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Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner on Monday said they "deserve the skepticism'' from fans for firing coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. The duo "spent a half hour defending their unpopular decision" and "convincing an angry fan base that they'll get it right on their second try." Banner said, "As unpopular and undesirable for us to be sitting here right now and acknowledging that we didn't get it right, the fact that we're making this change makes a statement that we're not going to accept not being really successful. Whether you agree with the decision or not, that's an important message for our fans to hear. We're going to demand of everybody -- especially and starting with ourselves -- that we be successful and if we're not, we're going to do what we need to do to get there.'' Haslam said, "We understand why there might be some skepticism. … In our estimation, it was best to go ahead and make the change and try to get it right so that we can move forward and candidly and most importantly, give the fans here the kind of winner they deserve." Haslam said, "This is THE crucial off-season for the Cleveland Browns. Joe and I accept that, we accept the responsibility. We have lots of room on the cap. ... If we get that wrong, (the) responsibility’s on us. So we all understand." Meanwhile, Banner "rejected the notion of dissension in the ranks, and that Chudzinski clashed with members of the front office over personnel moves" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 12/31).
THE HEAT IS ON: In Akron, Nate Ulrich noted Haslam also defended the decision to fire Chudzinski "by alluding to" the $10.5M the team owes him for the final three years of his contract. He said, "We’re talking with our pocketbook here. So these are not cheap moves to make, and I’m not saying that should be the guiding factor, but we’re doing everything we can to get this right." Haslam also "insisted he believes he’ll be able to attract the right coach despite the stability of his ownership being in question." He said, "I don’t know how many times I can say that we expect the Browns to be a long-term asset of our family" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 12/31). In Cleveland, Tom Reed wrote, "Selling potential candidates on a long-term vision of a franchise that's fired two coaches in 13 months will be tricky." Haslam and Banner "used the phrase 'get it right' or 'get this right' 11 times during a 30-minute news conference." Banner "knows he won't get the chance to hire a third coach in three years and it's hard to imagine Haslam would want the embarrassment of starting from scratch again so soon" (CLEVELAND.com, 12/31).
THREE-RING CIRCUS? In Cleveland, Terry Pluto wrote Banner is the "voice" of the front office. GM Mike Lombardi "works for him." Banner "makes the major calls on the hiring of coaches, the top draft picks, free agents and trades." Lombardi and others such as Assistant GM Ray Farmer "have input, but Banner makes the call." There are "some blaming Lombardi for the firing of Chudzinski." It is "very possible Lombardi favored a coaching change, but it doesn't happen without Banner strongly in favor of the move" (CLEVELAND.com, 12/30). In Akron, Marla Ridenour wrote Haslam on Monday put Banner and Lombardi "on the hot seat." The Haslams "aren't going anywhere." Even if the FBI investigation into rebate fraud at Pilot Flying J "results in Haslam's indictment, someone in his family would likely take over the Browns." If Haslam is "back in a year or two discussing the firing of another coach, Banner and Lombardi will also pay with their jobs." Haslam has "no loyalties to either man" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 12/31).
DAWG DAYS OF SUMMER: A Cleveland PLAIN DEALER editorial stated Haslam and Banner "deserve blame, too -- especially Banner, who has to stop referencing his time" with the Eagles as a "reason why Browns fans should have faith in his leadership." What is "more relevant to Browns fans is that Banner was involved in hiring a head coach one year ago who he now believes was a mistake." A lot of "important decisions will have to be made." It is to be "hoped that the Browns will break from tradition by getting a lot of them right" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 12/31). THE MMQB's Mark Bechtel wrote what is "so maddening about the move from the standpoint of a fan is its utter tone-deafness." It is "similar to the team’s decision to trade" RB Trent Richardson to the Colts earlier this season. Both moves scream, "We have no direction and no vision, so we’re going to scrap any sort of long-term plan and start over. Again" (MMQB.SI.com, 12/30).
TRUST ISSUES: In Cleveland, Bud Shaw wrote many who "once saw" Haslam as a "dynamic, charismatic leader -- the anti-Randy Lerner -- have vaulted past healthy skepticism and landed knee deep in distrust." Chudzinski's firing is "another gouge on Haslam’s credibility -- granted, small in comparison to what’s happening back in Knoxville and the possibility of a federal indictment to come" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 12/31). In Columbus, Rob Oller wrote the front office should "stop talking until you start winning, because we've heard it all before." It "may well be that Chud was not the right man for the job," but also "blame Haslam and Banner for their inability to discern leadership skills during the hiring process" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/31). Also in Cleveland, Jeff Darcy wrote Haslam and Banner have "succeeded in doing what I once thought was unthinkable, making me miss [former owners] Art Model and Randy Lerner" (CLEVELAND.com, 12/31).
