Late Friday, the never-ending Cleveland Browns coaching search – which really did end on February 6 when the Browns hired Mike Pettine – got an extension in the news cycle. Pro Football Talk got wind of an apparent trade between the Browns and 49ers for their coach Jim Harbaugh and anonymous sources have been doing battle ever since. But what does all this mean for Browns fans as they get set for an immediate future with Mike Pettine?
First of all, good on the Browns for trying to make something bold happen. Harbaugh is a legitimate coach that is known to make his team better. He had plenty to work with in San Francisco after Mike Singletary’s tenure. The reality is that no team can win in the NFL without comparable or superior talent. The other reality is that some coaches elevate their teams and it appears Harbaugh is one of the guys who is capable of doing that. I do believe the reports that the Browns made a run at Harbaugh and that’s a good thing even if it didn’t work out. But, the trade ended up not occurring.
The reports indicate that, in the end, Jim Harbaugh didn’t want to leave San Francisco. Whether or not it had to do with the amount of compensation leaving Cleveland and heading for the 49ers or whether it was ultimately Harbaugh’s choice not to come work with a Browns organization featuring Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi, the fact is he chose not to come to Cleveland. It’s a “sexy” bit of rumor and reporting, but in the end, this is just another coach who chose not to work in Cleveland.
While I give credit to the Browns for exploring every opportunity, this ends up looking like proof that the Browns job still wasn’t as attractive as it needed to be. Maybe it can be argued that it is more attractive than the job was once thought to be, but not all that much. It introduces a high profile character to the story, but the ending is the same. Faced with the opportunity to come work in Cleveland, Jim Harbaugh chose not to come to Cleveland.
How much of this impacted the fates of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi? If the Browns had gotten this deal done and Jim Harbaugh had become the Browns coach, what would the front office look like? Would Harbaugh have wanted Lombardi gone so he had more control over personnel? Not likely. Would he have wanted Farmer gone? No reason to think so, but Farmer wouldn’t likely have been promoted. How did he feel about working with Joe Banner? It’s all moot at this point, but it makes me wonder. Also, would Harbaugh have brought Eric Mangini with him? Yes, the last one’s a joke, but considering how the Browns are constructed today and how happy many are with the new setup, would it have been worth it to keep Banner and Lombardi in place to have Harbaugh? I suspect the answer is yes, but I don’t know for sure.
I’m left just trying to keep all of this in perspective. Despite the fun names involved and how interesting the rumors appear to be, in the end it’s more of the same. The Cleveland Browns pursued a candidate and there’s almost no doubt that they wanted him and in the end they couldn’t get him. The particulars and absolutes of how it all went down don’t matter that much. The Browns couldn’t get something they wanted or needed. Once again the city of Cleveland is left hoping the Browns got it right with a first-time head coach and feeling as if their team missed out.