August 26, 2014

On Optics and Perception

rob-chudzinski

Is Chud the right coach for the Browns? You don’t know.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.- Albert Einstein

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld

“Chip Kelly is close to a deal to become the Browns coach” – Ian Rapoport

In the wee hours of Thursday night/Friday morning, I found myself in conversation with two friends about the Browns new head coach, Rob Chudzinski. One the participants in this conversation is a huge sports fan who, like myself, is always one click away from twitter machine and the unhealthy, delicious rumors that are found within.  

But my other buddy, he cannot be more disconnected from the sports world. He doesn’t watch Sports Center, not on twitter (certainly never listens to sports talk radio). It’s just not his scene. When he entered the Chud conversation, the dialogue went something like this:

- “Wait, so the Browns hired a new coach tonight? Is he good? Should we be pumped?”
- “I dunno. We’re just kinda surprised. The rumor today was that they interviewed a different guy for the second time. So we’re not shocked that they hired a coach, just wasn’t expecting this guy.”
- “Explain.”
- “Well, initially the new owners made a big play for the college “It” coach. The up-and-coming offensive genius. They flew down to Arizona, met with him for, like, seven hours and then there were a ton of reports that more or less said that he’ll be our next coach; they just gotta dot the tees and cross the eyes. It looked like the Browns are going to land the stud offensive innovator and the Next Big Name. But…. nothing ever became official. Turns out that the Next Big Name might just stay in school and so now, about a week later, the Browns have hired this relatively unknown guy, who actually used to coach for the  Browns.”
- “So we look like a chump, don’t we?”
- “Ya, kinda.”
- “F@#%, that I hate when we look like chumps. This move sucks. [Long story about being "the Cleveland friend" while living in California during the LeBron years]”

I found it interesting that my non-sports buddy hated the move, solely based on the perception that the Browns “look like chumps”. I don’t think he’s alone1. Chud certainly doesn’t seem like Plan A.

Whether or not that makes him a good hire is an entirely different matter.

Generally speaking, I say that perception of our local sports teams is not very good. The Browns botched their coaching search. The Cavs are stupid tankers who think losing = winning. And, of course, the Dolans are cheap cheap cheap!!

Not the smartest question, but not exactly an uncommon gripe, unfortunately.

Not the smartest question, but not exactly an uncommon gripe, unfortunately.

Cleveland fans know the Dolans are cheap. We know this in our bones. Which is why fans, like the one above, get mad at promotions like Snow Days or all the fireworks2.  Sure, you can point out that no new Tribe owner will deficit spend or that when the Dolans do spend, it has blown up in their face3. But we all know the Dolans are cheap, so we get mad when it simply looks like they’re spending money that could maybe, if we don’t think too hard, be better spent on Good Baseball Players.

Now, perception doesn’t always work against Cleveland teams. Take Dan Gilbert and his comic sans letter. At the time, I loved his post-Decision letter. It was real and it was raw. While it might not have been the smartest proclamation, it spoke to heart of many a Cleveland fan. But Gilbert’s off-the-cuff vitriol masked some other issues4. Do you think if Gilbert had had a “Plan B”, we would’ve seen that letter? I mean, you’d think the fact that LeBron wasn’t taking calls from Tom Izzo would be reason enough for Dan to form a contingency plan. But instead of a backup plan, we got insane promises and name calling.

Gilbert’s public perception of “having Cleveland fans’ back” has stemmed off a lot of local criticism of how the Cavs handled the summer of 2010 and beyond. I definitely feel that it’s bought the Cavs some time with regards to their rebuild (to his credit, the Cavs have been fairly open about their long term rebuilding plans). However, the letter also invited criticism at the national level and I believe it has permanently changed Gilbert’s national perception. Whether or not Gilbert’s national perception actually matters is another story.

I liked what Craig said in his media criticism piece:

None of us really knows whether Chip Kelly is going to be a good coach in the NFL. We don’t know if he has the right temperament and ego or even if he has the desire to leave Oregon. Unless you are sitting in those interviews and truly know the candidates  intimately, you’re left trying to extrapolate unknowable things from disconnected realities, and from a big distance to boot. Ultimately, whether you’re picking from a pool of former NFL head coaches, NFL coordinators or college coaches, the failure rate is significant no matter what. If there was a magic formula that fans could see with the naked eye, then we wouldn’t see so many coaching vacancies appear  every year.

