Kosar Avoids Being Sacked By Browns After Bizarre Tirade
By Steven King
Everywhere you look in the NFL these days, there are statistics.
This player runs this fast, that player rushed for that many yards last season and the player over there passed for so many touchdowns. After a while, it all becomes dizzying. As such, it’s why many coaches simply use the eye test to determine a player’s worth. They watch him to try to figure out who he and what he is beyond all the numbers.
When you come right down to it, that’s not a bad way to coach a team. Just as the so-called eye in the sky – the camera -- doesn’t lie, neither do the eyes in a coach’s head.
And if it works with eyes, why can’t it also work with ears?
With that in mind, let’s use the ear test to boil off all the superfluous and get right to the crux of the matter concerning Bernie Kosar’s comments while working as the color analyst for the telecast by Cleveland’s Channel 3 during last Thursday night’s preseason opener between the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
During the second half of an eventual 27-19 Cleveland victory, Kosar began going off on a now well-known tirade against Rams QB Kellen Clemens and his receivers seemingly out of the blue. He even envoked the name of Pope Benedict and Clemens’ parents while play-by-play Jim Donovan stood next to him in the booth in mostly stunned silence.
Since then, the story – and all the different sidebars that go with it – have gotten bigger and more numerous every day. St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher – who coached against the Browns in one of his first games after taking over for the fired Jack Pardee as the coach of the Houston Oilers midway through the 1994 season – blasted Kosar for his remarks. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was equally unkind with a tweet, insinuating that Kosar must have been drinking, before later apologizing.
Kosar was called onto the carpet by Cleveland CEO Joe Banner, who termed the former Browns star quarterback’s remarks unprofessional and unacceptable. Kosar apologized to Fisher and said his comments were inappropriate. Banner said Kosar realizes that things must be different going forward.
Kosar’s supporters – of which there are many in northeast Ohio – have jumped in with both feet to defend.
All this has so greatly overshadowed the encouraging performance of the Brwons against St. Louis that it is almost as if the game was never played. For coach Rob Chudzinski, his coaches and his players – all of whom have worked so hard to try to get the franchise back on track – that’s unfortunate and disappointing.
But when you block all of that out of your mind and listen to Kosar’s comments again by giving them the simple ear test, here’s what is painfully clear:
1) Kosar, who has worked for several seasons as the color analyst on Browns preseason telecasts, went far beyond the limits of analyzing Clemens’ play and that of the Rams receivers. His remarks were long and rambling at times and quickly turned into something that appeared to be purely personal for whatever reason. It was hard to listen to and embarrassing for both the Browns and Channel 3.
In a lot of ways, Kosar was like that loose-cannon relative who puts everybody on pins and needles at family get-togethers by saying anything to anybody at any time, no matter how out of line it is.
2) This is not what the Browns aspire as the team undergoes a makeover under new owner Jimmy Haslam It is also not how Banner – a tough-minded individual who runs the day-to-day operations – wants the organization to be viewed either.
3) It was bad TV. It took away greatly from the telecast and put Donovan in a tough spot. That’s Kosar’s partner in the booth and, as such, he gets tossed into the fray and is viewed wrongly by some to be guilty by association. He had nothing to do with this. He was as much an innocent bystander as the fans watching at home.
4) It put Banner into a tough spot as well. Already under some scrutiny by bringing in a controversial choice as general manager in Mike Lombardi, he was left between a very big rock and a very hard place.
He couldn’t – and still can’t, at least in the near future – fire Kosar. The former Browns quarterback –
along with Jim Brown and Brian Sipe – are the most iconic living players in franchise history. Kosar bleeds Cleveland and the Browns. In a lot of ways, he is Cleveland and the Browns. He is a Youngstown area native who grew up rooting for the team and wanted to play for it when the city was down on its luck nearly 30 years ago. He lifted the franchise and the city onto his shoulders and, in his first five seasons from 1985-89, took Cleveland to five straight playoff appearances, four Central Division titles and three trips to the AFC Championship Game. Because of that, he can never do any wrong in the eyes of many.
In fact, some fans trace the team’s longstanding inability to win to the midway point of 1993 when then-coach Bill Belichick unceremoniously cut Kosar with the team in first place, even though his No. 1 backup, Vinny Testaverde, was out with a shoulder injury. They say it is where the Browns they had grown to know and love over all those years changed for the worst. Kosar is that firmly entrenched in things around here. He moves mountains in terms of emotion.
So if Banner had jettisoned Kosar from the booth last weekend, there would have been a march on team headquarters in Berea. Don’t laugh. When Kosar was cut 20 years ago, there were many picketers at Berea as well as angry fans around Belichick and his family during games at old Cleveland Stadium.
To Browns fans, football – and their hometown heroes -- are serious business. Therefore, Banner had to bite the bullet, agree to go forward with Kosar for the three remaining preseason telecasts this year and hope and pray there are no more incidents like this one.
5) There may be no guarantees beyond this season with Kosar remaining on the job. Banner was already concerned about Kosar’s sometimes out-of-the-box behavior, and his fears were justified – and realized -- by what happened in the first telecast. Another misstep could spell the end for Kosar’s broadcasting career with the Browns, even if it might not come until after the season.
6) Kosar is loved like a brother in Cleveland. When he went through a messy divorce, a personal bankruptcy and exhibited erratic behavior that has since been blamed on all the concussions he received while playing, the fans rallied around him to serve as his support group. Since he had uplifted their spirits so much during an 8½-year Browns career, they weren’t – and aren’t – about to let him fall. They have uplifted him, and will continue to do so.
7) Things can’t go on like this – that much is for sure. Banner has already changed many things – many sacred cows – in the organization and likely wouldn’t hesitate to do so again if given no other alternative, even if his name is Bernie Kosar and it would be looked upon by many as taking a pick axe and a jackhammer to one of the figures on the Browns’ version of Mount Rushmore.
No one – absolutely no one at all -- wants to see that. At the same time, people are holding their breath and have their fingers crossed. It is why the TV ratings for Thursday night’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Cleveland will go through the roof – more so than the normal, already popular Browns telecasts – as Kosar’s many loyal fans and a horde of curious onlookers tune in to hear what may come out of his mouth next. Indeed, what will the ear test sound like this time?
The no-nonsense Banner doesn’t like any of this. He would much rather the team garner attention and a large audience for its play on the field than for what transpires in the TV booth. Stay tuned – literally and figuratively – for it should be interesting and defining.
And Browns fans are hoping and praying that it will all turn out well for their ever-popular friend.