The introduction of Gus Malzahn as a head coaching candidate for the Cleveland Browns introduces a new element to the search; pressure. If the Browns are interested in the Auburn head coach, there will be a substantial amount of pressure to make it happen or the perception will be that they failed, especially after the situation with Chip Kelly last year. The vast majority of fans and media are lukewarm on Josh McDaniels, fairly or not, so if the Browns do not get Malzahn and then hire McDaniels, it will be met with disappointment. The Browns ultimately have to get the right guy, no matter who it is, but if it is not Malzahn, the initial judgment by most will that they fell short.
During the press conference discussing the firing of Rob Chudzinski, Jimmy Haslam accepted the skepticism and almost wore it with pride. There will be plenty of people who would accept the firing of Chud after just one season if they can land a celebrity candidate like Malzahn. He is the ‘home run’ hire. Malzahn is the next offensive innovator that could take the league by storm and the early success of Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles only serves to reinforce that belief, even though they run their offenses differently.
To this point, there has not been an obvious candidate that media and fans could rally behind as their choice. Malzahn gives them that figure. Most of the talk has been about why they were concerned or unsure of various candidates; why they have not wanted coaches. Malzahn is the first one that people will undoubtedly rally behind as the one they do want. That creates an element of hope and expectations that previously did not exist. With that means there is the potential for disappointment. With disappointment, comes anger and blowback.
Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were both confident they could deliver the right candidate to lead the Browns. The perception will instantly become that Malzahn is the right candidate and that McDaniels would be the coach which they had to settle. The Browns were unable to land Kelly last year, so following that up by not being able to land Malzahn would not look good for Haslam or the organization as a whole. The sense from some is the Browns are a damaged franchise and that would only serve to confirm that to critics.
There is a possibility that Malzahn’s name, along with that of James Franklin of Vanderbilt, have been leaked as a means to put pressure on McDaniels to take the job. There are some reporters speculating that the job is McDaniels’ if he wants it, but that he might be having second thoughts. Big name candidates like Malzahn or Franklin would perhaps make him feel like he needs to grab it before he potentially misses out on the opportunity.
If that is true, it is a strategy that would likely backfire in a big way at least in the short term. If the Browns really want McDaniels and he is their target, it is a dangerous game to play to put bigger names out there that would work to tantalize both the media and fans. As talented as McDaniels might be as a head coach, there would be some trepidation going into that hire. Having other candidates that would be perceived as being better might work to get McDaniels here, but it gives critics plenty of fodder. The Browns would get their man but at the cost of another ugly situation with personal relations.
The Browns ultimately need to get their guy, whoever that may be. If it is McDaniels, they have to get him. If it is Malzahn, they need to find a way to land him. Beyond perception and all of the ancillary stuff, the Browns have to get the right guy, whoever it is; big name, no name or retread. Nevertheless, the presence of Malzahn brings an added element of pressure into this whole process and there is a sense of added stakes on what is already a critical hire for Banner.