So, yes I think the process has been a bit discouraging so far. The Browns seem to be missing out on their target, which is bad, generically speaking. Without an ability to know just how good a candidate is going to be, you are left rooting for your team to achieve whatever it is they’re looking to achieve. Their actions lead you to believe that Chip Kelly was the first on their list, so naturally it seems like a failure if they don’t get him. I understand that completely.

As Browns fans, we don’t know if Chip Kelly was Haslam’s first choice. It sure seems that way. But we don’t know ((the best part of the Browns not getting Chip Kelly is not having to hear Butch Davis’s name constantly brought up)). But the optics sure look bad; it looks like they had no “Plan B”.

If the Browns could’ve controlled a bit more of the story during the Kelly talks, maybe they’re perceived a bit better and maybe Browns fans are more excited about the Chudzinski hire. But perception can only take you so far. The Indians have had an excellent offseason that has fans actually feeling optimistic, but it’s all for naught if the team can’t win ballgames.

I’d rather have my owner pick the coach to win the game, not to win the press conference (even though this seems like a let down). Jimmy Haslam could run the organization ten times better than Randy Lerner, but if the Chud Era is a dud5, the perception of  “the same old Browns” will remain, regardless of any other organizational improvements. If Rob Chudzinski can get the Browns to the playoffs (let alone through the playoffs!), no one is going to care about the perception of this debacle of a coaching search. Winning fixes everything.

There’s only so much we can know. We know the Browns met with Kelly for five hours. We don’t know how close things came to being finalized or what was discussed. Just because they’re perceived to have whiffed on Kelly, doesn’t mean that the Browns didn’t conduct a professional, thorough coaching search. That they failed to end up with a Big Name doesn’t mean they picked a bad coach.

The reality is that Rob Chudzinski is the coach of the Cleveland Browns. And we won’t know whether or not Rob Chudzinski is the right coach for the Cleveland Browns until they start playing the games.

Right now, it’s all just perception.

“It’s all in your mind, you know.” - George Harrison

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Footnotes:

  1. Also, there’s something somewhat disconcerting about hiring a former Browns coach. Sure, they’ve sucked since 1999, but they’ve also been grooming future head coaches? Really? []
  2. not to mention it reeks of minor league promotions []
  3. *Waives at Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook, Grady Sizemore and Kerry Wood* []
  4. Like catering to LeBron’s every whim []
  5. HARDY HAR []
  • http://twitter.com/expressojf Joseph Fedorko

    If you’re looking for a team that is out-chumping the Browns right now, look at the Eagles. Three big-time targets and they’ve all said no after stringing the team along, and their optics have them at Plan T, I think. Compare that to the Bears, who have interviewed about 100 candidates for their HC job with nary a second interview yet — but that GM is being praised for his diligence, and building league criticism of him ‘picking the brains’ of all these coaching candidates is being looked at as a badge of honor.

    I have no issue with the process, but maybe because I do union work I am a true believer in the adage that no negotiation is done until the contract is signed, therefore believe nothing and accept nothing until the ink dries. Then again, we all know how popular unions are, so …

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That may be with Philadelphia but the Browns have been doing it alot longer and I would say much much better.

    One of my favorite lines out of this latest coaching hire was when Haslam/Banner beat the drum about Chud being one of if not the most innovating minds in the game. They added that when his name came up in discussions with other NFL people such as coaches that they lauded Chud. Then you find out that Chud interviewed with ZERO other teams for a potential head coach. 1+1 = 3! Maybe those NFL people talked up Chud hoping he’d be hired perhaps but then again the Browns don’t need outside sabotaging they shoot themselves in the foot plenty.

  • Harv 21

    Ben, no offense b/c understand you don’t get to choose when your piece appears. But I can’t wait until this site completes it’s last post-mortem of the HC hire/Process of the hire/Fan reaction to the hire.

    C’mon Chud, throw us some chum, a little new GM action that we can turn upon and rip apart until there’s nothing left but some floating pink froth. This is the exciting part of Cleveland Browns football, second only to the draft.

  • CP

    I understand that Chud did not interview elsewhere in the past few weeks, but to say that ZERO other teams were interested in him fails to take into account that he interviewed with the Rams, Bucs, and Jaguars last year.

  • James

    Wow so much excitement for the browns since the regular season ended…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That was last year and he wasn’t hired. A year later he wasn’t interviewed by anyone other then Cleveland. Just sticks in my head.

  • Garry_Owen

    I am SO done with this subject. Debaclegate, Perceptiongate, Perbaclegate ….

    None. Of. It. Matters.

    Can we please get some mock drafts up in here?

