And now, from Clevelandia …
The Browns coaching hire. It’s a tangled web in Cleveland—and I say that with much respect for Mike Pettine, hired as the eighth head coach in the reconstituted Browns’ 15-year history. Pettine did a fabulous job with the Bills in his one year as coordinator (Buffalo sacks in 2012: 36; in 2013: 57) and should breathe life into a team that underperformed on defense this season. But you get the feeling at the end of the coaching search that Pettine was the ultimate compromise candidate. In the final days before the hire, Cleveland rekindled its pursuit of Josh McDaniels, and went after him hard. I have heard McDaniels was the apple of owner Jimmy Haslam’s eye from the time a four-man team of Browns officials met with McDaniels in New England for seven-and-a-half hours on Wild Card Saturday, and that GM Mike Lombardi had at least two conversations with McDaniels about re-entering the coaching derby in the days after New England’s loss to Denver in the AFC title game.
I have also heard, after Bill Belichick pushed hard for his friend Greg Schiano to get in the Cleveland race, that some in the Browns’ hierarchy were revved up by Schiano’s interview with the club early last week. But the Browns have the same old problem they’ve had since the weekend that the late owner of the team, Al Lerner, put his stamp of approval on Tim Couch as the first pick of the expansion Browns in 1999: They don’t have a long-term quarterback of the future (unless Brian Hoyer, 28, is far better than he’s shown in his four-team, four-start NFL career), and they don’t have anyone to coach one. That’s the biggest problem with the Browns now. There’s no consensus as to who will be the offensive coordinator, and certainly no consensus as to whom the team will draft in May for the new coordinator to coach. And what if the Browns, who love Johnny Manziel, are trumped in their effort to draft Manziel by another team—assuming Johnny Football is the top quarterback on the board, which is too early to say now. The Browns have gone six straight seasons with at least 11 losses, and they are far from out of the woods.
On Adam Gase. The Denver offensive coordinator did the smart thing, as did his former boss in Denver, McDaniels. The coaches of Peyton Manning (Gase) and Tom Brady (McDaniels) both withdrew from the search in Cleveland and will be back piloting their explosive offenses with legendary quarterbacks in 2014 rather than coaching the Browns. Gase is 35 and has a bright future. “I really like Gase,” Manning told me last week. “I like playing for guys that are smarter than me and work as hard as me.” The Browns never got a great handle on Gase, and he certainly wouldn’t have heard good things about the organization from his father-in-law, Joe Vitt, an NFL lifer on the New Orleans staff, or from Denver director of pro personnel Tom Heckert, the former Browns GM who left the team last year with bitter feelings. Gase is better riding out Manning’s last two years (my guess) with him and then seeing if a team with a brighter future wants him.
Speaking of McDaniels … Which no one in Denver likes to do. People in Denver figure McDaniels “ran off” Jay Cutler, which he didn’t do, and then drafted Tim Tebow and got fired in the midst of a crash-and-burn 4-12 season. So the venom spews. But let’s be fair here. Look around the Broncos roster, which McDaniels had control of in 2009 and 2010. From the 2009 draft: Knowshon Moreno (1,586 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns this year), defensive end Robert Ayers (sack of Tom Brady in the AFC title game) and special-teams captain David Bruton are here. From the 2010 draft: the two leading receivers—Demaryius Thomas (92 catches, 14 touchdowns) and Eric Decker (87 catches, 11 TDs)—are here, plus starting guard Zane Beadles. Tim Tebow’s not here, of course. And the Tebow thing colors everything about McDaniels’ legacy. It should be considered, to be sure. But let me ask you this question: If Thomas and Decker hadn’t been on the roster when Peyton Manning was considering what team to choose 22 months ago, are you really that sure Manning would have signed with the Broncos? He has said time and again that when he compared teams, he liked the young receivers that Denver had. Who would have been in their place, and would they have passed Manning’s muster? Or would be have looked at Larry Fitzgerald and the Manning-friendly offense of Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona a little more fondly? Point is, McDaniels shouldn’t be a Denver pariah in this Super Bowl week. He should be thanked.
Gil Brandt on Manziel. A few league people raised their eyebrows when the godfather of the draft, Gil Brandt, put 6-0 Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel No. 1 on his first draft board. I asked Brandt why he did it. “I do have a tremendous belief in him,” Brandt said. “You are going to get 110% out of this guy every day of his life, every play of his life. If you don’t have a quarterback, and you want one, I believe this guy has a great chance to be good for a long time. This guy had an inferior team. And he beat Alabama, he beat Oklahoma. He’s down 29 to Duke in the last game of his college career, and he’s on the sidelines saying, ‘There is no way we are going to lose.’ This guy’s a better version of Fran Tarkenton.” About Manziel’s love of the parties, Brandt said, “He’s had a chance to do some things, at age 18, 19, 20 and 21, because of the financial backing of his grandfather, but the more I’ve looked into him, I just don’t believe it’s going to hold him back from being really good. The one thing coach [Tom] Landry told me a long time ago is you look for the good, not for the bad.”
