A buddy, and fellow Browns fan, came into work the other night, and informed me that the Browns had fired their defensive coordinator Grantham, and that there was some controversy surrounding it. He was a highly regarded coach in the NFL, and in the Browns organization, and was even considered Crennel's "heir apparent".
Even before the firing rumors were flying....
I don't know if others will be able to open these links to Scout.com because it requires a membership. So I'll post the articles....
And just what was the genesis of the problems between Crennel and Grantham?
According to several players, none of whom would speak on the record, Grantham “schemed behind RAC’s back” in an effort to get him fired before the bye so that he could take over as the interim head coach and, possibly, secure the position for years to come.
Additionally, there were “scheme and personnel issues” between not only Grantham and Crennel, but between Grantham and players on the defensive side of the ball. In particular, veterans have been exasperated over Grantham’s unwillingness to even listen to input on various defensive issues.
Tales from the In-Box: Coordinator Edition
With the 2007 season for the Cleveland Browns barely in the rear-view mirror, controversy and change has again found its way to the Cleveland Browns. The departure of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will come as no surprise to readers of this column, as we noted issues between the former coordinator and players throughout the season. Promoting defensive backs coach Mel Tucker into the role of defensive coordinator could very well prove to be a great move. The Browns sought a trusted voice and knowledgeable presence, and Tucker brings both. It doesn't hurt that Tucker also has a strong belief in the type of defense favored by the Browns head coach.
And now, onto the show...
Q: I find it hard to believe on a professional level a coach could do the things the OBR (you and John Taylor) wrote about over the past week. How could a coordinator that had the respect of the team and was believed to be the head coach in waiting suddenly change his colors and become a negative influence?
LA: There was nothing sudden about the changes within Browns camp. We stand by what we have reported on the Orange and Brown Report regarding Grantham/Crennel and state of the team.
Yes, Todd Grantham was viewed by many as the head coach-in -aiting, and within that simple statement lays the issue.
Crennel was on the hot seat going back to the 2006 season, while Grantham was receiving an extension to match the length of Crennel’s contract. The organization watched how Grantham conducted himself and evaluated his readiness as a head coach. Vice president and general manager Phil Savage noted that Grantham was a candidate to be a head coach at some point in public comments last year.
We've been told by more than a couple of well-placed sources that the demeanor of the former defensive coordinator changed and that there was friction between the head coach, the defensive coordinator, and his staff. While all indications are Savage attempted to rectify the situation, it was the input of players which ultimately led to Grantham's demise.
From what we've heard, some players and coaches discussed the state of the defense at the end-of-the-season meetings. A theme from those discussions was that the team's defensive problems weren't due to a lack of overall talent, but rather due to questionable utilization of talent within the team's defensive scheme.
Not all the players on the defensive side of the ball either felt or relayed the same message, but some leaders within the core of the locker room voiced their concern. Issues arise when a player loses faith in the coach or scheme or simply does not have the ability to discuss with a coach.
Allegedly, a lack of communication and respect was felt by some of those speaking out. Grantham was a focal point of the situation.
Q: If Grantham was the problem with the Cleveland defense, why didn’t the organization make a move during the season and possibly provide this team a chance at making the playoffs? LA: The defensive unit played better in the second half of the season. The Browns organization preaches continuity and I am fairly certain that their first thought was to keep Grantham in place. After having time to reflect on the season and listen to the voices within the organization, it was decided to let Grantham go.
I believe the defensive coordinator is responsible for having his unit ready to play. Early in the season, this was often not the case. There were a lot of mistakes in positioning, recognition and productivity. That was more so the case at the beginning of the season, before this was a known issue, than at the end.
While the state of the roster and depth plays into the equation, the coaching or lack of, as well as questionable communication was an issue.
Q: I followed along throughout the season I remember reading a bunch of comments you made regarding the defense and what the players were thinking. When players talk, I would think the player would have an agenda or something was just wrong on the team. Where do you stand on this?
LA: When I heard of the initial complaints, I was curious and wondered if there was something to there. I was told to pay attention to a few specifics on game-day, such as situational scheming and coverage packages, and watch the trend. When doing so, I was sold on the notion something was not quite right. When players two and three told me much of the same, the problems were etched in my mind.
In the long run, I do believe the organization made a decision it had to make. While I will refrain from noting any issues within the staff, but when the players lose confidence in the scheme and coach, a change has to be made.
Q: Do you believe that Crennel basically wanted Grantham gone as he was viewed as the head coach in waiting?
LA: I believe there were some philosophical (scheme, implementation) issues between the two men. While I am far from certain this was enough for the organization to relieve the defensive coordinator of his duties, players voicing their displeasure was ladled on top of existing problems. I also believe that the organization created some of the problems with how they handled the situation, such as voicing a belief in the defensive coordinator as capable of being a head coach after a 2006 season (training camp 2007) that left the existing head coach on the hot seat.
Q: With Grantham gone and Mel Tucker named the new defensive coordinator, what changes do you expect to come into play for the 2008 Cleveland Browns?
