pretty sure Holmgren would bring in the Philadelphia Eagles Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator.
That was before the Eagles fired Sean McDermott, their own defensive coordinator, and announced that they would be interviewing Jauron for the position. When I read that, I felt like throwing my laptop across the room. Why?
Think about it...what would any rational person have expected Jauron to do? Stay with a roster and head coach with whom he is already familiar and a team that has made the playoffs or go to a team with a rookie head coach and a defense with several roster holes in the midst of transition to a new scheme? At this point, barring some unpublicized conflict between Jauron and the Eagles, I would have been very surprised if he came to Cleveland.
I started to feel a sudden sense of hopelessness about the upcoming season. Who would be left to coach the defense?
Dave Wannstadt? Wannstadt hasn’t been successful since the Jimmy Johnson days in Dallas almost 20 years ago.
Bill Davis, the guy who was just fired as defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, and who was also previously fired as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers? Boy, he’s a choice that would have made the fans excited.
Maybe you’re reading this and saying, “Chill out, we’re only talking about coordinators here. The head coach is the important guy on the sidelines.” If you’re saying that, please remember Pat Shurmur has absolutely zero professional head coaching experience and bringing in experienced coordinators will be invaluable as he adjusts to the steep learning curve faced by any first-year NFL head coach. Also, take a look at the New Orleans Saints—when Gregg Williams came on board as defensive coordinator, the defense improved dramatically and they subsequently won the Super Bowl.
Anyhow, a few days later, I received a text alert from another sports website that said “Cleveland Browns expected to hire Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator.”
Needless to say, I was overjoyed. I had to read the message a few times just to make sure that I read the message correctly, but after doing a bit of internet searching, I saw the same thing on several websites. Throughout the day, the general theme emerged that Jauron’s familiarity with Tom Heckert, Mike Holmgren and the Shurmur family motivated him to come to Cleveland.
I went to bed last night with a renewed sense that the Browns were moving in the right direction and little bumps in the road here and there shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Browns are making all of the right moves that are necessary to get back to the playoffs.
Why do I have this feeling?
The Big Show.
Yup, I’m talking about Mike Holmgren.
Think about it. Ever since the man came to town, the Browns have had a sense of legitimacy around the league that hasn’t been present since their return in 1999. Sure, we made the playoffs in 2003, but most people thought that was a fluke aided by last-minute Hail Mary touchdown passes and lucky onside kicks. These people probably thought their view was vindicated after the monumental collapse in the Wild Card Game against the Steelers.
We came within a game of the playoffs in 2007, but the pundits once again said that season was a fluke, and again their view was vindicated by the Browns' 4-12 record in 2008.
Ever since Holmgren came to town, though, things have been different. The Browns won the last two games of the season following his arrival last season...and those were with Derek Anderson at quarterback.
Although they lost the first few games this season, the losses (two of which were to playoff teams) weren’t blowouts—they were hotly contested games. The only two games in which the Browns were clearly outclassed were against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be suiting up this weekend for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The Browns wins this season weren’t the product of flukes either—they were the product of hard-nosed running, tough defense and sound, fundamental play in every aspect of the game.
Along the way, the Browns had a solid 2010 NFL Draft and also signed several key free agents on both sides of the ball. Assuming Holmgren can work the same magic this offseason, the Browns roster will be even stronger when training camp rolls around in July.
Even the Browns signing of Jake Delhomme, which is considered to be Holmgren’s biggest misstep, isn’t even such a mistake when his positive mentorship of Colt McCoy—the Browns future at quarterback—is considered.
Back to Jauron. The fact he chose the Browns over the Eagles—a perennial playoff contender with whom Jauron was already familiar and established—shows the respect and legitimacy Holmgren has in the eyes of players and coaches throughout the league. This will pay dividends that will only be realized when the Browns are successful on the field in future seasons.
Sure, Holmgren’s got a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball. Many fans are worried the shift to new offensive and defensive systems will lead to yet another period of futility, especially considering a boatload of new players will be needed to succeed in the West Coast offense and the 4-3.
You think he’s up to the task?
I have no doubts, and neither should you.