The Redskins "aren’t interested in fixing a key part of their organization that is clearly broken" in regards to a front office that has had a "15-year run of mediocrity" under Owner Daniel Snyder, according to Jason Reid of the WASHINGTON POST. Though there is "no way to justify maintaining the front-office structure of a 3-13 team," Redskins Exec VP & GM Bruce Allen "tried while declaring all is well" during Monday's news conference to announce Mike Shanahan's dismissal. Reid: "Truth is, Snyder would rather do things his way than the right way." Allen is "great at shaking hands and kissing babies, but he doesn’t possess the player evaluation chops to overhaul a roster in disrepair." A source said that Allen "would be best at managing the Redskins’ business operation as the team president." If Snyder was "serious about finally trying to set the Redskins along a good path, he would promote Allen, hire a general manager who served in a high-ranking position on a successful team and give him the power to hire a coach and construct the roster." Of course, "in such a scenario, Snyder would be relegated to the sidelines again, which is where he largely was the past four years." But he "would rather be closer to the action -- like in the middle of it" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/31). In Richmond, Michael Phillips noted Allen during the press conference "dismissed reports of Snyder's meddling as 'distasteful,' adding he believes the owner is misunderstood." Allen: "It's not Dan calling the plays. It's not Dan picking the players. It's the people he hired, and it's our job to actually turn this team into a winner" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 12/31).
LEADING MAN? Allen said that he "will inherit the final say" over the Redskins’ player-related decisions from Shanahan. Allen: "The control will be mine and it will be working with our personnel department. ... It doesn’t mean we might not add somebody to the personnel department." (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/30). SI.com's Don Banks questioned if Snyder is "going to serve to limit his options on the head coaching front if Allen is perceived as having fully-vested personnel authority going forward." Allen's "strong suit has not been on that side of the game, and how that different approach in D.C. will be viewed is a question left unanswered for now" (SI.com, 12/30). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell wrote of Allen, "It was striking that he so firmly dismissed the notion that the team needs to restructure its front office and bring in a personnel guru to collaborate with the new coach." It is "baffling that NFL owners don't put as much emphasis on finding the up-and-coming personnel people as they try to strike oil on the coaching front" (USA TODAY, 12/31). In DC, Mike Wise wrote Allen was “instantly made into a bona fide” GM by Snyder, who “transferred executive power over personnel and all football decisions to his former alumni director/salary-cap supervisor.” Wise: “What a promotion! What a franchise-altering change! What a crock.” Allen “looked so calm and serene in his new official role of Franchise Leader that you would have never known a man who already has ‘general manager’ in front of his name failed to utter a public word during the organization’s most woeful year in two decades, that he failed miserably -- purposely? -- as a buffer between Snyder and Shanahan” (WASHINGTON POST, 12/31).
WHERE THE PROBLEM LIES: In DC, Fenno & Boyer reported, "In a four-minute statement to reporters at Redskins Park, Shanahan blamed the $36 million salary cap penalty that stretched over the past two offseasons for the team’s lack of depth, but said he believes the organization is in better shape than when he arrived" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/31). Also in DC, Zac Boyer noted it is believed Shanahan, who signed a five-year, $35M contract in January '10, "will receive" the roughly $7M remaining on his deal (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/31).
THEATER OF THE ABSURD: In DC, Kent Babb wrote under the header, “Shanahan’s Final Day At Redskins Park Is Symbolically Bizarre.” Snyder and Allen “did the firing” during a 9:00am ET meeting, and the team “ordered pre-emptive measures presumably meant to reduce unnecessary attention -- but in the process attracted far more.” Reporters “weren’t allowed to stand in the parking lot between the media building and the team facility after Snyder and Shanahan arrived.” The team “assigned two public-relations interns to patrol the area, assigning them walkie-talkies and instructions to keep doors and window shades closed.” Reporters therefore “watched and shot video through uncovered windows and slits between curtain and sill” (WASHINGTON POST, 12/31). Also in DC, Nathan Fenno wrote the organization “seemed beset by the same mentality that has left it in perpetual chaos.” Fenno: “Dysfunction, the sort of anonymous finger-pointing that occupied much of the season’s final month, is more familiar than playoff victories” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/31).
