Change, once again, seems inevitable in Berea.
The Browns are 3-12 and have lost nine of 10 and 17 of 20 heading into today’s finale vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jimmy Haslam has stayed silent after the owners in Buffalo and Jacksonville announced their general managers and coaches would return next season. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported coach Mike Pettine didn’t get an answer when he asked Haslam if a decision had been made on his future, likely signaling the third coaching change in Haslam’s three-plus years in charge.
Haslam has espoused stability since his arrival in 2012 but has been unable to follow through. He fired GM Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur after 2012, then CEO Joe Banner, GM Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski a year later.
Haslam vowed in training camp not to “blow things up” again after this season, but that appears the course he and wife Dee will take after the Browns have crashed and burned in the second year under general manager Ray Farmer and Pettine.
Here are the factors the Haslams must weigh regarding the pair thrown together less than two years ago.
MORE BUSTS THAN BOOMS
Farmer was rushed into his first job as a general manager when Haslam had enough of Lombardi and sent Banner packing with him. Farmer had only three months to prepare for his first draft in charge, and it showed.
He didn’t discover cornerback Justin Gilbert’s character issues and took him No. 8 after a push from Pettine. Gilbert hasn’t displayed the drive to fulfill his potential and has been a consistent resident in the coaches’ doghouse.
Then came the trade up and selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 22.
Farmer was believed to have preferred Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, yet took Manziel and all the question marks that accompanied him. Was Farmer ordered by Haslam? Was he simply trying to please his boss? Had he changed his mind in the couple of months in charge?
Manziel has improved in his second year but his future as a franchise quarterback is far from certain, and his off-field problems have been a consistent thorn in the side of the organization, particularly Pettine.
Farmer would have a stronger case to return if the roster got better as he settled into the job. Yet Year 2 was just as troubling.
He let outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard and cornerback Buster Skrine get away in free agency and didn’t upgrade either spot with second-round pick Nate Orchard and veteran Tramon Williams.
He focused on the lines in the first round of the draft — taking nose tackle Danny Shelton at No. 12 and offensive lineman Cameron Erving at 19 — while ignoring the lack of playmakers on offense. Shelton hasn’t been a difference-maker and Erving has been a liability after his selection was a luxury.
Farmer has fixated on the bottom of the roster while the top has remained bereft of the talent necessary to compete in the rugged AFC North and contend for the playoffs.
On top of his questionable handling of the roster, Farmer must also answer for the texting scandal that brought a four-game suspension to start this season. He illegally texted the coaching staff during games last season, violating a trust and causing turbulence within the organization.
Best moves: Quarterback Josh McCown, receiver Brian Hartline, left guard Joel Bitonio
Worst moves: Gilbert, Erving, receiver Dwayne Bowe ($9 million guaranteed)
His fate: It would be a huge surprise if he’s retained.
NO DEFENSE FOR RECORD
Pettine made his case to come back Thursday, saying a quick turnaround was unrealistic, he’s laid a foundation for success and he sees progress amid the losses.
But, to borrow one of his favorite phrases, he has no choice but to “own” his abysmal record. After a 6-3 start and spot atop the AFC North last year, the Browns have lost 18 of 22, including five straight to end last season and drop out of playoff contention.
Pettine’s repeatedly said the NFL’s a bottom-line business, and the record would be what gets him fired. Six of the last eight losses have come by at least 14 points, so it’s not as if the Browns were a couple of plays from .500.
He arrived with a strong resume as a defensive assistant, but that side of the ball has dragged down the team. Pettine switched his attention to offense this season, leaving coordinator Jim O’Neil in charge of the defense. They’ve been criticized for an out-of-date scheme, inflexible game plans and improper use of personnel.
Pettine said Thursday he’d be willing to make changes to his coaching staff if he’s retained, but it might be too late. The defense ranks last in the league against the run for the second straight season and is 26th overall in yardage and 29th in scoring.
Pettine had a lot to overcome, as he’s been asked to win without elite talent and deal with all the distractions of Manziel. He’s kept his wits and composure but has been unable to deliver the requisite wins.
The opinions of Pettine vary within the locker room. Some players believe he has the necessary skills and will succeed in time, while others question if he has what it takes to lead men.
If Haslam were convinced of the former, he could excuse the record. If not, he must move on.
Strengths: The team has played with consistent effort despite no chance for the playoffs, carries himself like a head coach.
Weaknesses: His training camp was too easy, his clock management flawed.
His fate: Termination is expected, but Haslam could fire Farmer first and let the new head of the football department decide whether to keep Pettine.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
TIME: 1 p.m.
WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM
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