  • Natedawg86

    * Snow Days is not a promotion, it is actually a money making event (assuming people show up)

  • porckchopexpress

    I’m making a motion that we as a fan base declare a cease and desist on using the “passionate fan base” as a positive reason for someone deciding to come here. This fan base is passionate in the same vein as a jealous ex-girlfriend dumping brake fluid on your cars paint because she mistook your sister for another woman. This fan base is as rational as a San Cullottien mob of French Peasants shouting down and hacking to death “suspected” Prussian collaborators. I’m sure a prospective coach would anticpate dealing with this mindless overly reactionary mass in the same way Roman Polanski would look forward to having Manson over for dinner.
    Fact: If you wanted to talk to Chip Kelly you had to be in AZ as soon as the Bowl game ended.
    Fact: Kelly was the First “big name” to wrap up a season.
    Fact: Spending 7 hours with any candidate you deem worthy is not exceptional. The fact that they did it in one sitting was due to the compressed time frame.
    Opinion: The news of the Browns and Kelly having a “done deal”, almost assuredly came from Kelly’s agent, driving the price that Oregon would pay to keep him. Haslam and Banner might have had an excellent negotiating reason for not refuting or affirming the agents statement. Their singular refusal to assuage the mobs angst resulted in the Cleveland professional media and blogsophere crawling through a small door and Being Tony Grossi, trippng over each other to prounounce the incompetence of this new front office (WFNY is not alone in this behavior).
    If Chud wins this will look like a great move, if he doesn’t it will look bad. Not a thing can be known until next September, endlessly rehashing “The Debacle” is pointess and makes US look like – well – chumps.

  • Garry_Owen

    And … this about covers it. I believe we’re done here.

    “in the same vein as a jealous ex-girlfriend dumping brake fluid on your cars paint because she mistook your sister for another woman.”

    That’s a little too specific to be generally applicable. What kind of car was it?

  • mgbode

    need to know the DC before we can do any substantive mocking of drafts

  • mgbode

    why does that even matter? what matters is if he deserved to be interviewed and deserved to be hired. heck, right now he is likely relieved he didn’t get the JAX job last year.

    he has been successful everywhere he has been (even here) though his initial success has been the best. i have no idea if that will translate to him being a successful HC, but i’ll feel better about it if he gets Norv to sign on and he gets an experienced DC hired.

  • vespo09

    Yup. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing all of these DEs and OLBs projecting for the top half of the first round and not knowing if we’re running a 3-4 or a 4-3 next year. Don’t they know the mock drafts are all we have?!

  • Harv 21

    you had me at “crawling through a small door and Being Tony Grossi,”

  • mgbode

    they must have figured that we all had a pool going on each position coach.

    actually, why DON’T we have a pool going on each position coach?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It just struck me as odd given the glowing speak Haslam and Banner made over Chud is all. I mean if he had such an innovating mind, the most in the league, surely he’d have been interviewed by at least one other team, no? As far as being interviewed by Jacksonville last year by all reports they passed on him not vice versa. You can say he’s relieved he wasn’t hired there but at the same time one could say it’s something when a team that has been as bad as Jacksonville doesn’t hire you as well.

    In the end this is just another part of our, yours and mine, discussion about first time head coaches. I’m tired of this organization taking chances with unproven head coaches in particular first timers with absolutely zero track record. You on the other hand are not. You just want the “right” guy. Well for your sake, the sakes of all the Browns fans I hope this time you get rewarded unlike what the last 3 or 4 times since 1999 you weren’t. When/if Norv Turner becomes the OC is something that makes me feel better. If they hire a new DC one who utilizes the 4-3 or even better has demonstrated an ability to use the lovable new term of “hybrid” then that will help ease my mind some.

    In the end I’m simply giving my personal opinion/feeling. I’m just tired of all the talk especially the fawning/most innovating comments. You’ve heard this time in and time out before in the previous regime. This doesn’t mean Chud won’t be the needle in the haystack that one bright shining light that returns home to save his bungling franchise for which he was a childhood fan, or does it? Time as they say will tell.

  • porkchop

    It was just a hypothetical, however I could easily see a girl doing this to a Shelby Daytona as the bright red paint would be a matador’s cape to her bovine anger. Since I have no sisters, its hypotheticaly possible that her anger would not be totally without merit, however it would seem irrational to not at least let a man offer some form of lie before condemning him or his car. A much better hypothetical response would have been to smash out one of the T-Tops, at least according to my crazy girl/dollar ammount damage scale. Speaking of which how do girl today know which are he cool guys to date if none of their cars have T-Tops – or Louvres or oversized Hood Scoops? Its gotta be a mess.