FISSURES BENEATH THE SURFACE: ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said, “Snyder, as an owner, is terrific. There’s 91,000 people there every game. It’s a great brand, the Redskins. But they have to win.” Jaworski added, “Let Dan Sndyer be the owner and enjoy all the rewards of being the owner, but let the football people -- let the Bruce Allens of the world, the next guy they bring in -- let them do their job and support them rather than fight them” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 12/30). In DC, Thomas Boswell wrote, “Can this farcical franchise continue to rule Washington no matter how bad it is, no matter how much of an embarrassment it is to the city and its fans?” If this “tacky tabloid year doesn’t start a process of modest disengagement, of fan grieving, what would it take?” (WASHINGTON POST, 12/31). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, appearing on ESPN Radio 980 DC, said the Redskins’ season "started off bad and got worse, and melodramatic, like a 1940s post-war movie." Wilbon: "It was never even like a football season: it was just like something starring Joan Crawford. What is this?” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/30).
Fired Lions coach Jim Schwartz had two years and a reported $12M left on his contract, but team President Tom Lewand said that this was "never discussed" by the Ford family, which owns the Lions, in "making the decision to fire him," according to Chris McCosky of the DETROIT NEWS. Lewand said, “Our ownership’s discussion begins and ends with what it takes to bring a consistently winning football team to the city of Detroit. They started almost every conversation I had with them with the fans deserving better." GM Martin Mayhew said the Lions in finding a new coach can "take into account a coach's ability to change our culture a little bit. It has to be something bigger than just scheme that somebody's bringing to our table" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/31). In Detroit, Jeff Seidel wrote that is the "best statement that has come out of the Lions' headquarters in months." But this is "only the second search for Mayhew and Lewand, and it's a different search than the last time" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/31).
NOT A COMPLETE LOSS: In Detroit, Seidel wrote, "To be fair, Schwartz was not a failure in Detroit. ... But make no mistake, this organization is still stuck in mediocrity." The $12M figure "sounds like a lot of money until you remember" that Owner William Clay Ford Sr. "has a net worth that is north of $1 billion, give or take several hundred million." The Ford family can "find $12 million in their Whoops Jar. So don't make much of the cost." Seidel: "Quick note to all the Lions fans who cling to the ridiculous hope that Ford will sell the team: You are nuts. There are two truths about life: You can’t pick your parents; and you can’t pick your NFL owner. So get over it" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/31). In Detroit, Mitch Albom noted Lewand and Mayhew "both emphasized how seriously 'the Ford family' -- their bosses -- wanted things to alter." However, "no member of the Ford family was present" Monday at the Schwartz news conference or "issued a comment." When one reporter "asked whether 'the Ford family' meant William Clay Ford Sr. or [Vice Chair] Bill Ford Jr., he was told by Lewand that 'Mr. Ford has always been involved in the process … beyond that there is no need to specify.'” Albom: "What is this, the Matrix? Which Mr. Ford? Are all Fords interchangeable, like special agents in dark suits? Who is in charge of this team? If you can’t get that simple answer, you wonder how clear the hiring of a new coach is going to be" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/31).
MOVING ON: In Detroit, Terry Foster wrote, "Give the organization some credit for shedding its history of firing a guy too late" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/31). Also in Detroit, Bob Wojnowski wrote Lewand and Mayhew "made the right move in firing Schwartz and now must make a bigger move to prove their point." There is a "reason [Mayhew is] still here and the Fords again resisted the urge to toss everything out." Wojnowski: "Yes, they generally err on the side of safe, which certainly has contributed to the franchise’s numbing 56-year title drought." That is why the "pressure is enormous on Mayhew and Lewand, because this hire is far more important than the Schwartz hire in 2009, when the Lions were coming off that 0-16 gem." This "actually is an attractive job now" with WR Calvin Johnson, DT Ndamukong Suh and a "potential -- still only a potential -- franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford." There also is a "top-10 draft pick and an owner willing to eat" $12M of Schwartz’ contract. If Bill Ford Jr. gradually is "assuming control from his father, that’s a decent sign" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/31). Mayhew said the Lions "don't want to start over." In Detroit, John Niyo wrote, "Of course they don’t, since doing that honestly would require a clean sweep in Allen Park, the front office included." But "clearly there’s enough talent here to attract some quality candidates." If the Fords were willing to pay nearly $12M to "send Schwartz packing ... they’re prepared to pay a premium to replace him" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/31).
The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, "by all accounts [has] full faith" in team GM Rick Spielman, but even if they "had doubts, firing him after two seasons -- without giving him his own coach to work with -- would have been an exceptionally quick trigger," according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. Seifert wrote "make no mistake," the Wilfs are "all in on Spielman" after firing coach Leslie Frazier on Monday. During the press conference announcing Frazier's dismissal, Owner & Chair Zygi Wilf "didn't take questions from reporters, and his brother and co-owner, Mark Wilf, declined to discuss Spielman's qualifications in detail." An "objective view of Spielman's tenure is difficult considering that he spent his first five years with the team as vice president of player personnel before gaining full authority as general manager for the next two." Spielman on Monday said of his tenure, "I haven't got it right yet" (ESPN.com, 12/30).
