'It's contagious': Jarvis Landry's 97-second 'Hard Knocks' helped launch Browns' culture change

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BEREA, Ohio — Jarvis Landry stepped into a 1-31 quagmire when he was traded to the Browns in March 2018.

Less than five months later, he snapped.

During training camp, Landry let loose in the receivers room in what is now known as the “Hard Knocks” speech.

Captured on the HBO series, now-five-time Pro Bowler Landry blasted his new teammates for sitting out when they weren’t seriously hurt, which meant more reps and more chances for injury for others. He told them if their hamstring wasn’t falling off the bone or their leg wasn’t broken, they should be practicing. He emphasized that was the reason the Browns had been through two seasons of unprecedented misery.

He said he was hurt and tired, but wasn’t taking any days off because he couldn’t be great that way. He emphasized that the Browns had to get rid of that attitude, concluding such weakness “don’t (expletive) live here no more ... It’s contagious.”

In 97 seconds, Landry dropped 23 f-bombs, used the s-word 10 times, and threw in another expletive for good measure.

Looking back three years later, the moment feels like the spark that set the Browns’ culture change in motion.

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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry eyes down a pass during NFL football training camp, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry eyes down a pass during NFL football training camp, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Berea, Ohio.

Of course, Landry would see two head coaches — Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens — fired and coach Kevin Stefanski and General Manager Andrew Berry hired before the Browns internally cured what ailed them. Berry rebuilt the roster with “smart, tough, accountable” players. The cool-in-a-crisis, ultra-organized Stefanski brought effective schemes from his 14 years with the Minnesota Vikings. He also unified the group into a close, cohesive, caring team and the Browns went 11-5 in 2020, made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and won their first playoff game since Jan. 1, 1995.

With the Browns preparing to open the season Sunday in Kansas City against a Chiefs team that ended their previous season, Landry revisited those groundbreaking — and doorframe rattling — 97 seconds.

“At that time, I sensed a lot of immaturity,” Landry said after practice Monday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. “I sensed a lot of ... not weakness, but not embracing the part that sucks, just wanting the glory type of mindset. I was overwhelmed at that point where I just wanted to say what I wanted to say.”

Landry doesn’t know if a specific teammate set him off. He said he was going through some physical issues and, “I think I just got filled with emotion.”

He went to the training room for treatment and didn’t like what he heard.

“I overheard a couple conversations about what guys had off days that day,” Landry recalled. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m in year five and I’ve been to the Pro Bowl [three times in four years], I’ve never asked for an off day.’ Guys in their second year would get an off day, first-year guys getting off days and it’s like, ‘No way. That’s not how you build a culture.’

“Those emotions just kind of took over, and when we got to the receiver room coach [Adam] Henry was talking about who was not practicing and it just came over me like I had to say something.”

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry lays the ball down after catching a touchdown pass against the Titans in the first half Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry lays the ball down after catching a touchdown pass against the Titans in the first half Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Former Browns assistant Henry, who coached receivers Landry and future-Brown Odell Beckham Jr. at Louisiana State University, never stepped in to cool Landry down, at least not in the clip HBO used.

When it was suggested to Landry that he snapped, he said, “That’s what it really was.” He laughed at the thought.

Landry said he’d only been that emotional one other time talking to his teammates. It came during his third season with the Miami Dolphins in 2016, when they were at Heinz Field facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC wild-card game. The Dolphins trailed 20-6 at halftime in a 30-12 loss. Landry caught 11 passes for 102 yards, but could not offset the performance of receiver Antonio Brown, who pulled in five passes for 124 yards, including 50- and 62-yard touchdowns.

“I tried to step up and ... motivate the guys,” Landry said of that defeat on Jan. 8, 2017. “That’s my mindset. It’s always been how I play the game. I wanted guys around me that look at it the same way.”

Asked if his “Hard Knocks” speech helped launch the culture change, Landry said, “I think that has something to do with it.”

Landry said he tries to personally get to know his teammates, especially his fellow receivers. He said he wasn’t trying to take over and didn’t know how the Browns did things, even though it wasn’t working. He was more concerned about how the players’ immature ways would affect him.

“I felt that what was happening was something that could easily rub off on me and change the way I approach the game,” Landry said. “As I was talking to them, I was talking to myself, too.

“Like, it’s training camp, it’s one of the hardest parts of the year. But it’s also the best part of the year because you find out who you are, you find out what you can do. You have to dig even deeper.

“That was the message that I really wanted to get across minus all the f-bombs and the s-words. That’s really what I wanted to get across — the mindset.”

Landry said he’s helping to set a tone with his physicality on the field. Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, now an NBC analyst, said during an Aug. 31 conference call that Stefanski told him he charts players’ knockdowns and in 2020 the receivers were the top position group on the team.

“He told me one thing he wanted to get to the offense was being physical, knocking people down,” Dungy said of Stefanski. “You see a team that really believes in their head coach, and that’s why I think they’re going to be good.

“When you get guys like Jarvis Landry buying into it and going downfield and knocking people down and then the running backs see this and the linemen see this, everybody’s on board. That’s what you see.”

James Brown, host of “The NFL Today” and “Inside the NFL,” also mentioned the knockdowns during the NFL on CBS Media Day videoconference on Sept. 1.

“I’m loving the system he’s got in place,” Brown said to Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher in discussing Stefanski. “You talked about communication, everybody being on the same page. And, by the way, he’s also recognizing players who get knockdowns, and guess who led the way last year? That was Jarvis Landry, so it truly was a team approach.”

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) is brought down by Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane (41) during the second half of an AFC wild-card playoff game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal)
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) is brought down by Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane (41) during the second half of an AFC wild-card playoff game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal)

Landry said that’s how he’s always played the game.

“It’s also that you want guys who are your leaders to be doing the tough jobs,” Landry said. “The guys that get paid the big bucks, that still do the dirty work, that still grind it out. It’s easy to use them as a source for other guys about what the standard is and what the game should mean to them.

“Even if you just look at it from a smaller standpoint, just the receiver group, if I play to a high level in the pass game, but also in the run game as well, then ... every receiver in that room is held to that same standard. Then we get together as a team and coach addresses it, points it out, then maybe it sparks something in one of the guys in the offensive line, now he plays that way. Now someone on the offensive line sees ... It’s the contagious thing.”

Contagious is a Landry buzzword, but he wouldn’t go so far as to say everything has been fixed inside the walls of Berea.

“We continue to grow at this,” he said. “It’s good that we’ve got a lot of the same guys back. The biggest thing with AB [Berry], coach Stefanski has been bringing in more guys with that type of mindset. They can play, but also they embrace the work ethic, they want to win. And that’s important. You get a lot of those guys in the same building, you become a pretty good football team.”

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns: Jarvis Landry's 'Hard Knocks' rant helped change culture