Around the NFL: Browns Leadership Under Severe Pressure, New Replay Rules, GB Special Teams

Mike Pettine Ray Farmer

Long-suffering Cleveland Browns have paid a huge price for management’s failures and ineptitude over the years, and there’s little to indicate that they will be rewarded any time soon for enduring such difficult times.

While the big issue is the quarterback situation – Johnny Manziel is in rehab and Brian Hoyer is simply not good enough – there are huge issues between general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine.

Farmer does not have a lot of confidence in Pettine’s ability to manage a game and call plays, and he showed that by texting messages down to the sidelines last year while games were in progress. Never mind that this practice is against NFL rules, it completely cuts the legs off the head coach once this gets out among the players.

The NFL is almost certainly going to come down hard on this, because they want to discourage this kind of behavior in the future if other general managers are unhappy with the play-calling or substitution patterns being employed by the head coach.

Expect Farmer to pay a heavy fine and get suspended for two or four games. The NFL also has the ability to punish the team further by taking away draft picks, and while that punishment is not expected, what better way to send the message that non-coaches don’t have the right to influence what’s happening on the field once the game is underway.

Farmer was under pressure before this came to light. Just go back to last year’s draft, where the Browns failed with No. 1 pick Justin Gilbert in addition to the questionable selection of Manziel. Both players had major maturity issues that hurt the team throughout the 2014 season.

While the selection of Manziel still may have a chance of working out, the selection of Gilbert is even harder to defend. The Browns wanted to go in the defensive back direction, and that means they passed on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as well as Kyle Fuller, and both players were key contributors for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, respectively.

Farmer can’t have any slip-ups with his top picks if he wants to hold on to his job, considering all the problems that the Browns had last season.

Farmer has blamed last year’s draft failures on his lack of experience on the job. He wasn’t named to his position until February, and didn’t have time to install the procedures that he is using this year. However, that sounds like an excuse for poor personal management and an inability to judge talent.


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There is a very good chance that replay rules will be expanded before the start of the 2015 season.

A year ago, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick proposed that coaches should be allowed to request a review on all plays, including judgment calls like offensive and defensive holding, as well as pass interference.

That proposal is gaining momentum prior to the NFL’s annual meetings, and coaches like Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams and Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals said the idea will get full discussion this year.

Fisher is one of the leading members of the NFL’s competition committee, while Arians is a two-time NFL coach of the year and is rapidly becoming one of the most influential coaches in the league.

Fisher said that there are more instant-replay related proposals on the docket this year than in the past, and Arians says that the appetite for increased instant replay appears to have increased.

Too many plays can’t be challenged, and that’s frustrating for coaches and fans. By giving each coach three challenges, Belichick believes many officiating mistakes can be resolved without lengthening games by more than a few minutes.


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The Packers’ failure to secure an onside kick in the final minutes of the NFC Championship game was one of the primary reasons they watched Super Bowl XLIX instead of playing in the game.

Obviously, special teams coach Shawn Slocum did not do his job well enough, and head coach Mike McCarthy knew he had to make a change with that position on his coaching staff.

He made that change nearly two weeks after the NFC championship, and he replaced him with assistant special teams coach Ron Zook.

That’s a head scratcher. Zook had been a special teams coach with the Steelers from 1996 through 1998 before moving on to the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. He also struggled as a college head coach at Florida and Illinois.

Here’s the problem: Was Zook really the best man for the job? He has never been known for his skill as a strategist or a personnel specialist, and that’s what a special-teams coach must be. He needs his best players to execute consistently, but when a big play is needed – like recovering an onside kick at the end of the fourth quarter – the right players must be on the field.

It’s reasonable to ask if Zook has this ability. He is not a proven special teams coach, and the Packers could be in trouble in this area again.

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Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.