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Randy Lerner: Tolerating Failure in Cleveland

Brian DiTullioSenior Writer IJune 25, 2009

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 23:  Randy Lerner, the new owner of Aston Villa, looks on during the Barclays Premiership match between Aston Villa and Charlton Athletic at Villa Park on September 23, 2006 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

With a little more than six weeks to go until training camp starts, it’s time to look at what the Browns have done so far.

Since the end of last season, owner Randy Lerner has hired a new head coach and general manager. They, in turn, have almost completely overturned the rest of the coaching staff and have begun rebuilding the roster from the ground up.

But I’m going to focus on Lerner.

Lerner’s track record with the Cleveland Browns has been one of absenteeism. It would be fair to say the Browns are not his top priority. He bought the Aston Villa F.C. in the autumn of 2006, and, anecdotally, it is known that being a part of the English Premiership Association was something he wanted for years.

My powers of ESP have failed me, so I can’t read Lerner’s mind, but actions speak louder than words in this matter.

What has he done with the Browns since inheriting it from his father in October 2002?

Lerner has gone through two front offices in seven years with nothing to show for it. His mediocre teams have managed just one playoff appearance (a loss to the Steelers).

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That’s it.

The only thing I can say about Lerner’s time as an owner to date is that he has an amazing tolerance for failure.

Head Coach Butch Davis resigned during the 2004 season when it became apparent he’d lost the team and wasn’t going to be retained anyway. Then Lerner hired a new head coach and general manager, Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage.

They only produced one winning season that upon reflection was more a scheduling fluke and good timing than fielding a talented, productive team.

In fact, the Savage/Crennel duo produced one of the most unprofessional teams in the league. Players were not held accountable for their actions and the sloppy play on Sundays was met with indifferent shrugs and vague promises to get better.

Once again, losing was accepted and failure was tolerated in Cleveland.

It is maddening to look back on the last few years and see the Savage/Crennel team having more opportunities to fail than most any other organization would’ve even dreamt about giving in the name of continuity and patience.

(I’m looking at you, Detroit.)

Conversely, since Lerner became chairman of Aston Villa, they have won the Intertoto Cup. While I’m not sure what the correlation to American Football would be, at least his English team has won SOMETHING.

(I know the Intertoto Cup has been abolished and it was kind of a consolation prize to begin with, but that’s not the point.)

In Cleveland, not only has Lerner allowed his front office to wallow in failure, he avoids the media and has no bio page on the official Cleveland Browns website. You have to do an internet search to find a picture of the guy.

It’s one thing to be a hands-off owner, it’s another thing to just not show up.  I couldn’t conceive of running a sports team and being as hands-off as Lerner is.

I’m glad he’s not as overbearing as a Jerry Jones or George Steinbrenner, but those guys both have multiple championships and don’t tolerate multiple losing seasons. Mimicking SOME of their qualities would be beneficial.

Tolerating failure in Cleveland isn’t unique to the Browns, though.

When you look around the other teams in Cleveland, you see the Indians have fallen into the same funk as the Browns had, and then there are the Cavaliers.

Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry has done everything he can to bring a winning team to Cleveland. He built the 2008-09 team to beat the Celtics, since it was assumed that’s who we would have to face in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to be beaten by Orlando.

Now the Cavs have Shaquille O’Neal, and Ferry once again has said anything less than a championship is not acceptable.

With the Indians, General Manager Mark Shapiro and coach Eric Wedge are seemingly joined at the hip and spend so much time tinkering and counseling patience, they’ve forgotten you’re supposed to win games and get rid of players who don’t produce.

I don’t want to hear any complaints about injuries because every single player that went on the disabled list this year wasn’t producing prior to their injury, and injuries are never an excuse for losing. Injuries should be an opportunity for the team to show their depth and showcase new talent.

But not in Cleveland.

As long as you “grind it out” during the season, you get to keep your job with the Indians. Once again, winning doesn’t seem to be the goal.

However, talking further about the ineptitude of the Indians is its own column (perhaps a novel), so I’ll shut up about the Indians now.

In conclusion, if the Browns show no progress this year, or worse, regress further, Lerner has no track record of holding them accountable.

He certainly won’t be in the office.

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