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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, January 24, 2014

One rule matters when hiring a new coach

For all I know, the Browns may have hired a coach by the time this finds its way into print.

Every other team that needed a coach has hired one by now, but the Browns inner sanctum is engaging in a secret process that is seemingly screening everyone with even the least understanding of football.

There is a better way. And I know what that way is, but team owner Jimmy Haslam is letting his ego get in the way, because he hasn’t called me yet to find out how it’s done.

The method is so simple that I almost hate to bring it up. But it is so vital to the future of professional football in Cleveland that I feel it is my duty to reveal what it is.

It is so easy that it borders on the ridiculous.

But here it is: You don’t hire a rookie. This is not an entry-level job for someone who wants to be a football coach but has no credentials for the job.

You hire a proven winner. You go to someone who is already a tested coach and offer him the job.

If I give you an example of how easy this is, I am certain you will agree, and the search can begin in earnest for the new coach.

The best example in the history of the National Football League came when Joe Robbie, who was owner of the Miami Dolphins at the time, fired his coach because he had failed at the job.

I believe the man’s name was George Wilson.

A sportswriter and a close friend I worked with for many years at The News-Herald, Bill Braucher, had succumbed to the lure of the South and had gotten a job at the Miami Herald.

He covered thoroughbred racing for a time, but then the job  of covering the Dolphins opened up and it was offered to Bill.

He leaped at the chance. It was a plum assignment.

Upon the firing of Wilson, Bill’s boss, sports editor Ed Pope, said, “Let’s go over and see Joe Robbie and find out who he’s going to hire.”

Or words to that effect.

So the two newspaper guys sat down with Robbie and asked him who he had in mind for the job.
I am paraphrasing now, the but the conversation went something like this:

Ed: Who are you going to hire to take Ralph Wilson’s place?

Joe: I don’t know. Do you know of anyone who would be good?

Bill: How about Don Shula? He’s a great coach.

Let me insert at this point that Shula already had a full-time job. He was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts, and was very successful at it.

Joe: Do you know him?

Bill: Yes, I went to John Carroll with him.

That was where Bill and Don met and became friends. Shula was a good running back at John Carroll, but not as good as his buddy, Carl Tasseff.

They were so close that they both went into the NFL together with the Browns, were traded to another team together, and when Don became a coach he kept Carl at his side as an assistant coach – forever.

But to go back to the conversation in Miami.

Joe: Can you set up a meeting with him?

Bill: Yes, I think I can.

And so he did, Joe Robbie offered Don Shula a job, and he left the Colts to coach the Dolphins.

He was wildly successful in Miami. Correct me if I am wrong about this, but I think he is the winningest coach in NFL history.

Of course, you can’t just hire a coach away from another team. It’s against the rules. The commissioner was incensed. He fined the Dolphins two first round draft choices.

(The Browns could afford such a penalty. They don’t know how to draft players anyway. For evidence, look at their recent drafts.)

Bill continued to cover the Dolphins, and he and Don continued to be friends. Don referred to Bill as his “conscience.”

In one of his stories, Bill referred to Shula’s “rippling waistline.”

Shula said, “Harrrrumph,” went on a diet and lost eight pounds.

I had first read this story about how Shula had left the Colts and had gone to the Dolphins in a sports magazine.

As chance would have it, I ran into Shula one night long ago at Helllriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township. We sat at the bar and had a drink together.

I remember it very well. I asked him if the story about him and Bill and Joe Robbie and about him leaving the Colts for the Dolphins was true, and he said yes, it was.

With that in mind, I can think of a couple of guys by the names of John Fox and Jim Harbaugh who would look good on the Browns’s sideline.

It worked before and it could work again. Money should be no object. Right, Jimmy?

Editor’s note: The Browns on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, hired as their head coach Mike Pettine, who served this past season as the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills.


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