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#HeyTony: Does harsh criticism of the Browns sink in with owner Jimmy Haslam?

Nov 28, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |



Johnny Manziel dominated the Hey Tony inbox, but the question that rose to the top concerned the owner of the Browns.

Hey Tony:  What a beautifully written, classic, epic, long overdue Grossi rip job of the Browns in your Friday piece ("Johnny Manziel's Great Lie Underscores Browns Lack of Leadership"). You should know you captured the sentiment of Browns fans of both our generations (I am 45 years old). If that article doesn't hit home with Jimmy Haslam, then that man either has no soul or truly does not know squat about how the NFL works. And, if that is the case ... what an utterly incompetent owner. Our coveted Browns organization is beyond an embarrassment to the fans. It's downright torturous! The Browns have become the proverbial catcher's mitt of the NFL......and I'm one of the Browns' staunchest fans! I just can't take it anymore! My question is, do you feel that when you write words like, "What a pathetic, amateurish way to select your franchise QB," or "I have never seen a Browns locker room so utterly devoid of leadership," does it actually hit home with Haslam? Do you feel he is in denial and thinks you are full of it or do these words make him feel genuinely embarrassed and compelled to hold himself accountable and that he should act on his inactions? Because, boy, this long suffering Browns fan base sure wish someone or something would finally get through to this guy.

-- Steve, Chagrin Falls, OH

Hey Steve: Nobody likes reading or hearing negative commentary about something for which you are responsible. The purpose of my commentaries or analyses is not to embarrass or humiliate but to lay out the problems of the Browns as I observe them. Those of us who have lived through this 100 Years War are horrified at the thought of this once-proud franchise never climbing out of this gigantic hole in our lifetimes. There are perks inherent in being owner of the Browns – guaranteed revenue, inordinate clout in procuring public money, celebrity status – but there is also a much deeper responsibility to being the guardian of a prime asset in a sports-crazed community. The owner has to field a product not only deserving of his community’s pride but also one that repays the community for its undying emotional and financial support. I’ve always said a championship team – even a championship-contending team – would be an economic catalyst to Cleveland. Much like the Steelers were to Pittsburgh in the 1970s, and still are today, the Browns have the opportunity and responsibility to be a catalyst to economic recovery and growth in Cleveland. In the context of explaining his discipline of Johnny Manziel, coach Mike Pettine said, “We always say to whom much is given, much is expected.” That is the standard I have applied to every owner of the Browns – Art Modell, the Lerner family and now Haslam.

Hey Tony: Do you think Mike Pettine was setting Manziel up for failure by naming him the starter for rest of the season at the open week to see how he would respond and prove to Mr. Haslam that he would never change his ways and could not be trusted to be franchise quarterback in the NFL? And on another note do you think Alex Mack will turn down his option and stay with the Browns since he's not having a good year, and other teams won't offer him a better contract then he's getting from the Browns he may have to take a pay cut.

-- Dave, North Ridgeville, OH

Hey Dave: It wasn’t a set-up to fail. But Pettine did say on one of the team radio shows that naming him the starter at the bye week presented a test for Manziel to see whether he would change his off-field behavior and act like a starter. He failed that test, and then reportedly lied to coaches about it. That is why he was demoted. On Mack, I believe he will opt out of his contract and enter unrestricted free agency. He won’t have trouble finding a team to pay him more than his current contract.

Hey Tony: Is there any chance this is a conscious effort by Manziel to get out of Cleveland?

-- Tom, Washington, IA

Hey Tom: That may be the end result, but I don’t think for a second that was his intent.

Hey Tony: What do you think the Browns can get for Manziel in a trade? Jerry Jones may give up a third, but that may be wishful thinking. Most teams, except Dallas, don't like the distractions from problem players. Justin Gilbert, Manziel and Ray Farmer should be out the door after this season. I'd include Haslam, but I don't have a billionaire to replace him. 

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I think the best the Browns could hope for in a trade for Manziel is a future pick conditional on Manziel’s active status and number of starts. Former Browns regimes were able to receive trade deals for Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy after they were chewed up and spit out of the Cleveland Quarterback-Eating Machine.

Hey Tony: Couple thoughts in reading Tuesday's reports about JM and his incidents. 1. Do you think it was possible they sent someone to Austin to shadow him this weekend and report back? I could picture when Pettine met with Manziel he already knew what happened and was waiting to hear what JM would say... When the stories didn't line up, he blew a gasket, called him on it, and lost any remaining trust in him. 2. What does that say about his girlfriend and his circle when he clearly has a problem, but all those close to him are all drinking and boozing and encouraging him. Hopefully his rock bottom will be when he realizes his "circle" is aiding and abetting rather than helping.

-- Feraas, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Feraas:  1. I don’t think the Browns followed Manziel to Austin. But they did investigate the circumstances after the video of his partying was exposed on the Internet. Every team has a security officer – most of them are retired FBI agents – who have the connections to find the facts of what happened. When Manziel’s story differed with the facts, they caught him lying. 2. I used the word “sycophant” to describe those who regularly party with Manziel. A sycophant is “a person who attempts to gain advantage by flattering influential people or behaving in a servile manner.”

Hey Tony:  I was thinking about the one thing I despise about this current team, it switches weekly, and I came to their softness. I abhor watching this team get bullied around the field for 60 minutes. It makes losing infinitely worse. Are you as shocked as much as I am that Pettine's team is so weak and cowardly? I mean, how many hard, illegal hits do they have to take before one of their team mates pushes back? I think there are many reasons to blow this thing up, the softness of this team is high on that list. Thanks.

-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL

Hey Eliot: I wouldn’t use the words weak and cowardly. I would say the team has no leaders on the field to enforce toughness and character. Those who were in the position of leadership have been beaten down physically and psychologically by the throes of continual losing (13 of last 15 games).

Hey Tony: The Lord works in strange ways. Could you have written the wonderful expose you wrote today of the Browns front office, if you were working elsewhere?  Thank you for the in-depth honesty. So much is written everywhere, as expected, about Johnny.  This question is about the Justin Gilbert Chronicles, as you so aptly named the narrative.  Many of us who write in only get to see games on TV, but when fortunate enough to attend live, one can actually see Gilbert's painful inability to cover receivers.  It is so profound that it reminds me of the tone deaf guy a few rows back in church, who can't sing on key, no matter how loudly he may try or how much The Lord might intervene on his behalf.  You just have to wince, and realize that we all have our limitations.  Question: do you try him in 2016 as a receiver?  Or do you simply wave goodbye to yet another draft day debacle?

-- Mark, Branford, CT

Hey Mark: I’ve got to believe there is a lot we don’t know about the reasons for Gilbert’s continual struggles on the field. Whether it’s medical, attitudinal or something else, there has to be legitimate reasons blocking his development as a player. Without knowing what they are, I can’t answer what to do with him.

Hey Tony: Do you think it's likely that Haslam will keep Farmer/Pettine until he knows where Peyton Manning will end up as GM? It might be a better strategy to hold off on blowing it up -- because he would then blow it up again if he could get Manning to GM.

-- Kevin, Salem, MA

Hey Kevin: I posed this idea on WKNR this week: I could see Haslam keeping the status quo for another year if he has assurances from his next football operations president – Manning or someone else -- that he won’t be available until 2017. I don’t know that to be the case, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

Hey Tony: Now that we see that the QB situation is absolutely a debacle, have the Browns given any consideration to making a trade for a younger veteran for next season? Most people agree that Colin Kapernick is on his way out in San Francisco, giving up a 4th round pick for him then say drafting a Cardale Jones in the 3rd round and letting him sit and develop for a few seasons behind a similar style of player, seems like it could be a viable solution for our decades of depression at the most pivotal position in sports. Or is it too much common sense for us to expect from the current front office personnel?

