The Big Lebowski is one of the greatest movies of all time. Sometimes when life has you down, all you can do is try to laugh about it. With the Browns coaching search seemingly devolving into chaos once again, I thought it might be fun to intertwine some of my favorite quotes from the movie and paraphrase them through the context of the recent events.
The writing was on the wall. From the moment news started leaking out that the Cleveland Browns were going to fire first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, the word that fans should look for Josh McDaniels to be the prime target of the team was almost immediate.
“Oh yeah, how’d the interview go?”
”Went alright. Dude’s candidate got a little dinged up.”
”Walter, we didn’t make the f—ing hire, man! He didn’t get, the f—ing money and we’re not gonna – not gonna –“
”We’re not gonna hire that poor candidate.”
Last Saturday the Browns finally had a chance to interview their guy. After a 7.5-hour meeting, reports were coming out that Jimmy Haslam loved McDaniels. The feeling of inevitability was closing in. The only thing the Browns had to worry about was McDaniels not wanting the job. But that couldn’t possibly happen. Who wouldn’t want to coach the Cleveland Browns?
Well, apparently Josh McDaniels doesn’t. Head coaching searches rarely fail to offer up surprises. Well, maybe not for other franchises who are capable of identifying their target, going after him, and ultimately getting him to agree to a contract. But we are talking about the Cleveland Browns where coaching searches are an adventure.
This year appears to be no exception. Of course, fans and media can only know whatever information is allowed out of the machine. The only people who really know what happened the last two years are Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, and Mike Lombardi. But we know this front office is awfully quick to shut down rumors that aren’t true (the Jim Tressel interview rumor was deflated in record time). They didn’t seem to have a problem with all the national and local media proclaiming McDaniels as their prime candidate.
“The Browns are perfectly calm, dude. Calmer than you are.”
So what happened with McDaniels? It started with some quiet rumors that maybe McDaniels wasn’t exactly thrilled to throw away his sweet gig coaching Tom Brady to come join a dysfunctional circus. WFNY’s Craig Lyndall had the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Marla Ridenour on his podcast earlier this week, and she mentioned in it that she had been hearing from people that McDaniels might not want the job.
Late Wednesday afternoon, it was official. Josh McDaniels had withdrawn himself from consideration, and just like that, for the second year in a row, the Browns struck out on getting their guy.
It’s usually difficult to really remember the intricacies of a coaching search from one coach to the next. Generally there are at least a few years to buffer the searches. That’s not the case with the Browns. When you fire a coach after one season, you put yourself in a position of searching for a candidate while some of the battle wounds from the previous search are still raw. Nowhere is that more true than with the Browns and Chip Kelly.
Just one year ago the Browns went through the exact same experience. They fired a coach, and immediately went after the guy everyone knew they wanted. But they came up short and couldn’t secure that deal to make Kelly the coach of the Browns. Of course, the Browns have tried desperately to let everyone know it was their decision to not hire Kelly. All you can really do is take them at their word, but it’s awfully tough to do that when there are so many reports contradicting the Browns’ version of events.
With history repeating itself, it’s not surprising then that once again the Browns were quick to soften the blow by making sure everyone knew Josh McDaniels wasn’t their No. 1 choice. And again, maybe they’re telling the truth. Maybe all of this really happened the way they said it did. But Occam’s razor casts a lot of doubt on that. It takes about a two ton boulder of salt to buy the idea that Browns met with McDaniels for 7.5 hours, McDaniels thought it went great, Haslam loved McDaniels, everything was lined up…but then McDaniels, who the Browns can’t even hire until the Patriots are eliminated from the playoffs, demanded to know if he was the Browns’ top choice, and was then informed he wasn’t, and thus McDaniels withdrew himself only to save face.
The biggest reason for doubting this is just following the flow of information. Multiple reports from highly respected NFL insiders across the league had reported that McDaniels was high on the Browns’ list. When the news of his withdrawal came out, the reports had nothing to do with McDaniels asking about his position on the wish list. Instead, it was all about McDaniels deciding the timing wasn’t right. You heard reports that he didn’t want to uproot his family right now. You heard talk that he wasn’t comfortable leaving such a safe job for the uncertainty of the Browns coaching gig. The only time we heard anything about this being because McDaniels wasn’t the top candidate was later in the afternoon.
But, if we do believe the Browns, this is the second year in a row they chose to go in a different direction than what seemed like the likely path. Last year, they backed away from Chip Kelly. This year, they never really wanted Josh McDaniels anyway. It’s cool, everyone, the Browns are in complete control. They got this.
“You want a coach? I can get you a coach, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don’t wanna know about it, believe me…Hell, I can get you a coach by 3 o’clock this afternoon…with nail polish. These f—ing amateurs…”
So if Josh McDaniels wasn’t their top choice, then who is? If they told McDaniels ‘no’, then that means somebody else is. Is it Ben McAdoo? Is it Adam Gase, who they haven’t been able to interview yet? Or is it perhaps Ken Whisenhunt?
The Browns had previously said they wouldn’t be considering anyone they interviewed last year. I guess they didn’t say anything about people they interviewed twice last year. Regardless, the Browns appear to be widening their search, not narrowing it. This feels a little counterintuitive when they evidently told McDaniels he wasn’t their top choice.
In a media world with so much misinformation and strategically leaked information, it can be hard to know what to believe. All we can really do is read the tea leaves, and fall back on our previous experiences. Joe Banner said in a recent press conference that we should trust their track records1. Well, we can trust our own track records as fans and observers of media.
None of this is playing out like a well executed plan. Once again, we had the unrealistic stabs at the pipe dream candidates like Bob Stoops and Gus Malzahn. Once again we have “something” happening that caused the obvious candidate to not be hired. Once again we have a widening of the pool late in the process. We’ve seen all of this before.
Maybe Adam Gase is their guy and they just can’t talk to him yet. It’s really possible. It requires a bit of a leap of faith, of course. We have to trust this process and believe in the Browns front office. We have to trust their track record, one year after that track record led to them hiring the wrong guy and firing him one year later. But maybe this team is different, no matter how much it feels exactly the same as the last time.
“Will you come off it, Walter? You’re not even a Cleveland Brown, man.”
”What the f— are you talking about?”
”Man, you’re a f—ing Pittsburgh Steeler from Tennessee…”
”What the f— are you talking about? I converted when I bought the Browns. Come on, Dude!”
”Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…It’s all part of your sick Browns thing. Taking care of their stadium. Going to their games. Hiring the wrong guys. Firing coaches after one year. You’re living in the f—ing past.”
”Sixty eight years of beautiful tradition, from Otto Graham to Jim Brown…You’re g—damn right I’m living in the f—ing past!”
Who knows who the next coach of the Browns will be. It would be unfair to not mention that there’s a real chance all of this could work out; that Chud was the wrong guy and firing him now was the right move; that the next hire will be the right one; that the upcoming draft will pan out; that the Browns will turn things around and be a genuinely competitive team next season. It certainly could.
But nothing in life exists outside of context. The Browns have the reputation that they have for a reason, and nothing about this coaching search and the events surrounding it are helping. Fans are forced to suffer through one embarrassment after another, all while putting blind faith that these are the guys who are going to change it all. Again, fans are required to trust and have faith just one year after the Browns got it all wrong. There’s no way the fans can win. They are put in an impossible situation. All we can do about it is sit and watch the process play out.
Cross your fingers. Hope for the best. What else can we really do?
Horrible photoshop job courtesy of Andrew/WFNY
Because Jimmy Haslam’s hiring record at Pilot Flying J is looking pretty damn impeccable these days, right? [↩]