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Published: Wednesday, 1/31/2001

Browns' Policy willing to give Davis top dollar ... and control

BEREA, Ohio - Butch Davis knew when to hold and when to fold.

Davis was at the top of the Cleveland Browns' coaching wish list - with one hitch. Both sides understood Davis wouldn't come cheaply.

To understand the negotiation process between Davis and the Browns, you must first know Davis, who was named the franchise's 10th head coach yesterday.

Where he comes from, how he thinks.

A protege of former NFL and college coach Jimmy Johnson, who advises his disciples not to accept coaching jobs that do not include full control over personnel, Davis wasn't going to leave the University of Miami unless it was for the perfect job.

Davis intrigued the Browns. When Davis told team president Carmen Policy no for the first time a few weeks ago, it only made Policy want Davis more.

Davis wanted more - money and control.

“It was part of the negotiation in the sense that we talked about it,” said Davis, who was flanked by Policy and team owner Al Lerner yesterday during a morning news conference. “Ultimately, when the rubber hits the road, somebody's going to have to make some decisions.”

For better or worse, that somebody is Davis.

“It's always important to get your No. 1 choice,” Policy said of the process that resulted in Davis signing a five-year contract valued between $3 million and $3.5 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NFL. “Butch Davis is the leader of the Cleveland Browns.”

Former Browns coach Chris Palmer, who was fired after going 5-27 in two seasons, earned $1 million per year.

“When you're in a business that is highly, highly competitive,” said Policy, explaining why the courtship of Davis was so important, “the slightest edge makes the difference between winning and losing, between appearing smart and appearing inept.”

Policy did what he had to do to bring Davis on board. Policy made an unpopular decision when he reduced the authority of executive vice president and director of football operations Dwight Clark and turned it over to Davis.

“Dwight's job is not to be our best personnel evaluator,” Policy said. “His job is to manage the process by which we evaluate.”

Clark and Policy have a history together, starting with the San Francisco 49ers when Clark was a player and Policy was a team executive. The pair traveled east to build the Browns, brick by brick.

However, since arriving in Cleveland, Clark has been responsible for several personnel mistakes that affected the Browns' ability to field a competitive team.

If the Browns were unable to hire Davis resulting from Policy's refusal to reduce Clark's role, it would have been another step back by Cleveland's front office following Palmer's dismissal.

“We'll lean on the coach heavily to help make decisions. Ultimately, we'll lean on him for the final decision,” Clark said.

Said Policy: “Butch is going to begin occupying the most important position in this organization. He's probably as high up as that position can go right now in our minds.”

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.

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