-- Brad, Columbus, OH

Hey Brad: With Josh McCown and Austin Davis under contract, I actually think the Browns have a good head start on their quarterback position for 2016. All that’s missing is their next franchise hopeful. And, yes, that means I don’t consider Manziel to be that guy.

Hey Tony: Now that Manziel has been demoted we can focus on what’s really wrong with Browns, bad coaching.  How could Jim O’Neil get the DC job with his very limited NFL experience, couple years as asst position coach and 1 year as primary position coach before coming to Browns?  In fact the entire staff has so little experience it is shocking.  From what I could tell the entire staff has about 50 years NFL coaching experience compared to 130-180 years for the staff of our division rivals. If Pettine can’t attract more experienced coaches how can the Browns keep him. Also two assistants coaches from his high school, really?

-- Mark, Medina, OH

Hey Mark: Pettine erred in not surrounding himself with more good, experienced NFL coaches, in my opinion. Could he correct that by making changes? Yes, but the problem now is that if he survives for a third year, it will be hard to attract experienced coaches to join him if it is perceived as a “win or be fired” season.

Hey Tony:  It seems like Joe Haden has been in the concussion protocol for a month now. He has pulled himself out of the lineup for one game (broken finger) during pregame warmups and has had multiple concussions.  Joe has gotten torched pretty badly in games he was healthy.  Is this just an off year for Joe Haden, or is the bloom off the Haden rose?

-- Tim, Ladera Ranch, CA

Hey Tim: It is an incredibly off year for Haden, reduced to his worst as a Brown because of injuries that started in training camp. He will bounce back next year.




Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Why does Mike Pettine break news to national media?

Nov 21, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Gail Burton

As the Browns return to work, the futures of Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer and Johnny Manziel are on the minds of readers of Hey Tony.

Hey Tony: Why does Mike Pettine keep breaking news to the national guys? (Johnny to start per Jay Glazer). Doesn't he realize where his bread is buttered?  Dumb.

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig: I’ve been doing this since Pettine was playing quarterback for his dad at a Pennsylvania high school. I’ve seen 11 Browns head coaches come and 10 so far have gone. They all come to town with allegiances to media they left behind. When the seat gets hot, the coach may lean on those old relationships, thinking, hoping the out-of-town or national media have some influence on preserving his job. So they may pass along info on their team, maybe not so much to irk the local media but to set up a favor in return. Sometimes the coach realizes far too late that if he had formed better professional relationships with the media in town – the ones who are read religiously by the owner and the team’s fan base – he may have had a better shot of surviving the rocky times. The Browns’ job always has been one of the toughest in the NFL because of the political hornet’s nest inside team headquarters dating back to owner Art Modell’s operation (see: “A Football Life: Paul Brown”). The fact that coaches here don’t survive a bad year is a reflection of a flawed organization, not of the media. Actually, Pettine’s day-to-day relations with local media have been quite cordial. But we all know that he plays the “national” card more than any coach who’s rolled through these parts.

Hey Tony:  If the Browns were to draft a QB in the first round next spring as many of us hope, do you think they would still keep Johnny Manziel on the roster? I'd guess that could cause some problems, both in the locker room and among the fan base. Now that the Browns have signed Austin Davis what does that mean for Connor Shaw? Is he still in their plans at all? I thought he showed some promise as a rookie to becoming a solid backup.

-- Glenn, Melbourne, FL

Hey Glenn: Both of your questions depend on who is calling the shots next year. Is there a new GM, a new coach, a new vision? If so, that new GM or coach might have different views on Manziel. The new vision might have a stronger opinion on Manziel and might see him as the undisputed starter. So I think that remains to be seen. As for Davis v. Shaw, my gut feeling is that Davis’ future in Cleveland, as a result of the new contract, is much more secure than Shaw’s.

Hey Tony:  What will it take for Johnny Manziel to head into next season as the incumbent? If we work under the premise that this is really his rookie year, his progression thus far in his first few starts appears to be better than that of Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr who were all in his draft class.

-- Jason, Aurora, OH

Hey Jason: Let’s see how the final six games play out. The object, of course, is to win. I understand Carr (three wins), Bortles (three) and Bridgewater (seven) did not set the world on fire as rookies, but I think everyone felt at the end of their first seasons that they were unquestionably on the right track. Manziel has the final six games – added to the previous two – to leave everyone with a strong impression of whether he deserves to enter next season as the incumbent starter. The worst thing, of course, would be no clear picture of him.

Hey Tony:  I'm sure most of your questions will be about the "will he or won't he" be the answer at QB (referring to Johnny Manziel) but my question centers around the team around him. I know I don't speak for the entire fan base but I'm around enough of my fellow Browns fans to make the statement that many of us knew the cupboard was bare at the skill positions and even though we scratched our heads at the team's allergy to drafting WR's early, we bought into the "Farmer/Pettine Way" (at least for a little while!) They sold us on the fact that they'd play strong D and run the ball tough thereby laying a solid foundation around their eventual franchise QB and other skill players. After 2 years of drafting and free agency where we've seen 3 out of 4 first rounders devoted to the D or O. line and the most salary cap space being eaten up by the defense in the league the results have been ABYSMAL on what they said they'd be good at. They might audition Johnny Manziel but it seems as if the cupboard is bare - not only haven't they really addressed the skill positions but they can't run or play defense. My question to you is how does Haslam let this continue?  I know he has stated he doesn't want to blow things up but to me if they can't even be good at what they claimed they were good at, what's the point? Your take?

--Jeff, Erie, PA

Hey Jeff: I think you summed it up pretty well. These have been promises broken and opportunities blown. The thing must be turned around quickly – starting next Monday night – to avoid a total blow-up, in my opinion.

Hey Tony: Do you think all the Pilot Flying J issues have led to the Browns current mess? Wasn’t someone else supposed to run the company so Jimmy could spend more time in Cleveland? Then that all changed with the rebate scam? They continue to lose year after year but the franchise is worth millions more.  Meanwhile I'm out thousands of dollars because I have to watch them on the Sunday Ticket. I also used his gas stations when I drove across country.  Hey Jimmy, where’s my rebate?

--Paul, Las Vegas, NV

Hey Paul: Yes, Haslam at one point appointed a CEO to oversee Pilot Flying J, ostensibly to allow him to spend more time on the Browns. Then, about a month later, the CEO left the company and Haslam returned to his former role. And then the federal investigation became known. You would have to be naïve to think that all of that didn’t have some impact negatively on the operation of the Browns.

Hey Tony: The veteran rest days seem to have drawn some attention of late (though needs clarification whether there is a team-wide sanctioned day of rest on Sundays). Just wondering how common veteran rest days are around the league? I wonder the positive if the Browns' vets would decline these and continue in the trenches. In my opinion that would be leadership. Thanks for your therapy and apologies for my cynicism, at 2-8 it's all I've got left. Cheers.

-- Josh, Sydney, Australia

Hey Josh: I’m sure other coaches “manage” their veteran players with off days. I agree that not accepting them, on occasion, would be a show of leadership.

Hey Tony: Today’s article (November 19 – "Browns assistant coaches shed light on a few dark issues") is disturbing for hopeful Browns fans. The wheels are scattered all over the locker room with more than 1/3rd of the season still to play. I guess Haslam isn’t as irate as you and the fans. After all, his bottom feeding, .300 winning percentage team’s asset value has increased by $500 million since he bought it. I would literally pay $1,000 to get my hands on Kyle Shanahan’s 32 point presentation to Pettine, Farmer, Haslam, Scheiner last year. It must be a treasure chest of dysfunction — pointing all the way to the top of the organization. How else did Kyle create the leverage he needed to walk with two years left on his deal (only to take a parallel job with the Falcons)? Any suggestions about how we might get a copy of Shanahan’s presentation?  PLEASE DON’T LET UP.  You are the General of the #100yearswar.  Keep feeding Browns fans the truth. We thirst for hard-hitting and truthful journalism.  We need you to open our eyes to the toxic Browns culture and locker room.

