It took 14 seconds for the Patriots' Bethel Johnson to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown in New England's 42--15 win over the Browns on Sunday. In that span Clevelanders realized life is no better without coach Butch Davis, who resigned on Nov. 30, than it was with him. It hasn't mattered who has paced the sidelines since the Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999, Chris Palmer or Davis; at 3--9 they're assured of the fifth losing season in six years. (Last week offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie was named interim head coach.) The new Browns were born to fail, victims of the NFL's ham-handed handling of their conception and the mistakes that followed.
For starters, the league shouldn't have allowed owner Art Modell to move the old Browns, who regularly filled Cleveland Stadium, to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The NFL compounded that error by drawing out the search for an owner for the new franchise until it could get the highest possible price. By the time the late credit-card magnate Al Lerner paid a then record $530 million in 1998, the team had only 369 days to prepare for its first game. (By comparison the Jaguars and the Panthers had 21 months and the Texans nearly three years.) Former president Carmen Policy admits that in the scramble to create an organization, he didn't make the best move in hiring ex-49ers receiver Dwight Clark as the first G.M.
In 2001 a desperate Policy plucked Davis from the University of Miami. Davis demanded, and got, final say on personnel moves--more responsibility than he was ready for. When most of his scouts wanted to draft defensive tackle Richard Seymour with the No. 3 pick in '01, Davis took tackle Gerard Warren instead. Seymour, a Patriot, is a Pro Bowler; Warren hasn't lived up to his $36 million contract.
Owner Randy Lerner (Al's son) is again searching for a G.M. As the team demonstrated on Sunday, it's difficult in this league to overcome a disastrous start. --Terry Pluto
Terry Pluto's False Start: How the New Browns Were Set Up to Fail is in stores now.