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A Lil Q&A with Lil Wayne, of all things.
Well, I never thought I’d be interviewing a rapper for The MMQB. But one of our writers, Robert Klemko, knew how passionate a football fan Lil Wayne is, and Klemko met his publicist, and one thing led to another, and Tuesday night the publicist said to me: “I’m patching you through to Wayne.” The mega-Packers fan is opinionated about a lot of things in football—his Pack, Richard Sherman, Peyton Manning, why he loves football above all other games, and his own football history: “I was a fullback when I played. I tell people that, and they don’t believe me. I loved to be like Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare.” The greatest hits from a chat with 31-year-old New Orleans native Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.:
How he became a Packers fan
“They won the Super Bowl in my hometown, and I was hooked. I am not missing a Packers game. Never. I don’t care what kind of world I am in, where I am. When the Packers are playing, I’m watching. This year was tough. When A-Rod [Aaron Rodgers] went down, I was in a lot of pain.”
Why he loves football
“It’s such a natural thing … I don’t know, really. I love it more than anything. The physicality of it, I think. On Sundays, I just sit there, and everybody knows—no phone calls. It’s understood by the people around me—when the games are on, no calls for him.”
“To me, the Richard Sherman thing … I think he does it, I don’t want to say for attention, I don’t believe it’s for attention, but I believe there is a technique to what he is doing. It all of a sudden doesn’t seem so natural. It seems like it used to be Richard Sherman loves to trash talk, but now, it’s kind of a technique. Not natural. I’ve seen people go back at him, and when they tell him something back or he gets his face busted, there’s no more barking. That tells me, I’m really not like this, I’m really not aggressive. I think it’s Richard Sherman mouthing off … I know the media likes to say he’s backing it up with his play. Well, Richard Sherman comes from the same place I come from, the street, and he’s doing a lot of talking where he really can’t back it up. I think he’s a shutdown player. But a great player? No. Great? I don’t think he’s a great player. Now if he plays great against Peyton, that will be huge. If he performs tremendously, that will [change things].”
“He is special. He is one of a kind. I am glad I am able to live to see him, to see the kind of things he is doing.”
The Manning men: Father Archie and sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli
“I have a story about Peyton. A guy who has been on the road with us, he was like an uncle to us, he told us this story. When he was in jail, about to come home, he was put on one of those work-release things in New Orleans. Every morning, real early, he would clean the schoolyard of the [Isidore] Newman School [where the Manning kids attended]. Because he was a prisoner, he would have to clean the schoolyard at 4 or 5 in the morning. There was not one morning, 4:30, 5 in the morning, he wouldn’t see Archie, Peyton, Cooper, or Eli out on the field. He’d see Archie throwing passes to Cooper, or Peyton throwing routes to Cooper. I don’t know if people know this, but it was Cooper who was the prodigy. He [the roadie] would tell us the story, you know, like it was destined.”
Super Bowl XLVIII
“Honestly, I don’t want to use the word ‘surprised,’ but it is unexpected to see Seattle in the Super Bowl. I expected Peyton. He’s been there before. And I love Russell Wilson. But they are not playing in Seattle. I just can’t see Peyton losing.”
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Well, this isn’t so much of a shock, but it is stark.
Former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, now doing some coach-representation and TV/radio work, figured this out this week:
Of the 11 coaches hired in 2009, one remains in his job. That’s Rex Ryan of the Jets, and that was no slam dunk as December wore on.
Of the 11 general managers/personnel czars in place on the teams with new coaches in 2009, one remains in his job. That’s Detroit GM Martin Mayhew, and that was no slam dunk as December wore on.
The moral of the story? “It’s a really, really hard job,” Tannenbaum said. “The sad thing is, those numbers are probably not out of whack with other periods of time either.”
The teams that named permanent coaches in 2009, and the personnel men with them:
|Cleveland||Eric Mangini||George Kokinis|
|Denver||Josh McDaniels||Brian Xanders|
|Detroit||Jim Schwartz||Martin Mayhew|
|Indianapolis||Jim Caldwell||Bill Polian|
|Kansas City||Todd Haley||Scott Pioli|
|New York Jets||Rex Ryan||Mike Tannenbaum|
|Oakland||Tom Cable||Al Davis|
|St. Louis||Steve Spagnuolo||Billy Devaney|
|San Francisco||Mike Singletary||Scot McCloughan|
|Seattle||Jim Mora||Tim Ruskell|
|Tampa Bay||Raheem Morris||Mark Dominik|
Including playoffs, Mayhew’s Lions are 29-52 in the five seasons since 2009.
Ryan’s Jets are 46-40 since 2009.
So it’s not like Mayhew has the job security of Ron Wolf and Ryan the security of Vince Lombardi.
I’m not that surprised, I guess, that 20 of the 22 lead football men on those 11 teams are gone. I guess I’m surprised that not a single one of the 22 men holding those jobs, after five seasons, has a rock-solid grip on it.