-- Bob, New York City, NY

Hey Bob: I believe Shanahan made his presentation only to Haslam. And, yes, I would love to see it, too. Shanahan forfeited guaranteed money to leave because he knew he had a gig lined up with Dan Quinn in Atlanta.

Hey Tony: It's really gotten hard to watch our football team. You see Pittsburgh Steelers on the side line laughing at the players on the Browns. They swing our quarterback around like a rag doll and not one offensive lineman even got in the face of the defensive Pittsburgh player. That's the second time I've seen a Pittsburgh player do that to a Browns quarterback and not one Browns player retaliated. Remember Colt McCoy? No one moved then, either. That's embarrassing. Not one defensive player went after Big Ben to retaliate for that hit on Manziel. I saw where Teddy Bridgewater played this week after being knocked out on the field last week but we have Browns players who have been out for 3 and 4 weeks now with concussions. That's strange. It’s something when the toughest guy on your football team is a 36 year-old quarterback. This team is nothing but a bunch of cream puffs with no pride in themselves. They're an embarrassment to the fans, the city of Cleveland and the Browns Organization. Where are the Turkey Joneses when you need them, the good old days they knew what it meant to “play like a Brown”?

-- Dave, North Ridgeville, OH

Hey Dave: In those days, you didn’t have to say “play like a Brown.” They just did. Just like the Dawg Pound. When there was a true Dawg Pound, you didn’t paint a name on it. You just pointed to the bleachers beneath the scoreboard and said, “That’s it.”

Hey Tony: Come draft time, will the Browns trust Johnny for the future and take Bosa? Or will they take another quarterback? And can Bosa play in an NFL 3-4?

-- Kurt, Fort Wayne, IN

Hey Kurt: This is another question that depends on who is running the show come draft time. Bosa is not considered a fit in the 3-4. So, watch the Browns switch to a 4-3 and take him, and go another year with Johnny. And so it goes.

Hey Tony: Tashaun Gipson has made little to no impact at the free safety position this year. It also seemed like most of his six interceptions last year were caused by tipped passes and errant throws. Are the Browns still trying to extend his contract?

-- Mike, Chicago, IL

Hey Mike: The Browns stopped trying to extend Gipson’s contract when they extended the second-round contract tender for the restricted free agent. In my opinion, Gipson will leave the Browns in free agency in March. Your inference that Gipson’s 2014 Pro Bowl season was a product of luck is off base.

Hey Tony: How far did Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert set back the Browns organization?  Five years? More?  People say they "did not get a chance to finish" but the 2012 draft was their STAMP on the future of the Browns and both Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden are now out of the NFL.  How did they whiff so bad on both of them? 

-- Chris, Columbus, OH  

Hey Chris: Coach Pat Shurmur wanted a feature running back and Richardson was the consensus best back in the draft. I don’t remember too many people – other than Jim Brown – criticizing that pick at the time, and Brown’s criticism was rooted in his feud with Holmgren. Weeden had a big arm and was over age, leading them to believe he could step right in as a rookie and take over the quarterback position. There were more critics of that selection. Full disclosure: I wasn’t overly upset with either pick. Some believed at the time they should have filled both positions by choosing Ryan Tannehill first and Doug Martin second. I wasn’t in that camp. Of course, we on the outside never have the inside information on players as do the teams themselves.

Hey Tony: If Sean Payton is allowed to walk away from the Saints in the offseason as expected, how high is he on your list of coaches to talk to the Browns (assuming Pett is given his walking paper)?  Would the Browns have to give him the keys to the kingdom to come here?  Would you? 

--Steve, Cleveland, OH

Hey Steve: If the Saints allow Payton out of their contract, they no doubt will demand a draft pick in compensation. Payton may not want total authority, but he assuredly would want to pick or bring his own head of football operations. I am not enamored with Payton, but his record speaks for itself. My hunch is he would not take a job without having a solid, proven quarterback – or franchise hopeful – in place.

Hey Tony: Your "Time to Reflect" article was right on the mark and I hope you Cc'd a copy to Mr. Haslam. Giving the rock to Manziel, starting cornerback Gilbert and wide receiver Bowe along with modifying the defense and signing our soon to be quality free agents would without question all be tremendous positive movements in the right direction, for the remainder of the season and for this franchise. More importantly, and you said it perfectly, Mr. Haslam must find that one successful football management person who will be the "Guardian of the Franchise". That individual, not GM Farmer or HC Pettine will be the catalyst in turning this Franchise around. Tony, is there someone out there currently available that has the experience, credentials and past successes to be that person? If so who? If indeed that individual exist out there and I was Mr. Haslam, I would begin negotiations immediately and spare no expense in securing this person.

-- Joe, Palm Desert, CA

Hey Joe: For that to happen, Haslam must come to grips with what kind of organization he wants. And then he must be comfortable with and confident in the person he selects as the guardian. That’s why everybody is now connecting Peyton Manning to the Browns. (We fingered Manning as a possibility more than a year ago.) Haslam obviously was scarred by the way it ended with Joe Banner, but the CEO-type position is essential for an absentee owner. Haslam has taken his time to identify the new guardian. I will discuss possibilities when it becomes more evident that Haslam will make a change.

Hey Tony: OK, so there is no suitable interim coach for Mike Pettine. But, for Ray Farmer, don't we have that experienced football man who filled in for Farmer during his suspension?  Wouldn't he be a credible interim GM?  Farmer's departure would be well received by the fans and it would allow Jimmy to begin official talks with potential GM types.  Could the man we already have on the staff be a good long-term successor?

-- Tom, N. Baltimore, OH

Hey Tom: There are a number of possible replacements on the personnel staff that Farmer assembled. They no doubt are loyal to Farmer for their jobs. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t be appointed to replace him, but, obviously, Haslam chose not to go that route.



Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Why don't the Browns hire Bernie Kosar to turn this thing around?

Nov 14, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Jeff Haynes

It’s hardly felt like a Steelers week. Angry Browns fans flooded the Hey Tony inbox with questions about making changes at the end of the season. Most want nobody spared.

Hey Tony:  How great would it be for Jimmy Haslam to hire Bernie Kosar as Director of Football Operations? Thinking back, I can't recall a Cleveland Brown with better football acumen than Bernie. If Ozzie Newsome can do it, why can't Bernie? What do we have to lose? I guess we could always begin to interview local high school athletic directors for the gig instead.

-- Jon, Las Vegas, NV

Hey Jon: It’s tragic that Kosar has never held a meaningful role with the Browns. The reasons are complex. Nobody ever questioned Kosar’s football acumen. But some regimes have questioned Kosar’s unwillingness to acquire on-the-job experience at the bottom level and working his way up the corporate ladder.  Those regimes were turned off by their perception that Kosar felt he was entitled to a prominent, high-level position without earning it. Newsome started out as a low-level assistant on Bill Belichick’s 1990s coaching staff upon retirement and then switched to personnel and beat the bushes scouting players and learning Belichick’s scouting system. At times, Kosar’s personal and business interests prevented him from relocating from south Florida and acquiring the job experience with the Browns to prep him for more prominent roles. Another obstacle has been the fact that some regimes saw Kosar as a threat to their jobs because of his immense popularity and did not want him infiltrating the inner circle of the owner. I’ve always felt there would be a time and a place for Kosar to reunite with the Browns. Unfortunately, I don’t think he has an advocate on the club at present for that to happen.

