By Ed Meyer
I have made no secret of my feelings about why the Browns’ head coaching job should go to Gregg Williams. In the aftermath of the Hue Jackson fiasco, Williams turned a team that did not know how to win any game into a playoff contender in half of a season.
I’ve never met the man, but I did see the entire atmosphere – the vastly improved offense, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield rising to star status, the revival of the city’s long-suffering fans, and league-wide respect for the Browns -- change in a way that we haven’t seen since the Bernie Kosar era.
What more could you ask?
The Browns’ brain trust, led by General Manager John Dorsey, apparently is asking a great deal more as they intensify their search for the coach who will lead the team next year and, hopefully, beyond that.
“If Gregg Williams was going to get the job,” Browns radio voice Jim Donovan said Friday, “wouldn’t he have it by now? He went 5-3 and was almost 6-2, he did a great job, we’re proud of him.
“He’s done a great job in a tough situation where we fired Hue Jackson, the search is over, and he is the head coach. I think the very fact that they haven’t announced him, seems to weaken his chances.”
It’s one of the leading theories about the inner workings of the team’s coaching search. If anyone has solid information on what Dorsey is thinking, it’s Donovan.
As the team’s longtime radio voice, sports director and news anchor of WKYC-TV (NBC) in Cleveland, he is trusted with keeping the team’s fans accurately informed with a media following no one else can approach.
So when you hear Donovan on the airwaves, listen up.
The list of confirmed candidates interviewed for the top job thus far has grown to five.
Williams, 60, was the first, followed by former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, 63; Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, 36; Saints assistant head coach and linebackers coach Dan Campbell, 42; and the latest, Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores, 37, who was interviewed Saturday.
One of the best football men I know, The Old Warrior, radio analyst Doug Dieken, does not feel Dorsey already has made up his mind and moved past Williams.
“I agree that Gregg Williams should be kind of the favorite going in, but I do understand that if they don’t look at everybody and all the options, then they’re opening themselves for criticism,” Dieken said.
Back on Nov. 14 during the team’s bye week, Dorsey said he thinks about his coaching decision “all the time,” in solitude, while driving home from the team’s complex in Berea.
Hiring “the right head coach for this organization moving forward,” is paramount, he said.
“Just make sure you don’t mess up. That’s what I keep telling myself,” Dorsey said, “just don’t mess the thing up.”
Dorsey is no BS artist.
“He really wants to get it right, and he’s a very thorough guy,” Dieken said. “He’s not going to hire somebody just to hire somebody. This is his first hire, and you can understand why he wants to get it done the right way, so you’ve got to explore all your options.
“The thing you have to do, though,” Dieken said, “is make sure someone doesn’t backdoor you, and you end up with the second fiddle. It should be a competition of two for the top guy – the Browns and the Packers.
“Those are the two franchises that appear to have the most stability at the quarterback position. The Jets, yeah, they have the rookie, (Sam) Darnold. He was okay, but I think Baker was far above that. He set the rookie record.”
Mayfield threw three TD passes in the finale against the Ravens, reaching 27 for the season – more than any rookie quarterback in NFL history. And he did it against the top-ranked defense in the league.
Tailback Nick Chubb, who set the team’s all-time record for rookie running backs with 996 yards rushing, scoring 10 touchdowns in only 10 starts, and defensive end Myles Garrett, the top pick in the 2017 draft, also make the Browns’ job maybe the most coveted in the league.
Coming up for interviews soon, according to multiple reports, are Mike McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl title, had a 125-77-2 record (.618 winning percentage) and 10 playoff victories in 13 years with the Packers before he was fired early last month; and Mayfield’s quarterback guru, offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.
The Browns confirmed late last week that they blocked other teams from interviewing Kitchens for coordinator jobs, as sure a sign as any that he is a serious candidate on Dorsey’s list.
More and more NFL insiders are saying that Kitchens could get the top job, because the Browns do not want to lose him down the road.
And who said you never listen to the fans?
One of the best Tweets that I’ve seen all year was on Saturday from Matt Stevenson (@StevensonMatt94) of Sagamore Hills.
Dorsey’s decision to push the Kitchens interview into next week, Stevenson tweeted, “makes me think one thing: The Browns are genuinely interested in him at head coach and want to give him enough time to organize and compose a sincere pitch to be the HC.”
If that happens, there would be little chance that Gregg Williams would return to the team in a diminished role as Kitchens' defensive coordinator. .