From 2002 to 2012, Randy Lerner owned one of, if not the most dysfunctional organization in the NFL. While Some speculate that he never really wanted the Browns in the first place (he inherited the franchise following the death of his father) the hiring policies coupled with the on-field performances of his Browns are eerily similar to those of his Villa. Let's take a look at just how similar they are and what the final years of his Browns may foreshadow for Villa.
To begin with, I should clarify that being a native Clevelander, I feel that I have a pretty good grasp on the happenings of the Browns. I have experienced the numerous heartbreaks, the countless blowouts, and the rare Sunday afternoon filled with satisfaction because of a Browns victory. Living amongst a city of fellow Browns fans has given me a different attitude towards the team than that of my affinity for Villa, as there are very few fellow Villa fans in my immediate environment. After watching both Villa and the Browns in sequence for the past couple years, it is almost impossible not to observe some very clear similarities between the fates of Lerner's two professional sport franchises.
The first, and most obvious similarity in recent years is the product produced on the field. Villa under Lambert and Sherwood were nothing short of abysmal, but Lerner's Browns just may have been worse. If American sports had a relegation system, the Browns would have undoubtably been relegated more than once over. The Browns are a model of inconsistency, far worse than any other team in the NFL. In American football, the most important and dynamic position, without a doubt, is quarterback. Teams build solely around quarterbacks because a good quarterback has the ability to carry an otherwise poor team to success and a second-rate quarterback has the ability to drag an otherwise talented team to mediocrity.
Since 2002 (the year Randy inherited the Browns), 20 quarterbacks have started for the Browns. As a clear manifestation of this model of inconsistency, this inevitable life-cycle has repeated itself countless times and has crippled the franchise from any chance of consistent and sustained success. To contrast this dysfunction, the Green Bay Packers, one of the most efficient and successful organizations in the NFL, have started just two full-time quarterbacks since 1993.
In many ways, this inability to find an identity and a sustainable model for success is very similar to what Villa has experienced in recent years. From O'Neill to Houllier to McLeish to Lambert to Sherwood and now to Garde, there has been no consistent identity, other than perhaps that of playing it long and hoping. With Benteke's departure this summer, we saw a microcosm of what Lerner's Browns were in Tim Sherwood's 10 games at the helm this season. Unproductive tinkering with a squad in need of consistency led to abysmal performances on the pitch, while numerous formations, teams, and hopeless playing styles were applied in vain.
Hopefully this cycle will be ended with the appointment of Remi Garde, but the numerous appointments by Lerner with the Browns all yielded similar initial hope only to give way to the same dissatisfaction once again. Garde certainly breaks the mold of Villa's recent reliance on English experience, but this is in no means a guarantee of success. The Browns appointed a similarly soft-spoken and reserved coach in Pat Shurmur in 2011, only to discover that he was possibly Lerner's worst hire of all. Hopefully Garde won't emerge as of a similar mental capacity as Shurmur, a man who once said all of the following in full seriousness:
"If you do things outside the rules, you get penalized"
"Throwing and catching is very important"
"I think on defense it is very important that you prevent the score", and
"You're in 3rd and long because you did something wrong on 1st or 2nd down"
The other element of Lerner's Browns that carries some relevance to his Villa is his inability to find a franchise-defining head coach (manager). Since 2005, the Browns have had 5 coaches, none of whom held a tenure of more than 3 years. The standard cycle is a first year of standard mediocrity, followed by a second year of similar ineffectiveness, which results in a sacking. This process has esentially been repeated 5 times already, and will likely be repeated this winter when the Browns' current coach, Mike Pettine, will reach the end of his second season, and will likely be sacked. While some of these hires were after Lerner's selling of the team, they still carry relevance to Villa. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results - Lerner's inability to stick with a coach (or quarterback, for that matter) for a significant amount of time shows just how twisted his expectations for success were, and possibly still are.
No level of prosperity will be reached when no one is given more than two seasons on a regular basis, when player evaluation is consistently poor regardless of the evaluator, and when an owner has unrealistic expectations for a team stuck in a cycle of failure. Villa have certainly experienced a similar cycle in recent memory, and if the Browns are any indication, that struggling won't end any time soon. Hopefully his experiences with the Browns will teach Lerner how not to handle a professional sporting organization in search of identity, consistency, and success - but that is an assumption that is very difficult to make.
Hopefully Remi Garde will be the man to rescue Villa from the bottom third of the Premier League, but he has a monumental task in front of him. We're all hoping that he can achieve what Lambert and Sherwood could not, but this kind of hope has been felt countless times by Browns fans after a Lerner hire. Garde very well may prove to be an exception, but the tale of Lerner's Browns should caution all Villa fans already assuming he is the answer. Hopefully Randy has finally figured it out, and Up the Villa.
What do you think? Let us know!