Hey Tony: This is my time I usually ask an annual question: which players could start for Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, but I will save that for later. Here is my next challenge for you: Rank in order, high to low (1 being the highest reason why) as to why the Browns are in the shape they are after being in the league since 1999: And it can be 1, 1a, 1b, etc.  Plus, you can add any additional topics that I missed or expand. 1. Browns did not get a break from the NFL when they started the new franchise in 1999; 2. Changes of ownership since 1999. 3.  Lack of finding a competent GM. 4.  Constant change of OC and DC, bringing in players to “fit” their system. 5.  Lack of ability to bring in good free agents. 6.  Hiring new coaches every whatever plus lack of ability to find quality assistant coaches. 7.  Drafting (that is open to a huge topic). 8.  Playing in AFC North. 9.  No Franchise QB. 10.  Fear of sticking to one HC, OC, DC, and GM and build a winner knowing that the fans will revolt.

-- Rod, Athens, OH

Hey Rod: Here you go: 1. No franchise QB. 2. Drafting. 3. Hiring new coaches. 4. Constant change of offensive and defensive coordinator and bringing in players to fit their systems. 5. Lack of ability to bring in quality free agents. 6. Fear of sticking to the plan. 7. Playing in AFC North (which has three really good organizations). 8. Lack of finding a competent GM. 9. Did not get a break from NFL in 1999. 10. Change in ownerships. (Note: Al Lerner’s death in 2002 trumps all the items on this list. In other words, if Lerner had lived, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion.)

Hey Tony: Can you explain from the Browns’ perspective why Paul Kruger is no longer put in a position to rush and sack the QB. And also why doesn't Barkevious Mingo rush the passer -- that is why they drafted him. It seems that for a much maligned defense – play-making should be emphasized.  Jim O'Neil and Mike Pettine aren't stupid ... what is their rationale?

-- Tim, Ladera Ranch, CA

Hey Tim: I apologize. I have no answers to your questions.

Hey Tony: We all know where the current front office and coaching staff have led the Browns and have seen this 'Movie' so many times before.  The problem is the only people the Browns can attract to replace them are people looking for a promotion and they get in way over their head.  I have a solution that is a win/win for ownership, the organization, the fans and can build instant credibility to throughout the NFL.  How about getting Ozzie Newsome to run the team as President/GM/Executive GM, whatever title he would need?  Haslam can attract Newsome by offering part ownership interest in his compensation (Yes, creativity like this is needed now to attract any respectable talent), it doesn't matter what draft picks need to go to Baltimore for compensation as the Browns would waste them anyway without a credible GM.  He knows the history of the Browns and what it would be like to be the one to bring a winner back to Cleveland.  He would redeem himself to the Browns fans by coming 'home' and it would be a great marketing pitch restoring some of the joyous days with the new Browns.  Ozzie would be able to bring in a talented head coach as he has been established in the league and has Super Bowl Rings to show for it.  Free Agents would also be attracted to work in a legitimate organization as Ozzie would bring stability and respect.  I know it is a reach, but what are your thoughts? 

-- Keith, Syracuse, NY

Hey Keith:  Unfortunately, the Ozzie ship has sailed. During his team’s second Super Bowl championship in 2013, Newsome told me that the Ravens are the last NFL team he’ll work for. He feels the window to another Ravens Super Bowl is open as long as quarterback Joe Flacco is playing. After that window closes, Newsome will retire to the golf course. Speculation that he would return to his beloved University of Alabama in some executive capacity are wrong, I believe, unless he changes his mind.

Hey Tony:  Tony says “I think Pettine has a chance to survive this”.  But the issue is the GM must go. If you hire a GM, he’ll want his own head coach!  Hey Tony, if Haslam says to his new GM “Pettine survives” as a condition of employment, aren’t we doing it bass-ackwards again and it’s doomed to fail?

-- Brian, Bloomington, IL

Hey Brian:  You’re right. But what if a new GM says, “I can work with Pettine”?

Hey Tony:  Everyone wants to blame Jim O'Neil for the defensive problems since he's the DC.  I don't.  O'Neil was brought in by Pettine to run Pettine's defense.  I'm sure Pettine will have the final say on who plays.  Do I think that O'Neil is over his head?  Yes, but he's controlled by his defensive mentor and HC, Pettine.  If Nate Orchard is playing the best on the team against the run, you have problems. How can they over prepare when it seems that they always give up points on the first drive?  I would think that the defense would be more stable after the second year in the same system.  This 3-4 hybrid has failed miserably.  Do you think O'Neil would have the authority to overhaul the defense without Pettine's approval?  It would be like Sean Payton in New Orleans blaming the OC for the offensive problems.  Pettine owns this defense and it is the weak link on this team.  How willing will Pettine be to change his entire defense?  From what I read, Pettine seems to think they're getting close.  What I see, it's an entirely different story.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick:  What would Pettine do if Haslam said, “You can stay if you find a new coordinator to rebuild your defense?” I don’t know that answer.

Hey Tony:  Change the culture. Give the GM coach the whole deal. Nick Saban. Let him go Pete Carroll. He learned from the Miami experience.

-- Devin, Euclid, OH

Hey Devin:  SEC-obsessed Haslam is a big fan of Saban’s and has had two opportunites to hire him but has not been able to persuade Saban to leave the college ranks and return to the NFL. I don’t think Saban will ever return to the NFL.

Hey Tony:  What are the chances that Ray Farmer gets fired, but Mike Pettine stays? I still like Pettine and thinks that he is the 2nd best Coach after Butch Davis since the reboot.  I could see a scenario where the D- coordinator and some of the defensive staff are let go, but Pettine stays.

-- Hal, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Hal: I think Pettine has a better chance than Farmer of staying. But I don’t see Pettine agreeing to make major changes on his defensive staff.

Hey Tony:  Thank you for the outstanding coverage of the team.  If Haslam were to make a change to the front office structure, and was willing to pay big, do you think Ernie Accorsi could be talked into coming out of retirement to build out a true, stable front office?  I am envisioning a scenario where he is Director of Football Operations, hires his own GM to groom, and builds out the front office to his liking before handing it over to his hand-picked GM in 3-5 years.  Any chance he could co-exist with Pettine? 

-- Joshua, Fullerton, CA

Hey Joshua:  I know that Accorsi would not come out of retirement to work full time. He would offer his services as a consultant, but has no desire to return to a full-time job. Saying that, I believe Accorsi and Pettine would make a really good team.

Hey Tony:  It seems as though Alec Scheiner is becoming the most influential voice in Jimmy Haslem's ear about the Browns. My question is, is there a precedent of a business guy becoming a team president with control over the football side as well as the business side? Do you think this is a move Jimmy Haslam could make?

-- Ben, Albuquerque, NM

Hey Ben: I’d have to say Joe Banner was the last person to control business and football operations. I think Haslam is contemplating the moves he has to make in the event the football program doesn’t improve.

Hey Tony: When it comes to most miserable seasons to cover the Browns since 1999, what are the top five and where does this season rank?  I still follow them religiously because I'm a lunatic but I can almost read the disgust in your voice while typing all of the articles about how pathetic this season has gotten. P.S.  Would you keep Farmer and Pettine or make a change at year's end.

-- Jeff, Canton, OH

Hey Jeff: I can’t quantify the misery to which Browns fans has been subjected. As for what I would do, I reserve the right to see how the season feels at the end before making my recommendations.

