One of the scariest things for Browns fans in the transition from Mike Holmgren to Joe Banner was Banner’s decision to switch defenses. It isn’t that Cleveland Browns fans have that much of a preference, other than they have a preference against switching schemes all the time. You know, continuity and all that? The Browns were a 3-4 defense with Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini before switching to the 4-3 for Pat Shurmur’s two-year tenure under Mike Holmgren. That defense was young and thought to be on the rise when Joe Banner fired Shurmur, Dick Jauron and proclaimed to Terry Pluto that the Browns needed to run the 3-4. Now that the Browns have fired Rob Chudzinski and are again searching for a new coach, the rumor mill is churning out Jim Schwartz’ name. He’s a 4-3 guy.
Q: Is that why you switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense?
A: Most good teams play an attacking 3-4 defense. Every offensive coach we talked to in the off-season said the attacking 3-4 defense was the hardest to face, so that’s what we need to play.
Maybe I’m being a little too strict with reading something that Joe Banner said in a long interview, but the word “need” is kind of strong. Joe Banner is a pretty savvy and deliberate guy, so it’s really hard not to look at his word choice and find it to be a pretty definitive statement.
Now that the Browns are back searching though, the quotes are different. When Banner spoke to Vic Carucci and Nathan Zegura immediately following the Haslam/Banner press conference, he was saying something very different.
“I don’t want to dictate anything to the head coach,” Banner said. “Obviously, there are some benefits to continuing something as basic as you playing a 3-4 or 4-3. But if we found somebody we thought was going to be a great head coach and we had to look at that, it wouldn’t rule the coach out.
“But that’s not to deny it would be simpler if we perpetuate the system. Most of those players, by the way, we think can play effectively in either scheme. But we really just need to find the right coach and let him define those things.”
Banner went on to say that they think their personnel — including free agent acquisitions — are capable of playing in either system. While I tend to agree and can see benefits of playing either system as long as either one is run and staffed well, I still find the “about-face” a little bit strange.
Add in the knowledge that agent Jimmy Sexton’s client roster includes Jim Schwartz, Josh McDaniels, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, and the story starts to smell all too familiar1. Back when the “Bob-LaMonte-owns-the-Browns” storyline was playing out with Mike Holmgren and his hiring of Pat Shurmur, I was one of the ones downplaying it because, it wasn’t like Pat Shurmur wasn’t an offensive coordinator in the league. From a technical standpoint, that makes a coach viable for the promotion to head coach or at least justifies a team kicking the tires on a guy.
Ultimately, it was a LaMonte guy in Shurmur. LaMonte represented Holmgren, Tom Heckert, Shurmur, Jauron, Brad Childress, Nolan Cromwell, Bryan Wiedmeier and Gil Haskell. Maybe more, but that’s all I could find/remember.
I still don’t want to make that big a deal of it. Just because the Browns hired Bob LaMonte’s guy Pat Shurmur doesn’t mean that hiring a Bob LaMonte client was a bad idea. The Browns could have hired LaMonte clients including Jon Gruden, John Fox, Mike Sherman or Andy Reid with unknown and different results. The NFL agent game is a pretty tight business anyway. These guys stay within their “trees” pretty religiously and it makes sense that they’d hire agents in packs as well, but on the heels of worrying about these being the “same old Browns,” it’s not necessarily a good look for the Browns to appear at the altar of a different agent.
That’s just the way the news cycle goes when there aren’t games for the Browns to win. And make no mistake, regardless of anything, should the Browns start to finally win it won’t matter who is negotiating whose deals or what defensive alignment the Browns proclaim to be.
Just wanted to leave you with one more bomb though. Another Jimmy Sexton client?