Shofner gets Browns job, shares blame with Carson

November 06, 1990|By Steve Love | Steve Love,Knight-Ridder

EARLY YESTERDAY morning, Jim Shofner was reviewing with Cleveland Browns coach Bud Carson the Shofner-coordinated offense that had produced 43 too few points to beat Buffalo Sunday.

Both men may have sensed that in the aftermath of the Bills' 42-0 victory at Cleveland Stadium, their lives were about to change. But they did not speak of this.

"We discussed the game," Shofner said.

It was the last game of Carson's short career as Browns coach.

By 10:30 a.m., he had been summoned to appear before owner Art Modell, who fired Carson when the coach would not resign nine games into his second season and with a 12-14-1 overall record that included a 37-21 loss to Denver in the 1989 AFC Championship game.

Shortly afterward, Shofner met with Modell and became, at least for the remainder of this season, the Browns' head coach.

"I guess you could say it's bittersweet," Shofner, 54, said of an opportunity he had longed for when younger but had all but given up on.

He had rejoined the Browns in February, coming back to the team for which he coached quarterback Brian Sipe during the season of the Kardiac Kids.

Most recently he had been offensive coordinator for the Phoenix Cardinals. He expected no more in Cleveland.

He had come back to work for Modell and to help Carson, who had fired Marc Trestman, the offensive coordinator assigned him in 1989.

"That was not my intent at all," Shofner said of becoming head coach. "I'm very disappointed that Bud and I didn't get this done."

The Browns, last in the AFC Central Division, fell to 2-7 with the Buffalo loss and left Shofner feeling the ambivalence of failure that somehow led to his dream.

"Ten years ago," Shofner said, "my intent was to get into a position so I could be a head coach. [But] I couldn't get any owners to give me a job."

That changed when Modell decided to try to alter the losing atmosphere, if not the record, by doing the same thing he had done in 1984: Firing a coach at midseason.

Explained Modell: "I dreaded, nightmarish as it might sound, to be 2-14, 3-13 or even 4-12 and leaving that feeling in the offseason . . . There is no sense of optimism and confidence that I think is needed, particularly with the young players."

So he turned to Shofner, who previously had been the subject of speculation as Carson's replacement.

Modell, however, did everything but swear on a stack of Bibles that he had not discussed the job with Shofner prior to firing Carson.

"I have a special relationship [with Shofner]," Modell said. "I was fortunate enough to have him play for me [as defensive back] in my first three years of ownership in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Then he returned to the Browns during the Kardiac Kid days of Brian Sipe.

"I know what he can do. I know what he did with Neil Lomax [of Phoenix], with Danny White down in Texas and with Brian Sipe. Hopefully, some of that will rub off in a positive way."

Shofner was the only person Modell considered to replace Carson.

"There was no way," Modell said, "that I was going outside the staff. It didn't require any special genius [to see] the one I would turn to probably would be Shofner."

As Modell did this, Shofner made a turn of his own -- away from the short-lived Carson Era.

He offered no guarantees of success when asked why someone should believe his offense, which was producing 14 points per game, would be better now that he is head coach.

"I'm not saying that it will be," Shofner replied.

What he did say, however, was that there would be personnel changes, beginning at quarterback, where Bernie Kosar will return to action after being benched in favor of Mike Pagel by Carson.

"I think Bernie is really kind of the guts of our football team," Shofner said. "I think he has played well all year [Kosar's quarterback rating is 62.8, 32 points less than his high-water mark in 1987].

"I think we need more evidence than we had to change."

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