Browns dysfunction runs deep in new ESPN report, but there are 5 reasons it may be over

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
Quarterback <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30971/" data-ylk="slk:Baker Mayfield">Baker Mayfield</a> celebrates with teammates after a touchdown in a sign that the future looks bright in Cleveland. (Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Quarterback Baker Mayfield celebrates with teammates after a touchdown in a sign that the future looks bright in Cleveland. (Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns are the NFL poster team for dysfunction and regime changes. As each new story regarding it is released, there are new little tidbits that add flavor to the Dawg Pound of fury.

The latest: details around the exact moment former Browns head coach Hue Jackson was let go. From Seth Wickersham of ESPN:

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Jackson asked why he was being fired.

The team quit on you, Dorsey replied.

At the time, four of the eight Browns games had gone to overtime.

“Get the f— out of my office,” Jackson said.

The Thursday morning piece, titled “The clash of the Cleveland Browns: How Hue Jackson, Jimmy Haslam and Baker Mayfield collided,” offers much of the same to previous reports in terms of in-fighting, draft power moves and a lack of true leadership. But there may be reason to be hopeful if the closing stanza to Wickersham’s reporting is any indication.

1. Jimmy Haslam maybe, just maybe, is taking a seat

Jimmy Haslam, who owns the team with his wife Dee, is the root of all problems. Terry Pluto wrote as much in an excerpt of his new book, “The Browns Blues,” last month for The Athletic.

Wickersham brought it into a larger light, describing the 64-year-old owner as one who likes to listen and is accessible to nearly all in the building. That’s great to foster ideas, gauge thoughts and assess a team working toward one goal. It’s troublesome when you take every idea equally, turn every thought into an actionable item and inadvertently set a team into personal survival mode.

It seems as though that’s what Haslam did. The ESPN report showed he was too involved in every aspect and didn’t allow those he hired to function in their role properly. A good boss delegates, allows employees to fulfill their duties, and steps in when needed and necessary.

That aspect of dysfunction runs throughout every story, every tidbit and every idea following.

For the sign that might change look no further than the press conference announcing Freddie Kitchens as the new head coach. The Haslams did not make the announcement, as they have before. They instead sat and listened. Wickersham also notes that for the first time Haslam did not have friends in the team’s draft war room.

2. Sticking with a new ‘idea’ in Baker Mayfield

“Haslam is dazzled by the promise of new ideas,” Wickersham writes. He later adds that the owner “refuses to commit to a football ideology long enough to see it through.”

The new ideology is Baker Mayfield. He’s a front runner for rookie of the year honors, threw for 3,725 yards — sixth-most for a rookie in NFL history — and emboldened a fan base by waking up Sunday mornings “feeling dangerous.”

He did not get a say in the hiring, but his thoughts were taken into consideration. The two bonded during a 5-3 finish to close the season and sing each other’s praises.

Another glimmer: Kitchens told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week he isn’t looking to change who Mayfield is off the field. That will put to ease any worries the two will clash over it in the upcoming months.

3. Kitchens: the old guy and the new one

It can help to know how to, in a way, play the system. And it’s still a complicated system in Cleveland.

Kitchens was promoted from within and that can be a good thing, even if it comes from dysfunction. Kitchens should at least have an idea of how Haslam and other top brass operate. He can work inside of or around that.

It was a collaborative hire, unlike those in the past. That’s not to say there aren’t questions around Kitchens’ readiness to be a head coach in the NFL.

4. Stabilized power structure

Even at the lowest levels of Pop Warner football there is a hierarchy to follow. The same is true of any company. And there’s a reason for it.

Multiple reports showcased over-the-top arguments and Big Brother-esque colluding when it came to draft picks. There were multiple voices and a lack of agenda.

Haslam repeatedly changed job descriptions in the front office that went beyond constant firings, such as giving the salary cap strategist more involvement in football operations, per Wickersham. The structure lines were forever moving.

And as outlined, he took control of things when he should have let the system run its course. According to the report, the executives in charge of hiring a head coach voted 4-1 in favor of hiring Sean McDermott in 2016. Haslam was the single vote for Jackson.

He flew to Cincinnati and hired him anyway.

As Charles Robinson wrote earlier this month for Yahoo Sports, hiring Kitchens provided “clarity to a muddled power structure inside Cleveland.” It’s something the organization desperately needs.

5. A suggestion: Don’t do this again

One would hope this baffling mistake isn’t made again. Though to be fair, we can’t be sure it won’t.

During the 2015 season, according to the report, marketing executives decided to show employees how fans were engaging the team on social media and set up a feed that displayed on a facility wall. (This despite a clearly upset fan base and public mocking.)

From Wickersham:

It was like broadcasting talk radio over the entire building, and one day in particular, it was worse than that. One of the marketing staffers entered a search for #dp — for Dawg Pound. The problem was, that hashtag carried a few different meanings, one of which triggered an array of porn to be broadcast onto a wall for the entire office to see for more than 20 minutes, until a tech employee killed the feed.

Twitter was admittedly a tad different four years ago, but as any Browns fans on the site today can attest there is no way fans were using that hashtag. It’s an automatic question mark, and a true example of the team’s overall dysfunction, that the marketing team even considered that.

#Browns — Obviously.

#DawgPound — Yes

#CLEvs — Sure

#RallyPossum — Own it. 

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