By Ed Meyer
We’re not going to know, until we know.
The Browns, like all teams in the NFL, run things like the CIA, never commenting on questions from any media members about what they view as their most important business.
Few if any NFL insiders knew, lest we forget, that Browns General Manager John Dorsey had zeroed in on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield long before actually taking him as the No. 1 pick in the April draft.
My esteemed colleague from our Doom and Gloom days, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland, knows as much about the inner workings of the Browns as any reporter I’ve ever known – we go back together 30-plus years – and he had Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold pegged as the team’s QB of the future.
In the interest of truth and justice, I felt Darnold would be their guy, too.
That’s why I’m saying: We’re not going to know who will be the next coach of the Browns until Dorsey introduces him in Berea.
Dorsey said as much in his press conference Monday after the season finale.
It was a hell of a football game that the Browns lost, 26-24, in Baltimore. They finished the season 7-8-1 overall and 5-3 under what I have viewed, for weeks now, as the remarkable job that interim coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens did in transforming the team from 3-36-1 -- no words would adequately describe those figures -- of the Hue Jackson era.
Williams, 60, had his interview with Dorsey and other high-ranking officials on the search team – he won’t say who they are either – on Tuesday. The GM also confirmed that Kitchens, 44, will be interviewed on a day to be determined.
That’s about all we know for sure.
Dorsey, who traces his roots as a player and talent evaluator to the Packers organization, would not even say if Mike McCarthy is on his list of candidates. McCarthy, 55, was fired as Green Bay’s coach on Dec. 2, ending his career there with a Super Bowl title and a 125-77-2 record (.618 winning percentage), including 10-8 (.556) in the playoffs.
“I have a lot of respect for Mike McCarthy and for what he has done,” Dorsey said, following up with this declaration: “I am not going to go into details about who is and who is not on our list.”
McCarthy, having been on the open market for a full month, is free to talk to anyone.
“I know that,” Dorsey said, “but I am still not going to talk about the details of our list.”
As questions about The List continued coming, Dorsey’s answers were, to me, amusingly familiar after spending 42 years in the newspaper business trying to get answers from mayors, police, prosecutors, judges, politicians and prominent sports figures.
So tell us, John, do you know how many guys that you will interview for the head coaching job?
“I do,” Dorsey said.
Is it more than five?
“I will not talk about the details of who we are going to interview,” he said.
But there already are reports that the Browns have asked permission to interview Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores.
“I have not seen that report,” Dorsey said. “He is a very highly qualified young man, but I am not going to talk about guys we are going to possibly interview.”
At that point, as a news reporter, I usually would thank the person who was the subject of my questions, close my notebook, and have a strong drink. That happened more times than I care to remember with Bill Belichick.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault Dorsey for the CIA tactics. I dealt with NFL coaches and team owners – my longest tenure with Art Modell and the Browns – for another 20 years, so I’m not surprised by any of the secrecy.
I do know this.
Dorsey must be thorough, and his search, according to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, must include at least one or more “diverse candidates” outside of the organization.
Once that occurs, along with the interviews of the other candidates on The List, I know what I woud do.
I would hire, as my first choice, Gregg Williams. I would also bring back Kitchens as offensive coordinator.
The Browns achieved the greatest turnaround in modern NFL history under their direction – from 0-16 under Jackson last year, to 7-8-1 this year.
It’s not conjecture.
Jim Nantz, the voice of CBS Sports, told the team’s flagship radio station last week before the Baltimore finale that his people researched the greatest turnarounds in the Super Bowl era, that the Browns were one of only four teams in that period to go winless for an entire season, and that no team -- no team -- had a greater turnaround than the Browns.
I checked it out, and Nantz is correct.
The Williams-Kitchens Crew changed everything.
They instilled discipline in the players, had harder practices, reduced penalties, had the football stadium filled for the home finale for the first time in years and, most importantly, kept Mayfield on his feet so that he could become the dangerous threat that Dorsey envisioned when he drafted him.
There might be no better statistic showing that than Mayfield’s sack totals.
In six games this season with Jackson as head coach and Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, Mayfield took 20 sacks and was almost maimed by the Steelers in their last game calling the shots.
In eight games under the Williams-Kitchens Crew, Mayfield was sacked only five times and, as his uniform stayed clean, went on to break the all-time NFL record for rookie quarterbacks with 27 touchdown passes.
That didn’t happen by accident.
There have been enough, already, of coaching and front-office overhauls in the 20 years since the Browns were reborn before the dawn of the milennium.
They finally got it right by putting Williams and Kitchens in control after the chaos of the Jackson era ended – much of which we still do not know, I’m convinced -- and both men deserve the chance to return.