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Pettine, Farmer Must End Run Of Dysfunction At The Management Level

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Eric Mangini was involved in two of the six coach-general manager relationships in recent Browns' history that have been doomed to fail. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.
Eric Mangini was involved in two of the six coach-general manager relationships in recent Browns' history that have been doomed to fail. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.

The No. 1 relationship on the NFL is that between the coach and his quarterback. However, 1A is that between the coach and the general manager.

Just like the coach and quarterback, the coach and general manager must be in total concert with one another. They must be able to finish each other’s sentences. In fact, it could be argued – with some merit – that the relationship between the coach and general manager might actually supersede that of the coach and quarterback in a few aspects. After all, if the coach and general manager can’t come to an agreement on who the best available quarterback, then the coach-quarterback relationship never happens – or at least never happens with the right quarterback. Thus, the latter relationship – and the team itself – are doomed to fail.

And the Cleveland Browns will begin to find out in earnest how well their new coach (Mike Pettine) and new general manager (Ray Farmer) will work together when they’re at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis beginning Thursday.

For the Browns to have any chance to get it right, reverse their recent fortunes and get back on track, they absolutely must get this coach-general manager relationship right. But that’s easier said than done. The fact that relationship has not been good in this expansion era is why Cleveland has had just two winning records in 15 years and suffered through six consecutive losing seasons.

In fact, the relationship hasn’t been just bad; it’s been totally dysfunctional. It has been an example of how not to do business in the NFL.

The relationship between recently-departed GM Mike Lombardi and former coach Rob Chudzinski, who was fired at the end of the season, seemed to be non-existent in the 11 months they worked together. There was never any indication they talked much, let alone had substantive conversations.

When they did interact, they weren’t on the same page, such as when Lombardi kept insisting that WR Greg Little be released, only to have Chudzinski steadfastly balk. Then there was the tug-of-war at quarterback when Chudzinski, with the backing of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, pushed to have Brandon Weeden start last season at quarterback. Lombardi wanted to see if he could trade Weeden to Baldwin-Wallace University a few blocks from team headquarters for a couple old towels and a Jim Tressel autographed football.

Realizing all that, it’s not surprising that Cleveland went 4-12 last year. But what is surprising is that it won as many as four games.

Let’s look at the other coach-general manager tandems the new Browns have had, beginning with the most recent and working backward:

Pat Shurmur-Tom Heckert (2011-12) – The only thing they had in common was that they both worked for team president Mike Holmgren. Other than that, they were total strangers.

Eric Mangini-Heckert (2010) – See Shurmur-Heckert.

Mangini-George Kokinis (2009) – They both had strong ties to the original Browns under former coach Bill Belichick, Mangini was first a public relations intern and then a coaches assistant and Kokinis was a low-level personnel type. When “old buddy” Mangini offered him a chance to leave the Baltmore Ravens to become a general manager, Kokinis jumped at the chance. But power-hungry Mangini refused to give Kokinis anything to do, resulting in the latter coming into work late and doing nothing. It ended after just a half-season with Kokinis getting fired and being forcibly removed from the building (Kokonis later fought the action and reached a settlement with the Browns before returning to the Ravens).

That bizarre incident was the final straw for then-owner Randy Lerner, who said he wanted to find “a competent football man” to run his team. He ended up hiring Holmgren and the situation only got worse.

Romeo Crennel-Phil Savage (2005-09) – They also had the tie of having worked for Belichick in New England and Cleveland, respectively. Other than that, they were total strangers. They were far apart in age, which got everything off on the wrong foot. Savage viewed the older Crennel as being incompetent while Crennel viewed Savage as being egotistical and unwilling to realistically include him in any important decisions.

Butch Davis-Pete Garcia (2001-04) – After working with him with the Miami Hurricanes, Davis was maybe the only member of the Browns organization who Garcia trusted. And at the end, Garcia was the only member of the organization who still trusted Davis. The ever-loyal Garcia would do anything Davis told him, but he was not qualified to be an NFL general manager. And in reality, Garcia really wasn’t the general manager. He was no more than an errand boy for Davis, who, like Mangini, had an immense ego and wanted to be his own general manager.

Chris Palmer-Dwight Clark (1999-2000) – Having come from completely different backgrounds and places, they needed name tags to recognize one another. More importantly, neither was qualified for the job. That’s a bad combination, like taking a match to a can of gasoline. Cleveland started out the expansion era going a combined 5-27 in the time they worked together and, as such, was set a bad precedent from which the franchuise is still trying to escape.