I’ve been trying to understand why
the firing of Maurice Carthon has been received so enthusiastically
by Browns fans.
Understand, that’s not because I have
any love for Carthon. His numbers as an offensive coordinator
speak (or should I say groan?) for themselves: Last in total yards
of offense per game; 29th in number of plays run; 25th
in points per game; last in total rushing yards; second to last in rushing
yards per carry. (The points statistic is actually overstated,
if you can imagine. The Browns are among the league’s best in
kickoff and punt returns, meaning that their offense typically has less
distance to go to get to the end zone or at least into field goal position.)
Those numbers may actually be an improvement over last season’s, but
that’s damning with the faintest of praise.
Carthon’s brusque personality and reported
conflicts with others on the team (both players and coaches) have been
described extensively elsewhere; no need to keep fishing in that lake.
Add to that the sports truism that coaches
are hired to be fired. Want to be the most popular guy in town?
Be the assistant head coach. Want to be the most hated guy in
town? Remove “assistant” from that title. It looks like
that truism applies to coordinators as well.
All guys are convinced of three things:
that they bang like apes, that they’re great drivers, and that they
can run an NFL offense. It doesn’t matter that their “resume”
consists of drawing up a hook and lateral play that scored the winning
touchdown for a neighborhood game thirty years ago (and that the score
happened only because Billy Cunningham’s mom called him to supper,
distracting him long enough so that he missed the tackle). Every
fan out there with a Frye (or Couch … or Kosar …) jersey on his
back on Sunday afternoons is convinced that he can call plays better
than the guy who actually has the job.
So it’s certainly understandable to
expect some degree of good riddance for Carthon. (Not that it
should give us much hope for the 2006 season. Make a list of all
the teams that have fired a coordinator halfway through the year, then
turned their season around.)
But there’s something more here.
Something unique to The Cleveland Experience. Michael J. Fox’s
character in the movie “The American President” put his finger on
“They're so thirsty for it they'll
crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's
no water, they'll drink the sand.”
Make no mistake, Browns fans are thirsty.
We’re parched. Dehydrated. Haven’t seen a drop of water
in years. The last football team here moved to Baltimore; if this
one skips town, it ought to relocate to the Atacama.
It’s not even so much thirst for a
winning team, although that is of course the dream. We just want
competence. We want hope. We want a pulse in
the offense. We want to see Josh Cribbs return the ball all the
way to the opposing 25 yard line, getting tackled yet again by the kicker,
and think something other than “cool! they’re in field goal
position!”. We don’t want the feeling that the game is over
if the Browns fall behind by a touchdown. We want to see the ball
in the hands of those high draft pick playmakers like Braylon and Kellen.
(We’re so enamored with the team, we’re on a first-name basis with
them, you see.) We sure as hell don’t want to see Lawrence
Vickers throwing a pass. Ever.
That’s why Carthon’s firing has really
resonated with Browns fans. I suppose it’s possible that Jeff
Davidson really is a Bill Walsh in embryo, and that his promotion will
allow him to unlock the juggernaut hidden deep within whatever exactly
it is we’ve seen on offense the past six games. (Although
it is impossible to ignore that he was the position coach of the team’s
weakest unit.) But he doesn’t really need to do all that
well in order to earn a free pass from Browns fans, at least for a while.
Why is that?
The reply of Michael Douglas’s character
to Fox’s says it all:
People don't drink the sand because
they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.
hastens to note that he does in fact bang like an ape and is an excellent