Hey Tony: Why don't the Browns run Isaiah Crowell early and often at least 25 times a game? It appears to me just about the time he gets warmed up they take him out. I realize our offensive line is struggling at times however, if they know going into the game the team is committed to run Crowell 25 times maybe they too can improve in their run blocking schemes. What gives?

 -- Joe, Palm Desert, CA

Hey Joe: This is another mystery that I can’t unravel at this time.

Hey Tony: Do you see any set of circumstances that the Browns aren’t drafting a QB in the top 5 next year? Even if they give Johnny the rest of the year to play, I believe he is going to prove to be physically undersized, impatient in the pocket but with play-making talent, he is at best a back-up.

-- Gerard, Cork, Ireland

Hey Gerard: I think the likeliest scenario is the Browns draft a quarterback. They already have two veterans under contract in Josh McCown and Austin Davis. The decision, of course, depends on who is making it at the time. If the Browns remain status quo in their football operations, I can see all three quarterbacks returning in 2016. Fun times.




Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Is Mike Pettine inhibiting Johnny Manziel's ability to succeed?

Nov 07, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Tony Dejak

A season like the Browns are having is good for only one thing – volume of mail in the Hey Tony inbox. A new record was set this week and it is surely to be surpassed in weeks to come.

Hey Tony: Mike Pettine's comments at halftime of the Browns/Bengals game were telling. I think he believes the players need to adapt to his system and not the other way around. This inability to be flexible with the schemes, his inability to make adjustments in the second half, and unwillingness to fix the defense now have me believing for the first time that he should take a larger portion of the blame (vs Ray Farmer) for this year's failures. I think for continuity sake, the entire front office should not be blown up.  And now I'm on the other side of the fence and believe Pettine will be fired before Farmer. What is your take?

-- Kevin, Medina OH

Hey Kevin: I think Pettine received undue criticism by the Manzealots who totally misinterpreted Pettine’s comments. Everyone in the NFL recognizes that Manziel must learn to read the field from the pocketbefore he leaves it. He has improved in limiting his runs from scrimmage. But in the first half in Cincinnati he often left the pocket and threw on the run before making the reads that were there. Were they successful? A lot were. Pettine and his offensive coaches are fine with throwing on the move if his first reads are covered. When Cincinnati adjusted its tactics in the second half and kept Manziel in the pocket – as it did in the 2014 game – Manziel was unable to make plays. Every team sees that. Now, in order for Manziel to expand his game, I believe he needs to continue to play. And that is the dilemma now facing Pettine – keeping Manziel in while Josh McCown clearly gives the team the better chance to win. As far as the futures of Pettine and Farmer, the record at the end of the season will dictate.

Hey Tony: Why is it a given that Tashaun Gipson will be playing for another team next year? Don’t the Browns realize that he is the only member of the secondary who is better than average? You are always “rebuilding” if you don’t keep your good players. Who else are they going to spend their salary cap money on? There are ex-Browns making contributions to teams all around the league.

-- Bill, Springfield, NH

Hey Bill: Gipson was not happy about the vibe he received when he was a restricted free agent. He saw Devin McCourty receive a huge new contract from the New England Patriots and felt he deserved similar treatment from his team. I have said Gipson embodies everything “play like a Brown” alleges to be about it. Now there is a disconnect – attitude, injuries, etc. – and Gipson is not playing like the Pro Bowl safety that he was. If the Browns want to avoid seeing Gipson leave after this year, they should be revisiting a new contract. I don’t think that’s happening; hence, he will move on, in my opinion.

Hey Tony: Would it be more fun to be covering the Cavs rather than your current team?

-- Paul, Tucson, AZ

Hey Paul: Would it be more fun covering a winning team? Yes. But I have 30-plus years invested in the Browns and the NFL and I’m not cashing them in.

Hey Tony: Has the defense struggled because of the turnover of personnel, as well as coach Jim O’Neil having growing pains has a full-time play caller?  Is drafting another QB the answer considering the skill positions lack of talent? Are the underperforming players that were acquired in free agency the past two off-seasons a bad reflection on Farmer or Coach Pettine? And lastly, is "blowing the whole thing up" really the answer? Thank you Tony for the great coverage!

-- Bill, East Hartford CT

Hey Bill: 1. I think the coaching has contributed more to the defensive struggles than anything else. 2. Drafting another quarterback is a must, in my opinion. 3. Farmer. 4. I think there is a step less than “blowing the whole thing up” that could be taken. Hire someone to oversee Farmer/Pettine is one and let that person decide whether to keep them both, keep one or the other, keep neither, or recommend other alterations in football operations. Too often, the Browns blow the whole thing up instead of improving with less radical moves.

Hey Tony: 1. The season is over, only thing left to do is see what Johnny Manziel has. If Petite is unwilling to commit to him, should the Browns fire him and promote assistant coach who will play him? 2. Should the Browns go to a 4-man defensive front (in bye week?) to try to beef up the run defense?

-- Tom, Santa Monica, CA

Hey Tom: 1. Absolutely not. 2. Absolutely yes.

Hey Tony: I wrote to you a few weeks back and mentioned that I was unsure about Pettine and the Browns need to make with Farmer and O'Neil.  After watching a few more games, I think even Pettine needs to be relieved of his duties.  Do you sense a change is coming?  If so, do you think it will be after the season or it might be during the bye week?  Also, if a change is coming and if Alec Scheiner is taking over control, why let Farmer hold that press conference (the more I hear him, the more he confirms my thinking that he is not qualified to be a GM and a talent evaluate)?

--PD, Dallas, TX

Hey PD:  I’ve answered the top questions. As to the Farmer press conference, it is tradition and common practice for the GM to address the media at the halfway point of the season. The Browns were merely following that by having Farmer meet the media last week. While everyone else assumes changes are coming, they are continuing business as usual with the season far from over.

Hey Tony: Can you honestly give a case for keeping Pettine after this season?  The defense is horrible.  If it wasn't for turnovers, they would have given up 50 against the Cardinals. The defense is his area of expertise. So, it's either a lack of talent or poor coaching.  When I look at the defensive personnel on the Browns, I just don't think they're as bad as they play.  It has to be coaching. The offense has actually outperformed my expectations considering the talent.  However, that credit goes to DeFilippo. This team is sloppy with no player discipline. They commit stupid penalties at crucial times. Does Pettine ever adjust at halftime?  If I was the owner, I'd try to hire Wade Phillips as HC and tell him to fix the defense. Hopefully, he'd want to keep John DeFillipo. He might not have the best track record as a HC, but he'll be respected and the Browns will play defense.  You'll probably disagree, but I'd like to hear your opinion.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: Flip is doing a decent job with what he has, but he’s made his share of rookie mistakes. The running game is a total joke partially because of the decision to abandon the wide zone running scheme established by Kyle Shanahan. It fit the athleticism of the offensive linemen and now it appears there is no personality to the offense other than Josh McCown rearing back and throwing 40 times and Manziel running around and doing the same. For the most part, the offense doesn’t make adjustments at halftime and is totally dependent on the quarterback – which is exactly what they said they didn’t want.

Hey Tony: Is Pettine's not wanting to commit to playing Johnny M. truly a football decision?  I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't more about Farmer and trying to force Jimmy Haslam to choose one of them. 

 -- Glenn, Pittsfield Township, MI

Hey Glenn: I don’t believe that. A year ago, Pettine held firm on keeping Manziel on the bench until Brian Hoyer’s slump became unbearable to him. McCown’s solid play has not given Pettine enough reason to bench him. It’s as simple as that, in my opinion.