LA: I’ll start with my belief that Mel Tucker is qualified and a good fit to lead this defensive unit. Tucker is a solid teacher, a great communicator, and has the ability to get players to play. What makes average coaches great is the ability to listen and believe in players. Tucker is his own man and he will let players play to their strength, as long as it fits the overall scheme of the defense. I know he has great faith in his positional players (defensive backs) and I expect him to carry this onto the next level. If he feels he has enough talent to support it, a Mel Tucker defense will get after the opposition.
Derry: Relate or Perish
According to OBR columnist Frank Derry, the demise of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may have had nothing to do with hard work, or knowledge of the game. Frank looks back on Browns teams of the recent past to explain...
For 16 weeks I sat watching my favorite football team struggle to stop an opponent on the ground or through the air.
I criticized the defensive line, pointing to the fact it was filled guys who either were running on fumes or never had a full tank of gas to begin with.
I questioned the linebackers, wondering whether Andra Davis was ever going to step up and become a premier run-stopper; whether Kamerion Wimbley and D’Qwell Jackson were suffering from sophomore slumps; whether it was time for Willie McGinest to head out to pasture.
I watched Eric Wright get beaten numerous times and blamed it on his being a rookie who was playing on an island in the NFL for the first time; that fellow cornerback Leigh Bodden was distracted by his off-the-field problems; that safeties Brodney Pool and Sean Jones were in their first full season of starting together at safety.
I blamed it on the lack of depth coming off the bench.
I blamed it on the fact so much emphasis was placed on building the offense that the defensive shortcomings that were evident in 2006 had been overlooked. There’s no way any general manager, even one as good as Phil Savage, can fill every hole overnight, I reasoned.
I figured that come this off-season, the first thing Savage would do was to spend considerable time trying to bring in at least one solid run-stopper and either a defensive end or outside linebacker capable of consistently rushing the quarterback. I figured that adding a little more depth in the defensive backfield would also be a priority.
Boy was I wrong!
Turns out the problem wasn’t with the talent level; had nothing to do with the fact big Ted Washington, the man in the middle who was expected to be the primary run-stopper, was a total non-factor due first to his being long of tooth and then to injury.
Turns out the problem wasn’t with the talent level of the defensive players, but rather with the coordinator, Todd Grantham, the guy who less than a year ago was being touted as a “terrific coach” by Savage, who backed up his words by giving him a two-year contract extension this past June.
The extension came despite the fact several of Grantham’s players had apparently gone to head coach Romeo Crennel and complained about a variety of things following the ’06 season.
It’s relatively easy to figure out what they said by reading the comments Crennel made when naming Mel Tucker as Grantham’s replacement.
“He (Tucker) has a football plan, life plan, coaches the fundamentals and relates well with the players. I believe he will be a successful in his new role.”
What Crennel was really saying was, “He (Grantham) had no football plan, no life plan, didn’t coach the fundamentals and didn’t relate well to the players. He had no chance of being successful in his old role.”
If any or all of that is true, Crennel and Savage had no choice but to fire the guy who many thought would one day replace Crennel as head coach. If a coach can’t relate to his players, or if he has his sights set on becoming the head coach, then he has no chance of being successful.
I remember a situation nearly two decades ago when the Browns brought in a couple of assistant coaches who were among the worst in team history. One was Jed Hughes, a defensive backs coach who was brought on board by first-year head coach Bud Carson.
Hughes immediately got into a war with Brian Washington, who was coming off a magnificent rookie season and looked like he would be a fixture at safety for years to come.
But Hughes didn’t like Washington and vice versa. Carson, unfortunately, sided with Hughes and cut Washington before the end of training camp. Washington was given the opportunity to say a nose injury was serious enough to land him on injured reserve, but he wanted nothing to do with Hughes.
Washington went on to have several excellent years with the New York Jets. Hughes, meanwhile, was fired after one year with the Browns. He has gone on to be much more successful as a consultant than he was as a coach.
Also brought in as part of Carson’s coaching staff in 1989 was Dan Radakovich. “Bad Rad,” as he was known, had been an outstanding offensive line coach for the Steelers and New York Jets. He probably would have been a good offensive line coach for the Browns, too, but they hired Hal Hunter for that job.
So “Bad Rad” became the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. It is believed that owner Art Modell had a lot to do with the assignment. But whether it was Carson or Modell who made the decision, it was a bad one.
I’ll never forget one day being in the locker room, sitting with linebackers Clay Matthews and Mike Johnson.
“Bad Rad” came over to where we were sitting and gave some football-related instructions to his two Pro Bowl linebackers. As soon as “Bad Rad” walked away, one looked at the other and said, “Take what he said and do the exact opposite.”
They weren’t joking and they didn’t care who heard them express their feelings.
The players had no respect for the veteran coach. He was fired after the 1990 season.
Those are two reasons why I have no problem at all with Crennel firing the guy who, less than a year ago, I thought was one of the best young defensive coordinators in the NFL.
You can be the smartest guy in the world, but if you can’t relate to your players, it’s time for a change.