No. 1 Job For Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer Is Handling QBs
By Steven King
The Cleveland Browns’ top two football men, Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, both have a lot on their plate – a lot to learn, and to figure out -- as training camp gets set to begin in about a month.
Pettine has to learn how to be an NFL head coach. Farmer has to learn how to be an NFL general manager. Neither has been in those roles before.
They have to craft a way to make Cleveland a winner – a contender – again after 13 disastrous seasons in the 15 years since the franchise returned to the field in 1999. Only twice in the expansion era have the Browns posted a winning record. Just once have they advanced to the playoffs. That’s terrible. Somewhere, Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Lou Groza, Bill Willis, Marion Motley and Dante Lavelli are turning over in their graves.
As all coaches and GMs do, they have a lot of position battles to judge, including one involving their first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, cornerback Justin Gilbert, chosen near the top at No. 4 overall
But the biggest task – by far – that Pettine and Farmer will be charged with is orchestrating the quarterback situation. That is, they have to run a fair competition between Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel in camp and the preseason to determine the starter, and, along with that, if Manziel is not in the lineup on Sept. 7 for the regular-season opener at Pittsburgh, then they have to come up with the best time to begin playing him. Indeed, the Browns didn’t trade up four spots to draft Manziel in the first round, at No. 22 overall, just so they could let him rot on the sidelines, just as they didn’t do to it to play him too early, before he’s ready, thus possibly ruining him forever.
Handling the quarterbacks properly will make or break Pettine and Farmer, for if they do that correctly, then all the other things will fall into place. The NFL is quarterback-driven. The teams with the best ones win.
That Cleveland hasn’t had a good quarterback – at least consistently – for more than 20 years, since Bernie Kosar was rudely jettisoned midway through the 1993 season, is why the franchise has struggled so much since then.
Being good with the quarterbacks is not easy for coaches, who make the brunt of decisions about those players. If it were, then coaches would do it successfully and masterfully, and they wouldn’t be getting fired in droves at the end of every season.
The Browns since 1999 are prime examples of that.
Head coach Chris Palmer signed off on the team drafting Tim Couch, who ran a pitch-and-catch offensive system at Kentucky, and tried to cram him into a vertical passing game.
Butch Davis had a gut feeling and named Kelly Holcomb the starter over Couch at the conclusion of the 2003 preseason, but, in the days leading up to that decision, he kept telling each player, sometimes within minutes of each other, “I believe in you as my starter.” Yes, Davis was fired – or allowed to resign in disgrace -- more for the fact that he couldn’t tell the truth, especially with his quarterbacks, than for any other reason.
Nice guy Romeo Crennel was so ignorant about how to handle the position that he would tell the media, “I can’t figure out why you guys are so focused on the quarterbacks.”
Eric Mangini had Brett Favre while with the New York Jets and couldn’t make the playoffs with the three-time NFL MVP. Then, while in Cleveland, he kept the game plan hidden from Colt McCoy until Wednesday of game week for who knows what reason. Enough said.
Pat Shurmur came to Cleveland with a reputation for understanding quarterbacks. Some things – and people – are not as advertised.
Rob Chudzinski never had a chance to really show what he could do, having his legs cut out from under him by Browns CEO Joe Banner just six months ago, after only a season. Certainly, Banner – all 5-foot-5 and 130 pounds of him, soaking wet, including those cool grasses he wore – made the biggest tackle of the season, deftly felling a man who used to be a college tight end. But at the same time, Chudzinski didn’t help himself, either, by starting Brandon Weeden over Hoyer.
Now it’s 2014, and the Browns – this time, Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer -- are still trying to figure it out at quarterback. That endeavor is not a sidebar story of the season. It is the main story of the season.