Personal Foul -- Garrett's mistake is his own

If you've read any of my prior posts, you know that I have not been particularly complimentary of Browns management or Freddie Kitchens' coaching this season. That said, it's off-putting when moments after Maurkice Pouncey finishes taking his feet to Myles Garrett's dome, a local sportswriters joins in by kicking Freddie Kitchens and the Browns management and ownership while they are down.
Myles Garrett
Photo by Eric Dorst
Creative Commons 2.0Generic license

In a recent article entitled "Player leadership will determine whether Browns strong enough to survive Garrett crisis" Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal dramatically wrote: 

"But the Browns are rotten on the inside, and their broken culture stems from more than Kitchens. Is it because co-owner Jimmy Haslam escaped prosecution in a federal investigation into a fraud scheme by his Pilot Flying J corporation? Is it because General Manager John Dorsey keeps giving second chances to undisciplined players with questionable pasts? Is it because, like regimes before them, the Haslams and Dorsey don’t know a good coaching leader when they see one?"

Where to start, Marla?   Were you not the person who one month ago wrote an article entitled "Looking for a scapegoat? Players, not Freddie Kitchens, to blame for Browns' 2-4 start?"  Four games and a couple wins later you are crediting Jimmy Haslam with Myles Garrett's terrible split-second decision and somehow tying it to the Flying J rebate scandal?   With the exploding need for streaming service original content, maybe you can option that thought exercise as a paranoid conspiracy thriller to Hulu or Apple+ TV?

Are you really now calling on the same Browns players you called out a month ago as lacking personal responsibility to save this team from some kind of systemic corporate malevolence dictated from the management level or above?   If your words do not imply some sort of trickle down corruption from on high, why bring up Flying-J at all?   It comes off as a cheap shot in an article that is ironically centered around a player's cheap shot.

Sure, Marla's statement about Dorsey and his penchant for giving talented low-character players second chances has merit and warrants exploration.  Some smart and informative articles have been written on the subject. (Hint, hint.) This isn't a time to play that card, however. 

It wasn't Antonio Callaway or Kareem Hunt or Tyreek Hill that ran onto the field and clubbed Rudolph on the noggin with his helmet -- it was mild-mannered Myles Garrett.  The super-sized dinosaur enthusiast who spends his time reading poetry and attending cos-play parties was your culprit.  This is the same guy who took one on the chin from a crazed sports "fan" and had the self-restraint to laugh it off.  This isn't a low-character guy that Dorsey gave a second or third chance.  Garrett wasn't drafted by Dorsey at all.

Garrett did not go after Rudolph because of a lack of team discipline or even because he generally lacks personal discipline.   Garrett never would have done what he did if he had the time to rationally weigh the consequences.   He lost his mind in an emotional moment and took an utterly-regrettable and stupid action whilst he was literally being charged by three angry men.   It was not something he did at the behest of his coaching staff or management.  Haslam didn't text the order down to Myles cell phone from the owner's box during a time out.   Kitchens didn't whisper "rosebud" into Garrett's ear just before the play.

It's not unfair to go back to the joint practices with the Colts to point out that Kitchens appeared to encourage rather than discourage his players to "stand their own ground."  I just don't think it has anything to do with Garrett's assault of Mason Rudolph.  

At an earlier point in her opinion piece, Ridenour states that the "Browns’ reputation as the dirtiest team in the league continues to grow."   I'm not sure what "dirty team" reputation could have been earned prior to the Steelers' game.    Sure, the Browns were oft-penalized. Illegal motion, false start, holding and pass interference penalties do not make a team "dirty" however,  they just make them dumb.

The game against the Steelers was both an aberration and the norm. Over the course of this season, the Browns haven't been penalized much for violent play.   There were a few late hits in the Titans opener, but those types of penalties all but disappeared until the Browns played the Steelers.  Thursday's game was hard hitting, and a few of the hard hits in the course of play crossed the line.  Demarious Randall was ejected for targeting a defenseless receiver.   He paid the price for his illegal play and will likely receive a stiff fine.

Don't forget, however, that this level of "chippiness" is the norm with every Steeler game against their AFC North rivals.  Be it against Baltimore or Cincinnati, we've seen it over and over again.   These games are physical beyond the whistle and often get out of control.  They all have an obvious common denominator -- the Tomlin-coached Steelers.   

