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Published: Monday, 1/5/2009

Browns need experienced coach and GM

The Cleveland Browns lost their last six games and failed to score an offensive touchdown in the process. You would think they could have scored one touchdown if only by mistake, because that's how the Browns do things.

By mistake.

Really, the losing streak is longer than six games. How about a decade?

Yes, it has been 10 seasons since the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion team. There have been two winning records under the oversight of the Lerner family, but mostly there have been bad deals, bad hires, bad drafts, bad contracts and, absolutely, bad luck. Mistakes aplenty.

Now, owner Randy Lerner says the Browns have "a very strong commitment to get it right."

It seemed right a year ago. The Browns went 10-6 and Lerner gave general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel contract extensions. Then Cleveland went 4-12 and Lerner fired both men.

That's the Browns' business model. Throw enough money at your problems and maybe they'll go away. The people do; the problems do not.

The last time Lerner went in search of a GM and coach he visited several successful NFL franchises to study their personnel structures. The result, somehow, was to again hire a first-time GM and a first-time coach.

Excluding interim positions, the Browns have had three GMs and three head coaches in the 10 years since their rebirth. Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Crennel had never been NFL head coaches before. Dwight Clark, Davis and Savage had never been NFL general managers before.

This on-the-job training hasn't worked. The Browns are 54-107 in the last decade with one playoff appearance, a loss. It's time for experience.

So, you could not blame

Lerner for going, checkbook in hand, to Bill Cowher's doorstep. And you couldn't blame Cowher for not being interested in becoming the Browns' GM-coach. Where does Lerner go from there?

The Plain Dealer reported the other day that, according to a front-office source, the Browns have determined hiring the right coach is more pressing than landing the right general manager and have focused their immediate efforts on the coaching search.

That may or may not make sense. But with four NFL teams definitely in the market for head coaches and two others - Oakland and St. Louis, who finished the season with interim coaches - exploring their options, there is some urgency in getting the man you want and not one of the leftovers.

As a result, Eric Mangini, recently fired as coach of the

New York Jets, has reportedly moved to the head of the class. His Jets suffered a late-season meltdown, but he does have experience and is a branch, albeit an estranged one, on the Bill Belichick coaching tree. (Of course, so was Crennel.) As Belichick has proved, to the consternation of Cleveland fans, NFL coaches are often more successful the second time around.

Another Belichick disciple, Scott Pioli, is a candidate for Cleveland's top executive slot. But the heat of that love affair has possibly cooled and Pioli is exploring other opportunities too.

Mike Shanahan could fill both slots if Lerner were patient, which apparently he is not. With Miami being eliminated from the playoffs yesterday, Bill Parcells' availability and interest in the front-office role might be explored.

Regardless of the order in which they are hired, and regardless of who the hires are, Lerner must be sure there is an experienced approach and a shared vision of the team's future, which was never the case with his last GM-coach combo.



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