Coach Sam Rutigliano shares his thoughts on the Cleveland Browns
Former Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano spoke with Dawg Pound Daily about his experience with the organization and the upcoming 2016 season.
Sam Rutigliano, who coached the Cleveland Browns from 1978 until midway through the 1984 season, remains the franchise’s longest-tenured head coach since Blanton Collier worked the sidelines in the 1960s.
Rutigliano took over the Browns when the team’s dynasty years were a distant memory to many fans and turned the team into the high-powered offense known as the Kardiac Kids. He led the Browns to the AFC Central Division title in 1980, breaking an eight-year playoff drought, only to see Cleveland lose in heart-breaking fashion to the Oakland Raiders in what has become to be known as the Red Right 88 game.
The Browns would make a return to the playoffs in the strike-shortended 1982 season and miss out on a third playoff berth in 1983 on tie breakers. Cleveland started the 1984 season by winning just one of its first eight games and Rutigliano was fired after a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Coach Sam” was kind enough to speak with Dawg Pound Daily about the upcoming Browns season, and share his thoughts about how the NFL has changed since his days on the sidelines at Municipal Stadium.
For starters, as many of today’s players don’t play a full four years in college, they come to the NFL unprepared for the pro game:
"“I think the thing that has changed the most is what they’re paying coaches and what they’re paying players. In my day, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, you had colleges where guys stayed five years and played four years, which meant that they entered the NFL with 56-60 games under their belt."
"“And now with a guy like Johnny Manziel, who redshirts as a freshman, and only plays two years, and comes into the league with less than 26 games; but more importantly, comes into the league with no maturity whatsoever. When you think about my day when we would get guys with 56-60 games, that’s a big minus now, and you’re seeing it every day.”"
He is also not a fan of the league office – rather than individual teams – taking on the primary role when it comes to discipling players, especially when it comes to substance abuse.
"“Every team in my day handled their team in regard to drugs and alcohol. Now the NFL from New York does it. Now how can they do a better job than me when I watched this kid play as a junior, watched him play as a senior, and had a scouting staff that recorded everything? When we saw him in the regular season and preseason and bowl games; and we got to know every little thing about their character. How could anybody in New York do a better job than I could do? It’s kind of like my son, and a teacher telling my son where to go to school.”"
Following his time in Cleveland, Rutigiliano was head coach at Liberty University from 1989 to 1999, then spent seven seasons working as an offensive assistant with several teams in NFL Europe. Despite having coached his last game with Cleveland in 1984, he still follows the club and has seen the same problems as many fans.
"“The owner has fired three coaches, three general managers and three presidents. Here the Browns have had three coaches in four years. They play in a division with Pittsburgh, who has had a coach for 10 years; with Baltimore, who has had a coach for nine years; and with Cincinnati, who has had a coach for 14 years. Consistency confirms authenticity. Pittsburgh has had three coaches since 1969. How do you compete with that with what we have right now?”"
Despite the team’s ongoing struggles, Rutigilano is optimistic about the team’s prospects under head coach Hue Jackson.
"“Well, we’re 0-4 in preseason. But we shall see. We will find out how good of a coach Hue Jackson is, and how he can help RG3, because RG3, I think, is back to where he was [in Washington]. But he needs help from up front at center and right tackle where they lost two great players, and the team has a whole new bunch of wide receivers."
"“And defensively, they have got to be able to stop the run. Last year, they had two outside linebackers who were paid millions and millions of dollars. [Nate Orchard and Paul Kruger]. Kruger had 2.5 sacks in 16 games and Orchard had three sacks in 16 games. That’s got to change; because on defense, you got to have an edge rusher, which means you have interceptions from your corners, and you have to have shut down corners, which means you have sacks by your edge rushers."
"“They have got a ways to go, it’s going to take two or three years. But what we want to see this year is to win six games, and then next year to break even, and then the next year; let’s get this thing where it belongs.”"
An offensive-minded coach, Rutigliano likes what he has seen so far from quarterback Robert Griffin III, but says he will need some help.
"“I think Griffin has shown me enough. He played the proximity of one game. Over four games he has played one game. Now, he has got a rookie receiver in Corey Coleman, and he’s got Terrelle Pryor, and they Andrew Hawkins who has been here and three other [receivers]. That right tackle and that center have to help him out and he’s gotta have a running game, so we’ll wait and see what happens."
"“Now in the four preseason games I think they should have played those people much more than they did because they’re different. They’re not like Pittsburgh, they’re not like Baltimore, they’re not like Cincinnati. You know how long the coaches have been there, just think about Ben Roethlisberger; he’s been there 11 years, never had a losing season, and won two out of three Super Bowls.”"
And the Browns offense will only go as far as its offensive line will take it, Rutigliano added.
"“Well the problem is that we lost Alex Mack, who is a Pro Bowl center, and we lost Mitchell Schwartz, who was a right tackle and played 64 straight games. You can’t lose two people like that. Right now I think the key is going to be a guy named Austin Pasztor, who is going to be the right tackle. They need to help him with another receiver or another tight end or another running back."
"“The two guards, John Greco and Joel Bitonio, have played and have experiene and, of course, Joe Thomas has a lot of experience. Center Cam Erving will also be OK, but that right tackle right now is going to need some help. We gotta have protection and we gotta have some young guys come through for us. [Gary] Barnidge is going to be OK, but Coleman and Pryor have to get it done.”"
The Browns should also benefit from having an offensive-minded head coach in Hue Jackson, who knows how to work with today’s NFL quarterbacks.
"“I think that right now with a head coach who has coached quarterbacks in the NFL for 15 years and one year as a head coach, where he went 8-8, he will call the plays, he will be with RG3, and I think I’ve already seen good chemistry. Chemistry is more important than talent. That’s why I think we have a chance, because I think we have the quarterback, and now we can build around that."
"“It doesn’t work the other way. You could have 52 other guys, but if you don’t have the quarterback, you aren’t going to win.”"
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The NFL has changed considerably since Rutigliano was last in the game. Most notably, the pressure to win immediately has intensified as the NFL has become a year-round obsession.
"“One general manager, Al Davis, said it best. ‘Just win, baby’. If you don’t win, I don’t care who you are, or where you are, you’re not going to make it. And right now, owners are signing guys for four years and getting rid of them after two. Close to a third every year get fired, and hired. It’s totally different than it was back in my day."
"“Guys like Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi would be able to deal with what you have to deal with now. The thing that I did when came here is I said to Art Modell when he offered me the job, I need two things. We need to be five deep for all the different positions for the coaching staff I’m going to hire. Then we will be involved with every single thing that has to do with talent and the acquisition of talent. It can’t work the other way.”"
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Rutigliano’s Browns posted several memorable wins during his time leading the team, but it was a victory in 1980 against the Pittsburgh Steelers that stands out for him above all the others.
"“My one moment was beating Pittsburgh in 1980; the best football team in the world in 1978 to 1979; which led to our winning season and the Browns going back to the playoffs. When I got off that bus when got into Cleveland (after clinching a playoff berth by beating the Cincinnati Bengals), there were 35,000 people waiting for us. It was a great, great feeling.”"