This is the type of "bully ball" the Steelers have been coached to play for years.    From the days of James Harrison and Hines Ward, this is and has been Pittsburgh's calling card.  The Browns out-Steelered the Steelers for fifty-nine minutes and fifty-two seconds in a way that no Browns fan should have an issue with.   It was a provoked, in-the-moment action by a single player on a meaningless play with eight seconds left that spoiled the fun.

Perhaps it is fair to blame both coaches for this moment on some level.  The game was over.   The Steelers were not scoring two touchdowns in eight seconds.  It was an impossibility at that point.  Mason Rudolph had already suffered enough humiliation and abuse for the evening -- why drop him back again?  Take a knee.  Run the football. 

If you are Kitchens, why even have your best defensive player on the field if not to chase a stat -- to register a sack to try to keep pace with the league leaders.  It really wasn't worth exposing Garrett to a frustrated and humiliated Steelers team at a meaningless point in the game.

Sure, if the last few seconds of the game had been coached more sensibly, a frustrated Mason Rudolph wouldn't have attempted to twist off Myles' head after the whistle or kick him in his manhood.  Without that beginning to the chain of events, the whole embarrassing fiasco never would have happened.  But even without the tactical mistakes by both coaches, the personal choices of their players were their own.  They never should have occurred. 

I'm not positive what Marla is trying to get at with her final statement in the quote that the Browns ownership and management "don’t know a good coaching leader when they see one."  Marla shouldn't throw stones after telling us that the Browns "won the quarterback whisperer derby" by hiring Freddie Kitchens over Bruce Arians, Mike McCarthy and Kliff Kingsbury.

So, in retrospect and from Marla's perspective, who is the one that got away?  We don't know because she leaves that part to our imaginations.

I'm pretty sure that she is not talking about last year's interim coach Greg Williams who instilled discipline in the team and coached them to a 5-3 finish.  She is on record as saying that he never should have been given a second chance as an interim head coach.

Eric Mangini was a coach who commanded personal responsibility and required that players be held accountable, but I can't remember Marla being a particularly big fan of his.

Marla was initially on the Hue Jackson bandwagon until she wasn't. 

To say that the Browns have not hired and retained a successful on-field leader of men since the return of the franchise is certainly fair, but is hardly news-worthy.    Maybe it would be more interesting if Marla would argue what coach the Browns should have hired or retained, but she doesn't.

After ten games and two in-division wins over hated AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, local beat writers are once again in lock-step on an issue -- this one being the need to jettison first-year coach Freddie Kitchens.   After Marla (and almost all the Browns beat writers) praised the hiring less than one year ago, many are now pointing to an incident that has nothing to do with Kitchens as his last-straw moment.

The Dorsey and Kitchens honeymoons are rightfully over.   There will be much to weigh and discuss in the merits of giving Kitchens a second season and in measuring John Dorsey's moves against the team's progress toward being a good NFL team.   The actions of Myles Garrett in the final eight seconds of Thursday night's game should have no place in that discussion, however. 

As for Marla, we are contemporaries.  We've lived through the thrill rides that were the Cardiac Kids and the Kosar-led browns in the 80's.  We've seen the death of our beloved franchise followed by its still birth.   We are witnesses to decades of futility.  Three owners, countless coaches and general managers and more quarterbacks have passed through Berea than we care to remember.   All this time, I've read and enjoyed Marla's work and respect her as a pioneering female sports journalist.   I respect her strong stance on the NFL's treatment of players involved in violence against women.  But with her statements in this article, I have to cry foul.

Marla knows better than most of us that Myles Garrett is a quiet, introspective man who is one of the least likely people to do what he did on Thursday night.   He is not the product of a talent over character personnel move.   What Myles did in that split second of insanity was not coached or the product of a coaching failure.  Heeding the media's cries, Jimmy Haslam has stepped aside and handed John Dorsey the reigns over football operations -- he can't be blamed for Garrett's frolic and detour from his workplace responsibilities    Only Myles owns what he did. 

The real story is the tragic consequences of a good man's terrible heat-of-the-moment decision and nothing more.  Garrett will pay a steep price monetarily and with his reputation.  The Browns will undoubtedly suffer because Garrett is the special kind of talent whose presence on the field yields more than just his personal production.   To make this story about anything else is both ingenuine and unfair.

Marla, you are better than that. 

Personal Foul -- Garrett's mistake is his own Personal Foul -- Garrett's mistake is his own Reviewed by AT Dawgger on 3:40 PM Rating: 5
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