The Truth About Butch

Just when you think its a slow day in Cleveland sports, a not so fond blast from the past resurfaces that makes you laugh and aggravates you all at once.

During a media session in Dallas yesterday, Pittsburgh Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians let loose with some built up anger and unleashed it on his former boss, Butch Davis. Arians was the Offensive Coordinator for the Browns under Davis during the infamous January 2003 playoff loss to Pittsburgh. Not that I need to remind any of you, but the Browns blew leads of 24-7 in the third and 33-21 with just over 10 minutes left that culminated in a 36-33 loss to the hated rival Steelers.

Talking to Gregg Rosenthal of Pro Football Talk about that fateful day, Arians pulled no punches at who he blames for that colossal, Cleveland-esque collapse.

“Our head coach lost the game,” Arians said.  “He called off the dogs on defense.  You just don’t let Tommy Maddox sit there and go against a prevent defense.  He basically fired [defensive coordinator] Foge Fazio at halftime.  Foge was blitzing.  We had them beat. They knew we had them beat.”

Arians says Davis took over the playcalling at halftime and insisted the team play his prevent defense.

“I don’t care what anyone says.  I was on that sideline,” Arians said.

At first blush, I say to myself how great is that? Arians completely buried Butch. We all know the real Butch Davis now – a complete and utter ego-maniac who when the going got tough, quit on his team and left town.  He always belonged in college, which is where he is now at North Carolina, and even there Butch has his issues. This past season, his team had been mired in an academic cheating scandal, as well as being the target of an NCAA investigation of improper benefits from agents and alumni.

Now we are eight years removed from the epic Tommy Maddox/Kelly Holcomb QB battle (I know, crazy, isnt it?) and the stench of the Butch Davis reign lingers once again.

After initially laughing at Arians commentary on his old boss, i moved back to anger over the fact that Butch’s ego was so large that he changed the defensive gameplan on his own, essentially costing the Browns a playoff win. They haven’t been back to the playoffs since.

For those who remember the game, the reality is that none of this would be a story today if Dennis Northcutt would have caught the infamous third down pass from Holcomb that would have allowed the Browns to run the clock out.  That drop changed the fortunes of so many people.

“Hines [Ward]  brings it up all the time.  ‘If [Dennis] Northcutt catches that ball, you might be a head coach right now.’” Arians said.   “But I wouldn’t have all these Super Bowl rings.”

Go ahead Bruce, pile it on.

  • DJ

    I really wish I could comment…alas, I cannot.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    Anyone else remember CBS catching Butch and Fazio getting into it on the sidelines during that game? Fazio was as classy as they game and Butch, well, he was a fraud. I think that playoff game was the first time we saw Butch have a panic attack on the field and of course it was “panic attacks” that forced him to leave. After that game I was disappointed but I thought the expansion Browns had turned the corner…unfortunately it was for the worse. Next game the salary cap purge, the “gut feeling” “teeny tiny” leg fractures, Rudd’s helmet and Jeff Garcia and the 0.0 passer rating.

    I don’t need to hear anything else about how stupid Butch was. The guy drafted Big Money over Tomlinson and gave us Willie Green. That says it all.

  • Kersh

    Thanks, I was having a good day. Why don’t we talk about the day my grandmother died too. I had a dog once…

  • Jason

    Too many ways that game was lost. Alas, time to move on. In the meantime, go Packers!

  • forrealmccoy

    Butch Davis…wow what an absolute joke…worst coach in NFL history…

  • Brown and out

    In his first ESPN interview after being fired, Eric Mangini admitted that he had a different gameplan for the second half of every game than he did the first half and they always switched to it (I am certain there is audio of it somewhere). it sounds an awful lot like this Butch Davis case. How many games would we have won under Mangini if we had kept the same gameplan the whole time?

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Reggie Ruckus…not to nitpick, but the Rudd helmet throwing game was the first game of the season when they made the playoffs…not the year after.

    I was at that Rudd game…what a mess. I just kept thinking all season, “I hope that Rudd game doesn’t come back to bite us.” While the Browns still made the playoffs, I can’t remember if the Rudd game was the difference between facing the Steelers and facing someone else. Anyone know?

  • Reggie Ruckus

    @ C-bus Kevin, thanks for the correction. The disasters of the Butch era ran together.

    A win in the Rudd helmet game would have left them 10-6 and tied with Indy. Don’t know how the tiebreaker would have shaken out but the alternative would have been the 9-7 NY Jets who drilled the Colts 41-0. The Browns beat the Jets during the regular season.

    Just imagine…if the Browns had beaten the Steelers in OT earlier in the season and Rudd kept his helmet on we would have won the divison that year.

  • Harv 21

    OK, Butchie had issues but the absence of checks and balances on him exacerbated them. The Lerners gave him total organizational control, including picking his own GM, which undoubtedly increased his hubris. Not saying he could have been great coach, just saying the organizational structure is an important ingredient to success. Coaches should coach, GMs should evaluate personnel, salary cap people should stay at their laptops and not wander into the film room.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Reggie…

    “Just imagine…if the Browns had beaten the Steelers in OT earlier in the season and Rudd kept his helmet on we would have won the divison that year.”

    Oh Reggie…now your just being masochistic. Wise man once said, “Man who is afraid of dark, should stay on well lit path.”

  • 5KMD

    Well if it makes anyone feel better, losing that game probably saved us from another historic AFC championship game loss. Silver lining?

  • modell2hell

    “Silver lining?”


  • 5KMD

    OK #12, how about “sarcasm”?

  • MrCleaveland

    In most cities, a drop like Northcutt’s would live on in city lore and have its own nickname. In Cleveland, we have so many of these moments, this one barely registers.

  • MD

    MrCleaveland put it perfectly.

  • TSR3000

    Thanks, you somehow made me even more upset about that game.

    I guess I can shift my blame from Northcutt to Butch.

    Then again, he got us into the playoffs and got us a 24-7 3rd quarter lead against the Steelers. How many of you would kill for that kind of progress now?

  • jimkanicki

    that was the worst game of all the browns fiascos for me.

    i think it was because of the prolonged inevitability. you could feel it coming for the whole of the 4th quarter. truly a slow motion train wreck.

    also, wife and i were entertaining friends that day. she/they didn’t understand what i was witnessing. i actually got the ‘it’s only a game’ talk from her.

    you know how ‘diz2001’ has uploaded almost every browns game ever televised onto youtube? he has the first four parts of the 2002 browns/steelers playoff game. but he doesn’t have the ending uploaded. just a cryptic note in the messages that goes like this:
    “I wanna see part 5, where is it? hessian444 1 month ago
    @hessian444 You can find it at the Pittsburgh Steeler video page. diz2001 1 month ago”

    weird. anyway… does anyone have a link to that video? i need to see that drop again.