Hey Tony: It occurred to me tonight -- watching all the promos for the Paul Brown story on NFL Network, Art Modell single handedly created 3/4ths of the AFC North: fired Paul Brown who created the Bengals; moved the Browns to Baltimore, who became the Ravens; opened the door for the resurrection of the new Browns. In essence, his two "business" moves helped create two teams - both of whom shred the New Browns year after year.  Maybe the NFL needs to move the Browns out of the AFC North to save us from Modell's legacy. Otherwise, his moves will continue to haunt us. How much has this part of Modell's legacy has been discussed in HOF voting? Thoughts?

-- Bob, New York City, NY

Hey Bob: I will be examining these issues in depth in a full column. Have they been discussed in the two times Modell has reached the finalist round of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration? Of course. These are the essential reasons Modell has not advanced to the next round either time. And I am totally against moving the Browns out of the AFC North division.

Hey Tony: While this losing streak is making it harder to defend my position, I believe that Pettine is a good coach.  Coming in last year, he was able to build a defense that was very effective in creating turnovers and defending the pass. Leaving an experienced coordinator (Shanahan) to work his magic on offense.  Organizational dysfunction (according to Shanahan) led to the need to hire another offensive coordinator.  This season Pettine decided to work with the offense, and hoped O'Neil could build on what they established last year.  Given the lack of talent and inexperience the offense has been far better than most expected.  Turnover in both the front office and coaching staff is a major problem with this team.  Does it really serve the Browns interest to fire Pettine and hire a whole new staff?  Especially if Pettine agrees some personnel may need to be changed on defense.  And if Haslam decides to blow up the front office and/or coaching staff again, doesn't this affect the candidate pool knowing that they will only be given 2 years to turn around the organization, and any setback will lead to the same fate?  How can you have accountability without stability?

-- Cory, Garfield Heights, OH

Hey Cory:  A couple points: 1. Pettine has received just about everything he has asked for in personnel to build the defense currently on the field. He should not get a free pass on that. 2. Every time Haslam “blows it up” he reduces his next pool of candidates. Therefore, he needs to have credible and “hire-able” candidates in mind before firing anyone.

Hey Tony: Three questions. First, how are players affected knowing that Dwayne Bowe takes up a roster spot and cap room for doing nothing, while the coaching staff spouts nonsense like "he's done everything we've asked him to do"? Am I reading too much into things by imagining that's why even our offensive line often looks unfocused recently? Second, we've gotten rid of Jordan Cameron, Brian Hoyer, Jabaal Sheard, Miles Austin, Buster Skrine, T.J. Ward, and D'Qwell Jackson in the past two years. Can we point to any one of those players and say we're better for having replaced them? Third, what offense does Ray Farmer envision the Browns running that doesn't require a left tackle and/or center?

-- Deymond, Warner Robins, GA

Hey Deymond: 1. Your point speaks to one I’ve made before. A “culture of winning” has to include accountability, otherwise it becomes a culture of losing. 2. One can argue that Karlos Dansby-for-Jackson was an upgrade. 3. I would suggest that while both players were available in trade, there was no way the Browns would have dealt both.

Hey Tony: I think there’s a very strong chance that Haslam gives Pettine a third year, but can we agree that there is really no chance Jim O’Neil survives?  I think it’s almost certain that the powers that be will demand that Pettine hires an experienced D-coordinator to oversee this unit.  What are your thoughts?

-- Joshua, Fullerton, CA

Hey Joshua: It is very common after a season like this for a coach to be asked to make changes on his staff. The problem with that is the head coach then enters the next season as a lame duck – needing a winning season to survive – and it disables his ability to attract anyone better. Unless the head coach has a willing and able replacement already in mind




Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: Why did the Browns let Dion Lewis get away?

Oct 31, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Tony Dejak

Browns General Manager Ray Farmer continues to be a lightning rod of criticism from Hey Tony readers.


Hey Tony:  Huge fan, always followed you from Plain Dealer to ESPN. We need an answer from Ray Farmer on why he cut Dion Lewis. Not only did he cut Lewis, who is thriving in New England, but he wasted a third-round draft pick on Duke Johnson, a poor man’s Dion Lewis. You can’t make this stuff up!

-- Chris, Mentor, OH

Hey Chris:  You’ve got to give Joe Banner credit for Dion Lewis. He drafted him in Philadelphia and traded for him in Cleveland. Former offensive coordinator Norv Turner had big plans for Lewis as a third-down receiving specialist until he broke his leg in the 2013 training camp. But after the 2013 season, Turner and coach Rob Chudzinski were fired. And then Banner was fired. It’s not Duke Johnson who replaced Lewis. It was Terrance West. Ray Farmer traded two picks in 2014 to pick West in the third round. In August of 2014, Lewis was released by Farmer. We know how this story turned out. West misbehaved himself off the team and was traded in 2015 to Tennessee. Johnson was drafted in the third round. Lewis had a cup of coffee with Indianapolis and then former Banner sidekick Mike Lombardi introduced Lewis to Bill Belichick in December of 2014. Now, with a New England training camp under his belt, Lewis was made a star by Belichick and Tom Brady.

Hey Tony:  I know it's early but what do you think about bringing in Bill Polian to run the football operations? He has the experience. Look what he did in Buffalo and Indy. If Jimmy Haslam wants to bring in Peyton Manning, Bill Polian drafted him in Indy they have history together. Peyton can learn from him. And if they don't like Mike Pettine there's Tony Dungy out there. I know I'm dreaming but they would make a great team and quick turnaround. What do you think? 

-- Dave, North Ridgeville, OH

Hey Dave: Trying to recreate somebody else’s successful organization might look good on paper, but it doesn’t work that way. If Haslam decides to rebuild his organization, I agree that using a consultant, such as Polian or Bill Parcells or Ernie Accorsi, to identify the right candidates to hire may be the best way to go. As for Polian, he is 72 and I’m not aware that he is looking to jump back into the rat race. His qualifications are impeccable; he’s a Hall of Famer.

Hey Tony: Looking at the grades that have been given to the Browns after the drafts have not been that bad. Most of the time the Browns were at least C-plus but many times were graded B to B-plus. It also appears that we sign free agents who are well thought of, as well.  It seems that when the players get here, they end up underachieving. They do not live up to their draft status. Gilbert and Shelton were thought to be excellent picks by many. Even Manziel was thought by some to be a great pick. My point is that draft prognosticators have given the Browns pretty good draft grades overall, and yet these guys are at the bottom of every statistic, including wins. I wonder if you think that poor coaching has been the biggest problem … or is there really something in the water?  

-- Mike, Lake Zurich, IL

Hey Mike: You have to understand that most immediate grades of drafts by us amateurs are based on filling perceived needs. For instance: “Browns need a run-stopper. They draft Danny Shelton. Grade: A.” The same holds true, generally, of free agency grades. “Browns need a cornerback. They sign Tramon Williams. Grade: A.” See how that works? I believe that grades change over the course of a “semester”, a year, two years, etc. So while the Browns may have earned an A for drafting Shelton, if Shelton has a so-so rookie season, that grade can drop to a C. When you enter high school or college, your first grade doesn’t stay with you through four years. In my opinion, same with a team’s drafts and free agent signings.

Hey Tony:  Does it strike you as odd that week after week we play Josh McCown, because coach says “he gives us the best chance to win”? No question he is “tough as nails”. Also no question he is impressive most of the time between the 20 yard markers. No question that week after week the Browns lose. Are we to conclude the best chance for the Browns is to every week, achieve a high draft pick and keep dancing to the same music? Is that actually the plan?

-- Dudley, Palm Coast, FL

Hey Dudley:  If McCown were the reason for the losing -- if he was throwing interceptions and making dumb plays – I would agree with your point. But McCown is not the reason for the losing and he’s probably playing the best football of his career. If the Browns coaches thought Johnny Manziel could do better, he would be playing.

