By Ed Meyer
This is an educated hunch, but I think the Browns have their next head coach. The problem is whether they realize it.
You don’t have to be in the soundproof room where General Manager John Dorsey conducts his meetings, secretly moving the names of coaching candidates up and down his list.
It’s not that complicated.
Watching how the team has played with interim coach Gregg Williams calling the shots, and listening to how the young players have reacted and responded to his methods, should put the cloak-and-dagger routine to rest.
Since the Browns were bludgeoned 33-18 by the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, nearly getting rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield maimed on a double sack that dropped him to his knees in Hue Jackson’s final game as coach, they have transformed themselves into a genuinely exciting team, with their longshot playoff hopes still twitching.
Williams, 60, has led the Browns (5-7-1) to wins in three of his five games, as many wins as Jackson managed to achieve on his 40-game Cleveland resume, and has Mayfield thriving under offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.
With Kitchens calling plays, Mayfield has thrown 11 touchdown passes, has shown uncanny accuracy for a rookie, and has a quarterback rating of 114.4, compared to the 78.9 rating under former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who also got the heave-ho with Hue.
The team’s future rests with Mayfield, and it now is clear that he has formed a pretty solid relationship with Williams and Kitchens that the Browns should seriously consider preserving.
Mayfield was asked in the locker room Tuesday to assess the team’s performance under Williams, and the rookie’s response was revealing, to say the least.
“What you see is what you get,” Mayfield said. “There is no smoke and mirrors. Everything is out on the line. You know exactly what it is. Communication is very open and honest.”
Where once the unrest between Jackson and Haley had threatened to ruin Mayfield’s entire rookie season, he has now become the dangerous threat that Dorsey envisioned when he made him the first pick in the draft.
Williams, in my book, should get plenty of credit for that.
“He is trusting Freddie Kitchens to do his job and for us to go execute,” Mayfield said. “I think that is very important.”
Even the scourge of the 25-game road losing streak has been broken since Williams took over.
It ended on Nov. 25 in Cincinnati, where the Browns took apart the Bengals 35-20 behind Mayfield’s historic performance – 19-of-26 passing for 258 yards and four TD passes, the most by a rookie quarterback in team history.
“Old ways are out – all of that stuff about not winning a road game, not having the open mindset or positive mindset about that,” Mayfield said this week. “We are going to go take that game. Who we are playing, or where we are playing, we expect to win.
“That is how we have to approach it. That is the new culture that we are trying to bring and that is how it has to be.”
Dorsey, of course, must go through the elaborate interview process to determine who will be the next coach, but what happens if the Browns win out in their last three very winnable games – Saturday night at Denver (6-7), Dec. 23 at home against the Bengals (5-8) and Dec. 30 at Baltimore (7-6)?
Or what happens if the Browns win two-of-three to finish 7-8-1?
They are somehow going to convince Mayfield that they need to tear everything down and start again, with a new coach and his entirely new offensive and defensive systems?
Dorsey would do well, instead, to heed his own words.
The GM was asked, on Nov. 14, to expound on his thoughts about Mayfield from a year ago when he was still playing college ball at Oklahoma.
“It’s interesting where fate puts you at certain times and certain places, in the present, past and the future. You know what?” Dorsey said. “He’s here. And I’m here. It’s kind of neat.”
Fate has put Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens where they are today, and they have both made a strong case for staying here.