The New Cleveland Browns: One Step Backwards To Take Two Steps Forward

Steve TaterCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Mike Holmgren of the Seattle Seahawks shouts during the game with the Arizona Cardinals on December 28, 2008 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals won 34-21.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Hiring a respected, credible football man like Mike Holmgren to be the President of the Cleveland Browns organization was a smart move on the part of owner Randy Lerner. In fact, It is a decision that should have been made several regimes ago.

For the first time since the rebirth of the Browns in 1999, the franchise appears to finally be on its way toward creating a proper organizational structure.

The Head Coach answers to the General Manager who answers to the President who answers to the Owner. That is precisely the way a football team should be run.

But let’s just get one thing straight Cleveland Browns fans—this is not some quick fix that automatically puts your team in playoff contention next season.

In fact, this new era in Browns football may take a step backwards first.

This is in no way an indictment of Mr. Lerner’s hiring of “The Big Show.” For the long-term success of the Browns this was the right call, but in the short term there is going to be a steep learning curve for the players.

Although Holmgren has said he will not be coaching the team, all signs point in the direction that the team will at the very least be incorporating some of Holmgren’s offensive and defensive philosophies (whether current head coach Eric Mangini stays or goes).

Holmgren stated that referring to his offense as the West Coast, after all the tinkering he has done to this scheme since the days of Paul Brown, is a lazy misnomer made up by the media. It is clearly a much different system than the current group of Browns’ players has been exposed to.

Whenever a team switches offenses (as this team will), a lot of changes will be made in not just terminology, but in the skill sets needed from the personnel running the offense.

As just one of many examples, power running teams such as the team Mangini was trying to build, require big, mauler-type offensive lineman. But offensive lineman need to be lighter on their feet to play in a zone and trap blocking scheme.

The terminology itself in Holmgren’s offense is going to require everyone involved to forget everything they have already learned. That applies to not just quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs, but the offensive lines’ protection calls.

In the first week of mini-camp, the players will feel like the coaching staff is speaking Chinese.

People forget that veteran quarterback Brett Favre had a very difficult time adjusting to play-calling when moving from the West Coast offense to Mangini’s system born out of the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick tree. It will be no different for those making the switch to the West Coast.

For those believing that the west coast style will benefit Brady Quinn’s skill set, keep in mind that Quinn has been exposed to only Mangini’s system (even while a college player).

Even acknowledging Quinn’s smarts, it does him very little good. The West Coast is more of an instinctive offense that takes much of the thinking out of the quarterbacks head and is instead more scripted by the offensive coordinator.

That doesn’t even take into account that quarterbacks of a more recent vintage that currently run the West Coast possess canon-like arms (Brett Favre, Donavon McNabb, Aaron Rodgers).

Likewise, there are rumblings that Holmgren prefers the 4-3 defense to the hybrid 3-4 the Browns are playing under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The current personnel group likely does not match the same criteria required for the 4-3, which will require some additions and subtractions across the front seven of this roster.

There is still reason for optimism for this franchise. The new organizational structure with a solid football mind in front of it is a great start.

Eric Mangini should be credited for changing the culture of players from Club Crennel to a more business-like approach. The players learned that hard work and how to play as a team can create results on the field.

Ridding the team of me-first malcontents, coupled with younger players getting significant playing time because of injuries will all help in the future as well.

The team also has eleven draft choices in the upcoming draft (including the seventh overall pick) and it has plenty of salary flexibility going forward. The job of General Manager is certainly more attractive with those two factors in place.

But there will be some growing pains first.


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