One weird trick

Being a Browns fan is, above all else, disorienting. One minute your concussed quarterback is partying in Vegas with a fake mustache and under an assumed name. The next minute your top draft pick in the last two years asks not to go back into the game and admits he’s missed a bunch of team meetings because, hey, he’s a “hard sleeper.” The next minute, the team’s best and most loyal player hints that, yeah, it might be time to get out.

You sit down to write about the firing of the Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine, and before you can write the second sentence you find out that the team’s roster is now the responsibility of Sashi Brown, a 39-year-old Harvard Law graduate who is, by all accounts, brilliant and who, best anyone can tell, has never evaluated football players.

So, then you want to write about Sashi Brown as the new general manager, but you find out that he’s actually NOT the new general manager. He is instead Executive Vice President of Football Operations, which somehow puts him in charge of the 53-man roster. How is this different from a general manager? It’s hard to say, but owner Jimmy Haslam assures everyone that the team will hire a new general manager to do something or other.

But first, he wants to hire a football coach and let that coach help hire new GM.

Yes, that’s right. The coach will help hire the GM.  Does that sound like a good idea? Of course, it’s not entirely clear what the GM will be doing anyway, so maybe the general manager in the Browns’ chain of command will coach the offensive line. Maybe the offensive line coach will be rebranded as the “Large Guy Food Provider.”

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Yes, let’s take a moment to consider what’s happened …

No. There’s no time to wait because then the Haslams, Jimmy and his wife, Dee, pen a letter to Cleveland Browns fans. The headline: “Haslams: We are confident we will build a winning football organization.”

That’s reassuring that the Haslams are confident in themselves.

“We take full responsibility and understand you expect better from us,” the Haslams write.

Well, I suspect that Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine might dispute that whole “We take full responsibility” section, but, OK, deep breath, now maybe we can sit down and make sense of what is happening with the Browns …

… No. Tuesday, the Browns hire baseball executive and Moneyball comic sidekick Paul DePodesta to be something called “Chief Strategy Officer.”

Do you remember that scene in “Moonstruck” where Nic Cage asks Cher to marry him in the middle of a billion other plot twists, and suddenly the old man starts crying.

“What’s the matter, Pop?” he is asked.

“I’m confused!” the old man cries out.

What else is there to say? I’m confused. The Browns just finished the second-most dismal season of my lifetime (behind only the year they moved to Baltimore). The Johnny Manziel experiment now officially goes into the basket of very bad ideas along with the Zune, Crystal Pepsi, Clairol Touch of Yogurt Shampoo and the Ryan Howard contract. The Browns will have their sixth coach since 2008, and this is in a division where the other three teams have all had ONE coach since 2008. The team’s drafts the last five years have been SO BAD that the new regime basically will be starting from zero, like an expansion team.

And in this baffling moment, the Browns are making a bewildering series of unorthodox, high-risk maneuvers and creating a bunch of weird titles … it’s dizzying.

“Hey,” says the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro, who has, as only a true friend can, walked with me through Browns’ agony before. “Could it be worse than what they’ve had?”

“I like to think of Buddy Bell’s line,” I reply, referring my childhood hero and the former manager of the atrocious Kansas City Royals. “I never said it can’t get worse.”

But, his point is valid. It has been a walking nightmare for the Browns since, well, since the return of the team to Cleveland but particularly since 2008. Something broke that year. The team has wandered aimlessly, hiring and firing coaches and GMs, drafting quarterbacks and quickly giving up on them, going with a 3-4 defense without developing linebackers, refusing to draft receivers and then giving big money to a washed-up receiver on and on.

Sure, my initial reaction to the Sashi Brown announcement and the Paul DePodesta announcement and to the vague blueprint that has been sketched out was wildly negative because, you know, it all seems kind of crazy.

Here’s the hard thing about being a fan — the biggest thing I was reminded of as I returned to Browns fanhood this year: You don’t have the power to change anything as a fan. You don’t have any control, no hand, no say. You can gripe about it, write about it, call the radio station about it, but in the end there are others who will make all the decisions about the team. You don’t have to like those decisions. But you do have to live with them.

Because of that, it makes sense to TRY and see the bright side.

So here’s the bright side: Sashi Brown is a smart guy. Paul DePodesta is a smart guy. They come from unique backgrounds, and they have a history of being innovative in their various fields. And it was very clear that the Browns had NO success going the conventional route. The Browns have spent the last decade hiring and firing football men, and after all that they are left with one of the biggest messes in the history of professional football. This new strategy is at least mildly interesting.

Yes, sure, I would prefer hiring a football operations guy with a clear history of making great talent decisions. I would prefer a Chief Strategy Officer who wasn’t working for the New York Mets last year. Actually, I would prefer the Browns not give ANYONE the Dilbert-esque name of “Chief Strategy Officer.” I would want a strong football GM who didn’t have to answer to a host of others, and I would want that GM to hire the coach and work closely with him.

But this is the directions the Browns are taking and, what can a fan really do other than hope it works out. These are smart guys. They are driven by analytics. They will undoubtedly shake things up, and no team is in greater need of a shakeup. As my pal Bob likes to say, it COULD work.

Right. It probably won’t work. But a fan can hope. Who knows? That Browns might offer me the job of the Chief Hope Officer. I’m waiting by the phone.

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