VEXING VIKINGS: In Minneapolis, Patrick Reusse wrote the Wilfs "aren’t a bargain, having fired their third coach in nine years, but I’d go to work for them over Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland’s new nutcase of an owner." The Wilfs' "track record for impatience isn’t even among the top few reasons for a coaching candidate with options to look beyond Minnesota." The Vikings are "headed off to play two seasons in TCF Bank Stadium," and the on-campus yard is "fine as a college stadium, but it was built on the cheap, is undersized and far short of NFL standards." Reusse: "You get the impression the Vikings are headed for two lost seasons in the return to the outdoors -- that their hope is simply to have everything back together by the time they move inside" their new stadium in '16 (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/31). In St. Paul, Tom Powers wrote there "isn't the slightest chance that the Vikings' ship gets righted any time soon." The Vikings' firing of Frazier was a "steady stream of finger-pointing, excuse-making and passing the buck." The "only possible happy ending here involves an awful lot of luck." Perhaps the Vikings "will stumble upon a coach who can 1) guide" Spielman through his job; 2) "find a way to work around the meddling Wilfs, and 3) actually be able to coach football." The Wilf family "never takes responsibility for anything." Zygi Wilf hired Frazier, but at the announcement of the firing, Wilf "quickly turned over the microphone to Spielman and stepped away from the podium." The Vikings "are beginning to resemble a large, dysfunctional family." The owners are "growing increasingly bold in their day-to-day dealings with the club -- even if they do conduct their business via long distance" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 12/31).
In San Jose, Tim Kawakami reported Raiders Owner Mark Davis "gave every indication that he is likely" to bring back coach Dennis Allen for '14. GM Reggie McKenzie is "on even firmer ground." Davis said that he "expects to meet with Allen probably next week." Davis when asked if there is a scenario in which Allen is not the Raiders' coach any longer said, "There’s always a scenario, you know that. I don’t know, what if John Madden decided he wanted to be a coach again?" Davis when asked if he had discussed with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden the possibility of returning said, "I’ll never talk about what I’m doing in those respects. It’s such a competitive business, there’s no reason anyone should know what I’m thinking until I do it" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 12/30). Kawakami wrote while "all signs do point to the Raiders maintaining GM/coach stability" into '14, Davis also is "keeping his options open, at least for a few more days" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 12/31).
CRUCIAL CALL: In Nashville, David Climer wrote Titans Exec VP & GM Ruston Webster's assessment and input on the performance of coach Mike Munchak "will have a major bearing on whether Munchak is retained or fired by the Titans’ new ownership group." What Webster recommends "will greatly define his career" as Titans GM. Climer asked, "Can Webster divorce himself from the close working relationship he has had with Munchak for the past two years and take an unbiased look at the head coach’s overall performance?" If Munchak is fired, Webster would be "the point man on identifying potential replacements and assessing their level of interest," and would be "directly involved in the hiring process." Climer: "Is he up to all that?" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/1).
PLAYING THE WAITING GAME: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports sources "doubt" the Dolphins will fire GM Jeff Ireland, though "nothing has been fully decided yet” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 1/2). ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Ireland's status may not be known the report "from the independent investigator of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal" is released. Mortensen: "That’s not expected until after the Super Bowl” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 1/2).
HOLDING THE PURSE STRINGS: In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote while fans "love free-agent splashes," Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell "must resist the temptation to spend wildly." That has "gotten this franchise in trouble before." When the Jaguars "position themselves to be a consistent playoff contender, then signing prized free agents might be more risk-friendly." Even with an estimated $20M in salary cap space "as a starting point, Caldwell has every intention of being a disciplined spender" with RB Maurice Jones-Drew and when NFL unrestricted free agency begins on March 11 (JACKSONVILLE.com, 12/30).
ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas cited sources as saying the Buccaneers last night "agreed to contract terms with Lovie Smith to be their new head coach." The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, "didn't fare well with their past two coaches, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano," but they "got it right this time." It is "clear that Smith will bring balance to an organization that desperately needs it" (ESPN.com, 1/1). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes the Glazers' "extensive coaching search didn't seem to have been very extensive." But that is "just fine." Jones: "If you believe you have the right man for the job, why waste your time kicking the tires of a bunch of other guys you really have no interest in hiring." This "went down so fast that the Bucs, you would have to believe, had Smith in mind well before the season ended" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/2).
