Monday, November 2, 2009

Browns owner takes steps to clean up mess

Somebody had to pay for this mess.

The excuses for what has been the worst season since the Browns returned from NFL exile didn't resonant anymore. Their fans had tired weeks ago -- actually, seasons ago -- of seeing bad football in Cleveland.

They had put up with Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel, coaches who rode into town with credentials that inflated their ability. Yet as bad as each of these men was, all were better than the man owner Randy Lerner picked to replace Crennel.

But even Lerner was smart enough this time to realize the major problems with his Browns aren't inside their coaching ranks but in his front office. It has been as dysfunctional as the Clampett family in "The Beverly Hillbillies." His front office might be better compared to "The Addams Family," a much more frightful clan than Jed, Daisy May, Elly May and Jethro Bodine.

What Lerner had pieced together was a horror story with more of the Addams than of the Clampetts. And it's a story that had become more unsettling as the weeks went by. At some point, people had to wonder if Lerner, a rich man with a temperate disposition, would run out of patience with what he was seeing .

That time came Sunday in Chicago.

By all accounts, Lerner liked nothing he saw in the team his late father left to him. The younger Lerner was to serve as its steward, a job he has mishandled from the start.

In the 30-6 loss to the Bears, the team Lerner owns malfunctioned on offense, wore down on defense and had a special teams that did nothing special.

Lerner could take no more. He said as much after the game. So he tried the best fix he could. He couldn't fire the entire team, not this deep into an NFL season. So he took a meat cleaver to his front office. He cut ties Monday with general manager George Kokinis, handpicked for the job by coach Eric Mangini.

In a press release, Lerner said: "Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis is no longer actively involved with the organization. ... "

It’s not proper in polite company to applaud when a man has lost his job. In this economy, a firing is a reason for mourning -- a wake if that’s all right to hold in peculiar circumstances like these.

Kokinis, an invisible leader, gets nothing of the sort. His behind can’t get out of town soon enough for Clevelanders, and more than of few of them would like to see the man responsible for pushing him for the job in the first place join him on the unemployment line.

No newspaper, TV station or Internet site has reported that Mangini’s butt is soon to go. He might well hold until his job for a few weeks longer, but the extraordinary influence Lerner gave him in the offseason has been chipped away.

The chipping started when Lerner hired Bernie Kosar, the retired Browns icon, as a consultant last month; it continued when Lerner fired one of Mangini’s top lieutenants in Erin O’Brien; and the latest chip into Mangini’s power was the biggest blow of all: the firing of Kokinis.

Lerner’s moves were the most vivid signs that he plans to lead this team. He’s decided to take an iron hand to a situation that has caromed out of control; he's looking for strong leadership from someone.

He is not the man to run a football operation.

To his credit, Lerner has never pretended to be. He’s the scion of a billionaire; his background is in banking, which doesn't teach a man much about reconstructing an NFL franchise.

But what he will do in his latest remake of the Browns is find a seasoned football man to lord over his organization. Lerner might do whomever he hires a favor if he fires the dictatorial Mangini first.


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