For new city, Modell needs a new coach

November 20, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

CLEVELAND -- Art Modell is getting blamed for a lot of things around the country right now, but you can't blame him for the collapse of his team this season.

The Cleveland Browns were falling apart before Modell announced he was moving them to Baltimore.

News of the planned move has given the players and coaches a convenient excuse for losing, but they had lost three of four games -- including a home loss to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars -- before they learned they were moving.

No, the unsettled environment isn't helping them. Their home crowd was less than supportive during yesterday's 31-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers at damp, dreary Cleveland Stadium. "It affects us," wide receiver Michael Jackson said.

But let's not allow the hype to obscure the truth. The Browns aren't a very good football team.

They have lost six of their past seven games. They have had a losing record in four of the past five seasons. This season will make five of six.

They lack an explosive running back, a solid run defense and a quality secondary. Their linebackers are old. Vinny Testaverde is their best quarterback. They're suffering for having let Eric Metcalf and Michael Dean Perry walk away in the off-season.

A memo to Baltimore fans who said all along that having a bad team was better than having no team at all: Get ready to walk the walk.

But hey, don't be discouraged. The Browns' collapse is good news for Baltimore.

Sure, each defeat is going to make it harder and harder to pull the trigger on one of those permanent seat licenses. But each defeat also increases the pressure on Modell to make sweeping changes in the front office.

Sweeping changes that are absolutely necessary.

Sweeping changes such as jettisoning coach Bill Belichick and personnel director Mike Lombardi.

Belichick clearly needs to go. He went 6-10 in his first season. He'll be lucky to go 6-10 in this, his fifth season. That's enough. This isn't high school.

It's not just his record, either. His sullen personality and joyless management style have succeeded in alienating fans and players alike.

Sure, he has an excuse for whatever happens this year, but the popular thinking in Cleveland is that the Browns went in the tank before the move was announced because they were tired of Belichick.

In any case, it would be hard to think of a poorer choice to coach a team starting fresh in a new city.

A new city needs a coach with enthusiasm as well as coaching acumen, a coach who smiles at least occasionally and makes it fun to have a team again.

Cleveland fans will tell you that having the grim, combative Belichick was no fun at all.

Lombardi's case is a little harder to figure, primarily because Belichick and Modell also have a significant say in personnel matters, making it impossible to assess blame and credit. And considering that this is just Lombardi's second year on the job, with the Browns having gone 11-5 and made the playoffs last year, it's not as though his track record is a disaster.

But do you know why Lombardi needs to go? Because what Modell needs to do, if he wants to start properly in Baltimore, is hand over the entire football operation to an Ernie Accorsi-type general manager with the vision and knowledge to hire a coach, run a team, plug holes, assess talent, scout and draft.

It's not going to happen, of course, because as much as Modell wants to win and is willing to write the big checks to get there, he also likes to be involved and will never just hand over the running of the team to someone else. It's unfortunate. The only sustained period of success he has had in the past quarter-century came when Accorsi was quietly making key personnel decisions in the background in the 1980s.

The ideal want-ad for the new job in Baltimore would read as follows: sound football man, willing to let boss stand in the spotlight. Accorsi, now the New York Giants' assistant GM, would be a perfect choice. If that doesn't happen, Modell could get recommendations from someone in the GM vanguard such as Bobby Beathard.

In any case, that scenario is best for Baltimore, and that scenario becomes more and more likely with each game the Browns lose. Modell will pretty much have to make changes if the Browns finish 4-12 or 5-11 or something like that. You just can't drag that kind of mess into a new town without rolling a few heads.

What it means, in essence, is that what's bad for the Browns in '95 is good for Baltimore in the long run. You can cheer for them next year, but right here, right now, this is a franchise in need of an overhaul. The kind of overhaul that follows a poor season.

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