There is something to be said for continuity and allowing for growing pains over the course of development, which is the model adapted by the Pittsburgh Steelers since Dan Rooney assumed greater control of the team, basically over the course of the past 50-plus years.
But there is also a lot of value in owning up to mistakes and avoiding the sunken cost fallacy, the idea that you can’t let things go because you made an investment in them, even though it would be more opportune to move on.
That seems like a pretty good description of the Cleveland Browns and their rapid-fire trek from Hue Jackson, who they fired in mid-2018, to Gregg Williams as interim head coach, to Freddie Kitchens in 2019, and finally to Kevin Stefanski this past season.
They may have cycled through a lot of coaches in a short amount of time, but at least the early returns suggest that that process has ultimately landed them on the candidate that they were hoping for. Stefanski had great success in his first year with the Browns, and they now have the opportunity to build that continuity — something young quarterback Baker Mayfield is very excited about finally having.
“When it comes to continuity, everybody being on the same page and having the same goals, that is so important,” he told reporters earlier this week. “For me going into it, this is the first time since having [Bob] Stoops from 2015-2016 as the same head coach that it is the first time it has happened for me, and I am obviously looking forward to it and continuing to build on what we had started last year.”
Cleveland drafted Mayfield in 2018. Jackson was entering his third season as head coach at the time, having gone an absolutely astonishing 1-31 in his first two years. The Browns fired him midway through that season, along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and replaced Haley on an interim basis with Kitchens. Cleveland dumped both Kitchens (as head coach) and 2019 offensive coordinator Todd Monken after the 2019 season. That’s not great continuity, but it was also clear that it wasn’t working.
Enter Stefanski and Alex Van Pelt, who now have the opportunity to start building something. They, Mayfield, and the Browns posted their first winning season since 2007 last year, then went on to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and win a playoff game for the first time since 1994. That’s now the floor. A year ago, that felt like an unreachable ceiling.
“Like I said, it is nowhere near being over. We were not satisfied when it came to just making it into the playoffs, winning one game and then losing in the next round,” Mayfield said. “That is the great part about what we have coming back is everybody got a little taste of that and some guys who have made it further, everybody is hungry for more.”
Browns fans should rightfully be excited about what’s going on there right now. I write that as a slightly frustrated Steelers fan who obviously likes to have those two games in hand every year without the risk of losing the division title to Cleveland. Unfortunately, it feels like that can no longer be taken for granted.