Hey Tony:  Thanks for all the great reporting. I especially enjoyed the reflections on the 1995 season which brought me back to the days when the Browns were fun to follow because you really cared about the football and not just the off the field soap opera that is the new Browns. I agree with most of the criticism of the Browns this year but you stated that getting the QB right is the #1 priority. That being said, don’t you think they got that decision right? Would you still take Brian Hoyer over McCown?  The fact that Hoyer had a winning record last year speaks to me of the job Kyle Shanahan did while he was here. Second, what we heard in 2014 was that Teddy Bridgewater was Ray Farmer’s choice, and Johnny Manziel was the owner’s. Do you feel otherwise now? Finally, the “Banner/Lombardi” draft was heavily criticized especially in regards to two Steeler connections -- the pick of Barkevious Mingo vs. Jarvis Jones and the trade to allow them to have Shamarko Thomas.  In retrospect, this draft seems so bereft of talent, what do you think of the decision to trade away picks for 2014?

-- Tom, Chapel Hill, NC

Hey Tom: 1. Yes, I stand by my statement that the Browns should have retained Hoyer. Yes, I know what he’s doing in Houston. While McCown has better physical skills, I believe Hoyer has better intangibles, such as leadership qualities and command of the game. We could argue that all day. 2. At the time of the draft, I mock-drafted Bridgewater for the Browns at No. 26 because I thought Farmer liked him best. I have come to believe that he actually like Manziel more and the fact that Haslam was enamored with him made Manziel the easy choice in the Browns’ minds. 3. This is an example of moves that looked bad at the moment getting better over time. The Mingo v. Jones debate looks like a stand-off. Neither player has distinguished himself; Jones is on injured reserve/designated to return after wrist surgery. Thomas has only two starts in three seasons and is essentially a special teamer in his third season. The 2014 third-round draft pick from Pittsburgh acquired in the trade was used to move up in the first round to select Johnny Manziel. So it appears that while the Banner moves in the 2013 draft improved over time, the Browns were not able to fully exploit them.

Hey Tony:  Since Browns teams so often seem unprepared on game day (shown by the many needless fouls in all 3 phases of the game) and have underperforming position groups (the offensive line and secondary in particular), I become more inclined to think that the Browns' troubles could be in large part due to inadequacies in the coaching staff.  While personnel decisions have been far from perfect, we still should see far fewer 'busts' than we have.  In a league where the draft and free agency systems are set up to promote parity, the coaching staff is an area for a team to stand out, and is critical in preparing 22-23 year old rookies (particularly QBs) to be productive NFL players. The Browns' regular organizational turnover seems to have relegated them to a staff seemingly made up of inexperienced coaches, or head coach's cronies from past teams.  (That there are 3 coaches on the Browns staff from Doylestown, PA cannot be mere coincidence...).  From what you have observed, what is your opinion of the Browns coaching staff's ability to learn from its mistakes, produce productive players, fit schemes to the available talent, and eventually win the Hundred Years' War?

-- Chris, Toronto, Canada

Hey Chris: I believe when a head coach has little or no experience, it’s in his best interest to have coordinators with lots of experience. I thought Rob Chudzinski had it right when he hired Norv Turner and Ray Horton as his coordinators. As for the Pettine’s staff’s ability to win, they are 2-5 this year, 7-9 last year, and my math says that equals 9-14 overall – not good enough.

Hey Tony:  Two quick things: 1. When does Ray Farmer "face the music" and come from behind the curtain?  Wow, he has some explaining to do! 2. Will we ever start to hear Danny Shelton's name being called in a game for actually doing something?

-- Craig, Atlanta, GA

Hey Craig:  1. It’s possible that Farmer will “face the music” at the bye week. 2. Shelton isn’t making a discernible impact in his rookie year, but I wouldn’t write him off.

Hey Tony:  Prediction: Pittsburgh will continue to show their love for OSU players, and will draft Cardale Jones in the third round.  After developing on the bench for two or three years (similar to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), Ben will retire, and Cardale will take over a team loaded with supporting talent (similar to the one Ben took over).  At that point, another dynasty will be born. Question:  Once this happens, will it be acceptable for Browns fans to raise the white flag of surrender, and root for the Steelers under the argument “we’re just rooting for Cardale”?

-- Michael, Fairlawn, OH

Hey Michael:  Your scenario caused my liver to quiver.

Hey Tony: Let’s pretend the season continues to go south and Farmer convinces Jimmy that it isn’t his fault, he has supplied top quality offensive line, top quality defence and Pettine has not being able to produce and Pettine is sacked. So Ray Farmer is allowed to hire his own coach, who would be the likely candidates, does he have any coaching links, would it be another first time coach? Keep up the good work.

-- Gerard, Cork, Ireland

Hey Gerard:  I’ve been told that if Farmer enjoyed the responsibility of hiring his own coach, he would pull from the college ranks. Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M and Gus Malzahn of Auburn probably would be among his candidates. Not sure which NFL coaches would qualify.

Hey Tony: Just wondering when we can officially call this season a waste and start looking forward to the offseason. I personally like Mike Pettine as a coach but I don't see him making it to year three. The defense is horrible, the so-called strengths of this team are a joke, they can't run, can't stop the run, can't stop the pass. It's exhausting watching them lose every week. My question is: have you ever seen a team do less with more considering all the draft picks they've had in the last few years? How do they fix it?

-- Zakk, Possum Ridge, KY

Hey Zakk: The Browns have not only squandered a volume of a draft picks but also an embarrassment of salary cap room. The failure to capitalize on the last two years is comparable, to me, to the Browns’ failures in the first two years of the expansion era in 1999 and 2000 when they were given 14 additional draft picks over two seasons and had unlimited cap room.




Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




#HeyTony: What are the Browns doing about their potential free agents?

Oct 24, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/AP-Scott Audette

Our column calling out the Browns for not holding Johnny Manziel accountable for his misbehavior received tons of responses. But the question that made its way to the top of the column concerned the team’s inaction on re-signing its next batch of free agents.

Hey Tony: Travis Benjamin, Craig Robertson, Tashaun Gipson, Gary Barnidge and Mitchell Schwartz have contracts that will be up at the end of the season.  That's quite a few players that are important to this team moving forward.  Some of them have had really good seasons and have substantially increased their value.  I'm tired of the Browns grooming players like Jabaal Sheard and T.J. Ward and allowing them to leave.  Do you think Ray Farmer should have extended some of these contracts before their final year?  The Browns will now have to overpay to keep some of their own talent.  Robertson is the only player listed above that I wouldn't lose any sleep over if they let him walk.  Which players do you think that Farmer will sign?  I didn't list Alex Mack because I don't think that he wants to stay and I haven't been impressed by his play this year.

-- Rick, Shreveport, LA

Hey Rick: I don’t understand the Browns’ recent strategy of letting players entering their primes to leave via free agency. The good teams preserve their best players who exhibit exemplary qualities. Last year, the Browns allowed Buster Skrine, Sheard, Jordan Cameron, Ahtyba Rubin and Brian Hoyer to leave. They will be awarded at least three compensatory draft picks in the 2016 draft in the fifth through seventh rounds as a result. This year, Mack is sure to leave and the Browns will replace him with Cam Erving. Gipson is sure to leave, also. As for the others, the Browns have done nothing proactive to stave off their departures in free agency. I just don’t get it.