BACK TO WHERE IT ALL BEGAN? In Atlanta, D. Orlando Ledbetter cited reports as saying that Falcons President & CEO Rich McKay, who has "not been heavily involved in football operations since 2008, could be ready to return to Tampa Bay." McKay was the Buccaneers GM from '93-'03. But Buccaneer beat writers "did not mention McKay as a possible general manager candidate" (AJC.com, 12/31).
NO TROUBLE AT THE TOP: In Newark, Jordan Raanan noted Giants President & CEO John Mara "made it clear that the changes in the Giants organization will not be involving the head coach or general manager." Mara on Monday said of GM Jerry Reese, "I firmly believe he is the right guy going forward. I've spent enough time around him to know he's the right guy. He's not afraid to make tough decisions and he knows what the risks are, and sometimes you have to take those risks" (NJ.com, 12/30). But in N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano wrote Reese is "most definitely on the clock." It is not that Reese is "in any trouble," but he is "the one who has to fix it. Fast" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/31).
The Raptors "continue to work on a rebrand in time" for the '15-16 season, and while a name change has been ruled out, the team's colors "surely will be getting an overhaul," according to Ryan Wolstat of the TORONTO SUN. A report on Monday indicated that a black-and-gold scheme has "emerged as a contender and that makes sense, since global ambassador Drake has built his OVO brand around those colours." MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke said of possible color schemes, "We are looking at a few different ideas. One of them would be a blue and white look, to tie in with the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays." But sources said that they "have seen mockups featuring the black and gold design" (TORONTO SUN, 12/31).
DON'T STOP THERE: In Toronto, Doug Smith wrote of the possible black-and-gold scheme, "I’m not suggesting it’s a done deal and a lot of different people and companies are coming up with a lot of different looks and styles." Smith wrote, "It's not a colour scheme that makes me sit up and take notice and ... I don’t really see anything wrong with the way things are right now. And I would suggest that if one of Tim Leiweke’s great plans is to have the Raptors become 'Canada’s team' that going away from red and white doesn’t make a whole lot of sense." The "best change they can make is go from losing franchise to winning; colours and logos and brands be damned." Smith: "I understand completely that marketing is big ... and it’s a way to line the pockets of the organization, the league and by extension the players who share in the Basketball Related Income." If you are "looking at away-from-the-game tweaks that help in different ways, here are two: Fix the utter mess that is the TV and radio schedules, where there are too many channels, too many voices, too many looks" They also could "spend some time suggesting that they plan to, you know, try and win" (TORONTO STAR, 12/31).
The Yankees aim to spend $12-15M in "bonuses on international amateurs this year, which would trigger penalties" of about $10-12M per to the two-year-old rules in the CBA that limit int'l spending, according to a source cited by Kiley McDaniel of SCOUT.com. The total outlay of about $25M would "blow away a record" the Rangers set in '11 of about $15M of "all penalty-free bonuses." MLB "hasn’t notified clubs of their 2014 international spending pools yet, but the Yankees are expected to have a pool amount" between $2-2.5M. They would be "taxed 100% on any dollar they spend over 10% above that amount and the maximum penalty (for going over 15% above the pool amount) is not being allowed to sign a player for above a $300,000 bonus for the next two years." This "isn’t a novel strategy," as the Rays "spent over 15% above their bonus pool" in '12 and the Rangers and Cubs did it in '13. With at least three big-market clubs in two years "exploiting this loophole and the Yankees planning to do it in extreme fashion, MLB will likely be forced to change the rules yet again in the short term, possibly as soon as next season and possibly with the switch to an international draft." If an int'l draft is in place for '15, the Yankees' "two-year bonus limit penalty would change to losing their first round pick in the international draft for the next two years." Clubs are "unsure how close MLB is to instituting a international draft, something the CBA allows MLB to do when it sees fit" (SCOUT.com, 12/30).
THE BOTTOM LINE: In N.Y., Joel Sherman wrote the case could be made that the Yankees' "best chance to upgrade their prospect base while dropping under the threshold was last season." Instead, the Yankees "responded, for example, by adding" $11.5M last year for LF Vernon Wells. On one hand, "good for the Steinbrenner family for always going for it." On the other, "bad for the Steinbrenner family for not recognizing sometimes you have to punt for better field position." But missing the playoffs in '13 "seems to have triggered that never-surrender DNA in the organization again." Combine that with "rising prices for top players and the Yanks’ zeal to compensate for the free-agent loss" of 2B Robinson Cano, and "suddenly they are roughly at" $209M for luxury-tax purposes in '14 (N.Y. POST, 12/31).