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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cleveland Browns Coaching Dilemma: The Time For Rebuilding is Over

The Cleveland Browns are set to finish what has become yet another disappointing season in 2012 today at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh against their hated rivals, the Steelers.

And while it is almost a certainty that after the season incumbent general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur will be given the axe, the future direction of the team is somewhat uncertain.

There have been many theories that have popped up in recent weeks as to who should/will replace the aforementioned individuals. Many people believe that Michael Lombardi will take over for Heckert, while someone like Josh McDaniels will be brought in to replace Shurmur.

But as much as Cleveland and its fans want to think that a new regime will bring different results, there is no guarantee that Cleveland will be a contender anytime soon.

From a talent standpoint, the Browns might be in the best situation yet since returning to the league in 1999. Rookie running back Trent Richardson, whose 3.6 yard per carry average is not overly impressive, has shown a knack for finding the endzone. Fellow rookie Josh Gordon appears to be emerging as the number one wide receiver Cleveland has lacked for quite some time. And even quarterback Brandon Weeden has shown signs of promise this season. Weeden's final passer rating of 72.6 is one full point better than Peyton Manning's rookie rating (71.2 in case you were wondering. FYI, Weeden also threw for 3385 yards thru 15 games this season. Manning, playing a full 16 game schedule during his rookie campaign, threw for 3739 yards.)

Defensively, Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme appeared to be gaining traction toward the latter half of 2012. The Browns have recorded almost twice as many interceptions in 2012 (17) as they did in 2011 (9), and they are +7 in turnover differential as well. Of the Browns 10 losses, seven of them were by 10 points or less.

At this point, you're probably wondering to yourself, so what? I am glad you asked. It is at this point the Browns' brass needs to understand they have a good nucleus in place, and not to go in with the attitude of 'blowing the whole thing up.' Four years ago, when Randy Lerner brought in George Kokinis and Eric Mangini to replace Romeo Crennel, that is exactly what happened. The results were somewhat mixed, and, after Mike Holmgren was brought in to replace Kokinis, the Browns once again started from scratch.

So, four years later, what have Browns' fans had to look forward to? Four consecutive seasons with 10 or more losses and zero playoff berths.

But good teams in the NFL aren't built from scratch every two seasons. It takes time to develop the proper chemistry and personnel needed for success. So while owner Jimmy Haslam and company will be looking to the guy who can finally get them over the hump, they also need to bring in a guy who isn't necessarily going to 'rock the boat', either.

The offense is a few player(s) away from being in the upper half of the league. There is plenty of young talent on defense (especially the line), and a switch from the 4-3 to a 3-4 defense would be a mistake. Sure there are holes to be addressed, most notably in the secondary and linebacker corps, but those are things that should be upgraded via the draft and free agency in the coming years.

So the bottom line is that while the Browns search for head coach, they need to make sure they select one who doesn't view this as a rebuilding project. He should have a proven track record, and realize this team is only a few pieces away from greatness. He also should be willing to let his assistants call the plays, so he isn't trying to micromanage the team.

If Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner fail to heed this advice, however, the Browns will be in rebuild mode once again. Of course, Mr. Haslam, don't the fans deserve better?

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