On Thursday morning, NFL investigator Seth Wickersham published a piece on the persistent dysfunction of the Cleveland Browns. His findings are shocking, and yet, not at all surprising.
NFL reporter Seth Wickersham has struck gold.
Known for his ESPN columns which go painstakingly in-depth, Wickersham often will paint a picture of just what life is like inside the walls of an NFL team office.
On Thursday morning, he may have published his magnum opus (which this writer humbly suggests you should read in full): a longform look at the dysfunction that has shaped the Cleveland Browns.
It’s no secret that the Browns have been a defect of the NFL for about the past 20 years. Just recently have the Browns actually started to pick things up and, seemingly, get moving in the right direction. Cleveland football has changed faces at quarterback, head coach, and general manager so many times that it’s hard to remember them all. And yet, ironically, the one thing that remains static is the one thing that’s causing most of the dysfunction: Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
If Wickersham’s article accomplishes one thing, it’s putting the Haslams in a negative light. Above all else, Jimmy and Dee Haslam have taken a wrecking ball to the Browns organization, time and time again, since buying the team in 2012. This is all because, in Wickersham’s words, “Jimmy Haslam wants to be a football guy.”
The article goes into great detail on just how flippant, just how impatient, Haslam can be with his football decisions. Haslam is on his fifth head coach and fifth general manager since taking over in 2012, and this has, unsurprisingly, caused an avalanche of malfunctions within the Browns organization.
Where the article really seems to pick up, however, is the hiring of Hue Jackson in early 2016. As Wickersham states:
"“After a few rounds of interviews, the brass voted. It was 4-1 in favor of Sean McDermott, the Panthers’ defensive coordinator, a coach who had crushed his interview and was known to be open to new ideas.”"
The 1 in that 4-1 just so happened to be Jimmy Haslam, who vetoed the majority rule and went with his vote, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. While this seemed like the “slam dunk” hire at the time, Jackson was the force that caused the Browns to implode in 2016 and 2017.
In addition to painting the Haslams in a negative light, Wickersham goes into great detail on just how destructive a force Jackson actually was. In an eye-opening turn of events, Wickersham recounts Hue Jackson’s final meeting with Jimmy Haslam, on the Monday following week eight of the 2018 season.
"“Jackson asked why he was being fired. The team quit on you, Dorsey replied. At the time, four of the eight Browns games had gone to overtime. ‘Get the f— out of my office,’ Jackson said.”"
Throughout Jackson’s tenure, he came to be known as stubborn, loose-lipped, and notably backstabbing. These habits ruined the Browns for two and a half years, and nearly ruined quarterback Baker Mayfield during his rookie season. But, Haslam finally pulled the trigger on firing Jackson after he achieved a 3-36-1 record during his tenure. And frankly, that decision set in motion where the Browns are today.
After reading Wickersham’s piece on the Browns, it’s easy to see just why the Browns have been so miserably bad since Haslam took over. But, what’s more important to note is that Haslam’s meddling ways look to be over. The dysfunction in Berea finally, finally, looks to be finished. Wickersham’s piece here feels like the ending of a chapter in Browns history, and it ends, feeling like the beginning of a new one.
Wickersham ends by recapping the introductory press conference of head coach Freddie Kitchens:
"”When the news conference is over, Haslam doesn’t linger. He’s done all he can do right now, which is to appear to step away. He moves quietly down the hallway with Dee as the cameras focus on his new coach, who smiles and speaks of promise and potential, having not yet lost a game.”"
The Browns are moving quickly back towards relevancy, and Haslam’s apparent change of heart shows just that. While Wickersham spent most of the article bashing Haslam, and rightly so, he ends his piece on the most dysfunctional team in football with a tone of hopefulness.
The Browns have their head coach, general manager, and quarterback in place for the first time since the early 1990s. The owner is stepping away from all the chaos, because he knows that he no longer needs to try to fix the team. Buckle up, Browns fans.
The Browns are no longer broken. Rather, the Browns are, as quarterback Baker Mayfield might put it, “feeling pretty dangerous.”