Browns owner Randy Lerner has assured Browns beleaguered Head Coach Romeo Crennel that the two will meet next week after the Browns season finale against longtime rival, the Steelers, in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
With a play-off berth on the line for the Steelers, and the Browns going with fourth-string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, no one is expecting the game to be pretty â€“ or close. Although if Cleveland could miraculously win, Crennel would be 1-7 lifetime against the Steelers â€“ rather than 0-8.
Even if Crennel was a magician and pulled a rabbit out of his hat for a W., a final victory is unlikely to change Lernerâ€™s mind about dumping Crennel, swallowing his contract and naming someone else to the helm.
That is, of course, if the inscrutable Mr. Lerner decides to change direction.
But Lerner is a hard man to read. His father, Al Lerner, who along with former owner Art Modell, orchestrated the Browns move to Baltimore in 1995 where they would become the Ravens, was passionate about football. With Modell out of the picture in Cleveland, Lerner threw his hat â€“ and millions â€“ into the ring, winning the bid to acquire a new team for Cleveland, also called the Browns, and building a new stadium.
But Al Lerner could not enjoy his team. Shortly after the Browns â€œcame backâ€ in 1999, Al Lerner died of cancer and his only son, Randy, was given the new Browns organization in his fatherâ€™s will.
Sports media critics say Randy Lerner lacks the passion of an NFL owner, and has other priorities.
While Al grew up poor and built his family wealth, Randy was raised in luxury, attending the best schools, becoming a successful businessman and traveling the world. Randy Lerner miffed some Browns fans after he purchased a soccer team in England and has been spotted at the matches.
In a rare â€œpress conferenceâ€ in which no video or audio equipment was allowed, Lerner sat with selected local members of the media and talked about honoring the promise to his father to take over the Browns organization and make it a winner once again. The Browns have never been in a Super Bowl and won its last world championship in 1964, beating the Baltimore Colts, 27-0 on a frigid day in Cleveland.
For the past six weeks, local and national sports commentators have come up with a short list of replacements for Crennel who reportedly coddled the players and allowed a â€œcountry clubâ€ atmosphere to replace hard practice sessions. The Browns this year have broken a club record by going five complete games â€“ thatâ€™s 20 quarters â€“ without a single offensive touchdown.
An embarrassment to be sure.
If I were Crennel, I would not be looking forward to a meeting with Lerner to save my job. What could I say?
I imagine the meeting next week might go like this:
Romeo standing at Lernerâ€™s door: Knock. Knock.
Lerner standing from behind a massive mahogany desk: â€œCome in, Romeo, so good of you to come. Can I get you some coffee, bottled water, a croissant?â€
Romeo standing just inside the door: â€œUh, no thanks, Mr. Lerner. Iâ€™m really not feeling very hungry or thirsty right now.â€
Lerner: â€œWell, are you sure? The coffee beans are specially grown in Brazil and were flown here to Cleveland on my private jet, just this morning. Well, then. Why donâ€™t you close the door and sit right here in my favorite leather chair presented to me by my futbol â€“ er soccer â€“ team, the Aston-Villa, who yesterday played to an amazing 2-2 tie!
Romeo: â€œA tie, sir? No â€¦ I mean yes, Iâ€™m sure it was excitingâ€. He shuts the door softly and sits in the special soccer chair.
Lerner, looking at his Rolex: â€œWell, how do you think the Browns season went, Coach?â€
Romeo: â€œWell, as you know, Mr. Lerner, although we went 4-12 this year, a disappointing season from last yearâ€™s 10-6, I feel we could have won more games had our offense scored more points and our defense gave up fewer points. We tried to win a few more games.
â€œUnfortunately, many injuries prevented this from occurring, including season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.â€
Lerner with his elbows on his desk, hands steepled: â€œI believe the Browns did not appear ready to even start the season.â€
Romeo: â€œWell, as you know, sir, boys will be boys. Donte Stallworth accidentally spiked Braylon Edwardsâ€™ foot while running barefoot after practice one day; then Derek got that concussion in an exhibition game against the Jets; and he wasnâ€™t right in the head until our fourth game on Monday night against the New York Giants in which we won 35-14.
â€œWe got a chance to prepare for that game and a combination of preparation and execution showed me and our fans what the future of the Browns could be.â€
Lerner: â€œYes, but you rarely have two weeks to prepare for your next game. Was that the game where Braylon displayed his air guitar prowess in the end zone?â€
Romeo: â€œYes, the game against the Giants. See? Boys will be boys.â€
Lerner: â€œWell if Anderson was struggling early in the season, why didnâ€™t you put our franchise quarterback, Brady Quinn, in sooner?â€
Romeo: â€œWell, if I am anything, it is loyal. I felt Derek should be rewarded for his 2007 season by being our starter as long as possible.â€
Lerner: â€œYes, but my people tell me that the last five games of 2007, Derek had begun to slip and never really regained his passing success until the Giants game this year â€“ and then his showed diminished abilities.â€
Romeo, â€œYou have a valid point, sir. And I thought the Other Guy â€“ Quinn â€” did a good job in the two full games he started, but then he fractured his finger, opted for surgery and also was lost to us.â€
Lerner: â€œYes, but I understand just last week that Shaun Smith, who is rather burly, struck Quinn in the face in the weight room. I wonder, did Brady try to defend himself with his left hand, I hope. He didnâ€™t fall on that right finger, did he? Because that finger is connected to his throwing arm which is worth millions of dollars.â€
Romeo: â€œUh, no, he fell on his left side. Another case of boys will be boys, sir.â€
Lerner: â€œI see. Well I know the players have expressed their respect for you, Romeo. I will take your comments today under advisement and will get back with you when I make my final decision.
â€œBut before you go, let me show you this video of Aston-Villaâ€™s finest hour in the tie against Spain. Tell me, do you think our goalie is strong and swift enough to take on France?â€