Hey Tony: I'm an avid reader of your articles but have been frustrated this week as you have called out the Browns organization for "Accountability" over the Manziel situation.  While Johnny has certainly earned his own criticism, I don't understand why you are going after the team.  In what ways are the Browns worse than other "respected" franchises when it comes to handling their players' off the field issues?  Let's look at the teams you probably respect the most -- Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  Pittsburgh's starting QB Ben Roethlisberger was accused of RAPE ... twice.  Did the team suspend him? Fine him? No ... they played the "We are very concerned/we take this seriously" card and then waited to see how the courts and NFL handled it. (Side Note: their backup QB went to jail for electrocuting dogs).  As for Baltimore, the face of their franchise for over a decade was Ray Lewis.  How did Baltimore handle his involvement in a DOUBLE MURDER? They played the "We take this seriously" card and then waited to see how the courts and NFL handled it. So now here comes Johnny who gets involved in something WAY LESS SERIOUS than those other incidents -- but you and others in the local media seem to think the Browns should be suspending/fining/publicly shaming him. Again, this is not a defense of Johnny.  This is a defense of the organization. I don't see how they are handling this any differently than the respectable teams in the NFL would.  Why hold the Browns to a higher standard?

-- Hayden, Los Angeles, CA

Hey Hayden: Read the column again and hopefully you will get my point. This is about the Browns, not about the Steelers or Ravens. What do the Browns stand for? Why do they tout “accountability” but not hold their players accountable for misbehavior? In my opinion, this double standard fosters a culture of losing.

Hey Tony:  Like your work.  Can or will the Browns invest in both Mack and Schwartz? The most difficult part of the schedule. Will Mike Pettine survive 5-11? Will Ray Farmer?

-- Steve, Syracuse, NY

Hey Steve: The Browns, in my opinion, will not try to keep Mack. Based on their recent history, they won’t keep Schwartz, either. On predicting who stays and who goes after the season, let’s wait for the year to play out.

Hey Tony: Of the (7) GMs that the Browns have had since 1999, where does Ray Farmer rank amongst them?

-- Steve, Georgetown, TX

Hey Steve: Chronologically, they have had in the GM role: Dwight Clark, Butch Davis, Phil Savage, Eric Mangini/George Kokinis, Tom Heckert, Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer. This isn’t a copout, but I am going to hold off answering this question until I do a full analysis of the situation in a future column.

Hey Tony:  Upon hearing recently during an NFL broadcast about a punter from Australian football, it got me wondering … If a pro football team should scout and target what they believe to be a monster "diamond in the rough" FB from, let's say, New Zealand's national rugby team, could the NFL team sign the prospect directly without having to allow the other 31 teams the chance to bid?  On the flip side, if upon learning this NFL team was interested in him the prospect wanted to try getting teams to bid him up, would his best bet be to enter the Supplemental Draft?

-- Bob, Avon CT

Hey Bob: The player in your example would be free to sign with any NFL team. That’s the only way to get teams to bid on him. The summer supplemental draft would not apply in this case.

Hey Tony: Do you feel like any of the past HC/front office combinations could have been successful long term if they had been given the opportunity? I know everyone felt like Holmgren wasn't getting the job done, but I think that if he had been given more time (and maybe a chance at a 2nd HC) the Browns would be in a much better place then where they are today.

-- Ken, Flower Mound, TX

Hey Ken: After the Romeo Crennel era came to an end, I thought GM Phil Savage deserved the chance to hire his own coach. He did not hire Crennel. Savage would have pursued Rex Ryan. I know if Tom Heckert would have had the freedom to hire a coach after Pat Shurmur was fired, he would have pursued Bruce Arians, which would have been an excellent choice. But Joe Banner flushed everyone out. Finally, if Jimmy Haslam would have kept Banner and just fired Mike Lombardi, I would have been fine with that. I’m not sure a Banner/Ray Farmer tandem would have worked, though.

Hey Tony:  I listened to the press conference where the reporters grilled Pettine's on Johnny’s behavior. It was the first time I heard reporters ask tough questions and continue to stay on point. With that in mind, why not ask Pettine the following that you wrote in your column? You have not supervised a run defense in the top half of the league rankings since the Jets ranked 13th in 2011 and you were Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator. Since then, your defenses have ranked 26th, 28th, 32nd and 32nd against the run. The last two you have been as head coach of the Browns. Does this not show this is a scheme problem, not an execution problem?

-- Jim, Strongsville, OH

Hey Jim:  That question has been asked and Pettine responded by saying the scheme has worked before and should work with better execution. And so it goes.

Hey Tony:  As a Browns fan since the Sipe era, I find my frustration mounting each season until it descends again into apathy. Following the Browns has become akin to watching a slow motion train wreck every year. The only things that change are the bizarre new ways they find to lose games and generate non-football headlines. It occurred to me that this frustration-apathy cycle seems to be hitting earlier and earlier each season. Last year was an anomaly when they staved it off till Thanksgiving. But this year they are reverting to form and the wreck-watching has hit by Columbus Day again. I don't think I am alone in this. From your perspective what season did this attitude start settling over the fans? Do you see this apathy hitting earlier each season now? And why is it that none of the Browns front office groups have had a clue about this? When they decide to join the Browns they own the past, as well as being responsible for the future.

--David, Joelton, TN

Hey David:  Confidence in the Browns – not support of them – has been eroding rapidly since the Mike Holmgren regime blew up. Most of us agreed that Holmgren was the “experienced, credible” leader the Browns needed. After it became clear he was merely cashing a huge paycheck, I think the erosion accelerated. It has really multiplied during the Jimmy Haslam ownership.

Hey Tony:  I loved your accountability column Tony - keep on keeping on. I think Farmer has missed on 3.5 of his last 4 first round picks (2014 & 2015).  What is your assessment of Shelton after these first 6 games?  Statistically the Browns rank terrible versus the run and he was trumped up to be a big run stopper.  I have also read some independent ratings that rank Shelton poorly. We read about JM and Gilbert all the time but hear nothing about Cam Erving.  The Browns are so talent/playmaker poor and Farmer drafts Irving with an eye to Mack's departure so we have a first rounder riding the bench.  Go figure.

-- Tim, Ladera Ranch, CA

Hey Tim: I questioned Shelton’s 5.61 40 speed and his stamina and I was told that on his college game tape, Shelton was relentless and disrupted his opponents. What I see is he does occupy two, sometimes three, blockers, but doesn’t make impact plays. If coaches are satisfied with what he is doing, I submit they could have found a big nose tackle in the third or fourth rounds to do the same.

Hey Tony:  It's been reported that one of Jimmy Haslam's informal advisors is Bill Parcells.  It's also been reported that Parcells is very high on his protege Todd Bowles, so much so that he wanted to hire him as head coach of the Dolphins at one point.  Todd Bowles is looking to be the real deal in New York (at least so far).   It begs the question:  if Bill Parcells is truly an advisor to Haslam, why the hell didn't Haslam hire Todd Bowles over Chudzinski or Pettine?  Bowles is another in a long list of expansion era Browns assistants who went on to be head coaches elsewhere (to varying degrees of success):  Wisenhunt, Sparano, Tomlin, Bowles, Arians ... am I forgetting any?

-- Sean, West Akron, OH

Hey Sean: Tomlin was not a Browns assistant. But you can add Bill Cowher to that list, from another era.

Hey Tony: Great article Tuesday!  Impossible to succinctly articulate the woes of the current regime, but that did as well as anything could have. In thinking about the Manziel drama this week, my thoughts went back to Austin Davis. Is it possible Davis was a mini-coup on the part of Pettine while Farmer was out?  Regardless of listed depth charts, might Pettine tap Davis to play in the event McCown goes down?  There is certainly a power vacuum going on right now, and while Pettine is not able to be openly critical of the environment, could this be a way to demonstrate some of the internal accountability he so frequently speaks of?

-- Seth, Denison, OH

Hey Seth: It would be quite a statement for Pettine to place Davis ahead of Manziel. I don’t think he’s up to it. We’ll see.





Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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