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Published: Monday, 2/2/2004

Browns dreams of Super Bowl get clearer with Wolf

It was some kind of Super Bowl Sunday. Hope springs eternal in the NFL, where the Carolina Panthers finished a dreadful 1-15 two seasons ago.

Rising above and beyond their checkered past, the Panthers went from worst to pro football s grandest stage while providing inspiration for all Super Bowl wannabes watching yesterday s game.

Among them, the Cleveland Browns.

A Super Bowl seed was planted in Cleveland with last week s hiring of legendary general manager Ron Wolf as the Browns newly created “Personnel Specialist.”

He s the person most responsible for the gathering of talent. Davis, though, doesn t have all the answers.

We won t go into Davis hits and misses with the Browns. But suffice it to say that Davis will likely lean heavily on Wolf, who signed an 18-month consulting contract to serve, more or less, as Davis personal Svengali.

Wolf s hiring does confirm one thing: The Browns believe they are on the right track with Davis calling the shots.

The right coach can take a 1-15 team to the Super Bowl two years later, as John Fox did with Carolina.

Cleveland was 5-11 in 2003.

Wolf can help Davis steer the direction of the Browns. But only if Davis is open-minded to Wolf s suggestions and criticisms.

Wolf is nobody s yes man. He built Super Bowl teams in Green Bay and Oakland.

If Davis thinks it ll be neat having Wolf only a phone call away because Wolf will endorse everything he says, he s mistaken.

Davis, and the Browns, can learn something from Wolf, who has spent 41 years in pro football.

There s little margin for personnel miscalculations in the era of the salary cap. Wolf s success with Green Bay was staggering.

Wolf hit the bull s-eye with his selection of quarterbacks in later rounds. He drafted Mark Brunell in the fifth round in 1993, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth round in 1998 and Aaron Brooks in the fourth round in 1999. All three developed into bona fide stars.

Wolf traded for superstar quarterback Brett Favre in 1992. He acquired Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green in a 2000 trade.

The Browns under Davis haven t hit a home run with any of their draft picks, trades or free-agent pickups.

Carolina made its Super Bowl run with free-agent acquisitions Stephen Davis and Jake Delhomme. A total of 10 Panthers who made key contributions in the postseason were selected in the first three rounds of the past four drafts.

The hiring of Wolf couldn t have come at a better time. The Browns needed to make a philosophical change in their personnel department.

And what a catch: the best general manager in the open market. Not bad. Not bad at all.

John Harris is The Blade s sports columnist. Contact him by e-mail at jharris@theblade.com

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