Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lerner sinks to the level of dumb fans

By Rick Morris

By now, it's quite apparent how completely overrated, and for that matter, pathetic, the Cleveland Browns fanbase has become. The cheering of Derek Anderson's injury last week, which echoed the classless cheering of Tim Couch's injury back in 2002, has revealed this collection of fans as being tainted by drunken, sorry, know-nothings who are full of self-pity. They are completely uninterested in substantive answers as to how to improve this team and they just lash out blindly at everyone in the organization, full of certainty that things have never been any worse than they are right now and drunk on not merely hops but also historical illiteracy.

[SIDE NOTE: I am a lifelong Browns fan who resents having to share my team with these boors.]

These cretins, who refuse to admit that Phil Savage has improved the personnel on this team from where it was when he inherited it in 2004, have also turned their hatred on Randy Lerner. Somehow, in a town where the Dolans redefine self-serving, penny-pinching franchise ownership on a daily basis, Lerner has been painted as a bad guy because he wants to just play the role of the rich guy who signs big checks when needed, keeps his yap shut and defers to the football people he hired to run his operation.

Hello? Isn't this everything Art Modell wasn't -- from the copious caysh to knowing when to keep his ignorant opinions to himself -- as the Browns deteriorated for decades? Why has Lerner been attacked so much for his alleged passivity?

Granted, his late father flew Modell to Baltimore and helped broker the Browns' move in '95. Let's say it again: his FATHER did that. Also, his FATHER signed Dwight Clark and Butch Davis, two of the biggest losers as coaches or executives in pro football history. Randy Lerner inherited Davis and the toxic slime mess that came with him in late 2002 and he can only be held personally responsible for what has happened since then.

And granted, the team hasn't won much over that period of time. Fair enough. Much of that blame accrues to a fairly common NFL mistake in disregarding the Peter Principle in the hiring of Romeo Crennel as head coach. It turns out that as the man in charge, Romeo makes a darn fine defensive coordinator. Let us note for the record, however, that he was a very hot property coming off of the Pats' third Super Bowl in four years in the winter of '05. Randy Lerner's sin was in outbidding a field of candidates for the trendy candidate of the moment. How dare he!

I've stood firm in defending Randy Lerner for years now, for the reasons cited above. He's a much better owner than Modell or the Dolans could ever dream of being and his hiring of Savage to run the football operations -- while not having yielded the consistent on-field results everyone in Cleveland wants so badly -- has resulted in a turnover of talent that is good enough to win. When you examine the talent on paper, it's clear that the main problem stems from underachievement and failure on the part of the coaches to maximize the potential of everyone as opposed to an overall lack of talent. Linebacker and cornerback are still thin, and the team doesn't have much depth anywhere, but the starters stack up favorably with over half the league.

[ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: It's always amusing to see the haters put together their crayon-scribbled lists of "Phil Savage draft busts." They always include LeCharles Bentley, arguably the league's premier center at that time, on that list -- who blew out his knee in training camp in '06 and ultimately never made it to a regular season game. Darn that Phil Savage for knowing ahead of time with his crystal ball that Bentley would get hurt and signing him anyways! You're supposed to put your ESP to work for the organization, not against it!]

But now, after having defended Lerner against unfair attacks all this time, I must call him out myself. The organization has been full of leaks over the past few weeks that Crennel would be fired after the season and that Savage may be -- or may be forced to renegotiate the scope of his power if he is to keep his job. This coincides exactly with Lerner's raised public profile and more general recent statements to the media about plans for next year and beyond.

These leaks are, frankly, reprehensible in nature and beneath a man of Randy Lerner's dignity. Yes, Crennel should be gone next year. No, I don't think that Savage should be gone, but both men deserve the same consideration. Nobody deserves to have this kind of crap put out there to the media just to appease jerkwater fans who don't think that the owner "cares enough." Inflicting this kind of humiliation on these men, during the holiday season no less, reflects so very poorly on Randy Lerner personally.

I'm not saying that he himself is the source of this information, but he could put a stop to it in a heartbeat if he wanted to and if we were to give him the benefit of the doubt as to whether he's involved. But this steady stream just keeps coming, as Lerner appears to be trying to regain some of his stature with the public at the expense of the dignity of the men he hired to run this organization.

If Romeo Crennel is a dead duck, and he is, fire the man now and stop the charade. Granted, this weak coaching staff doesn't seem to have anyone up to the interim job (with Rip Scherer probably the closest), but the organization's fear of "substitute teacher syndrome" with everybody quitting now looks to be a moot point with the team having gone three games without an offensive touchdown. Put the man out of his misery, or at least shut up about him. Whatever else happens, we know this for sure, because Butch Davis already proved it: you can't construct a winning franchise if you cut corners morally -- it catches up to you in the end. Randy Lerner, you're better than this. Stop sucking up to the irrational haters who will never give you any credit anyway.

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