I've tried. You might even say I've battled. I've held on for as long as I could, but I'm afraid I might have to let go now. I've wanted so bad to believe you were the coach to finally turn this beleaguered franchise around but it doesn't appear to be working. In fact, I feel now like I've been part of the problem simply for the sake of continuity. I have so desperately wanted to avoid another coaching change that I almost had myself convinced you were capable of leading this team to greatness, despite practically no evidence to support that assertion.
I've taken legitimate warning signs and cast them off as mere inconveniences so that I could keep the hope and the promise of a new day intact. I kept waiting for a sign or a spark to point to; something to convince me that we should stay the course and maintain the path that we're on, to no avail. In spite of the possibility that the deck may be stacked against you, I have nothing substantial to hold on to. All I am left with is excuses.
Last year, I chalked up the miserable record to the lockout combined with the fact that you were a first-year head coach. I defended you by pleading with fellow fans that you had a young team with no offseason program in which to install brand new schemes on both offense and defense. I referenced legendary coach Bill Walsh, who once said it takes three years to master the West Coast Offense. I relied upon the belief that the West Coast Offense is so intricate and so complex that it takes a great deal of practice, precision, and timing to work effectively. I was willing to grant you that time.
In typical Cleveland fashion, then-owner Randy Lerner hired Mike Holmgren, who hired you, to do a job that wasn't meant to be done quickly...and then went and cut your legs out from under you by selling the team to someone else. Now you have a new owner with which you no longer have the benefit of the doubt or the luxury of time. You probably feel like you're getting the shaft. Such is the case in the NFL when you simply can't find a way to win.
In Year One, I lamented the fact that you didn't have an Offensive Coordinator to help you install the gameplan throughout the week. I suspected you had too much on your plate as a first time head coach. You encountered more than your fair share of bizarre circumstances. I blamed the quarterback for holding the offense back. I blamed the inexperience of the wide receivers for running poor routes and/or dropping passes. I blamed the inconsistency and unreliability of the running back for never allowing you to implement a game plan that could keep defenses honest.
I said this team just didn't have the talent at the skill positions to compete with teams around the league. I said you needed another draft or two or three to get the talent and the depth of this roster where it needed to be after inheriting a team with almost nothing to show for a decade of ineptitude. I convinced myself that Year Two would be much better, though the record might possibly be worse due to the schedule. I tried so desperately to give you the benefit of the doubt. I believed with a new quarterback and a high-powered running back, you could finally run the version of the offense you wanted to run. You instilled that belief when you took both in the first round of the Draft, assuming you have some say in personnel decisions.
I railed against certain fans and media who I felt were nitpicking and piling on for no good reason other than that you weren't their ideal choice as head coach. I tried to refute or flat out ignore claims that you were hired because of who your agent is or because of who your uncle was. I lit into people who made fun of you for your press conference demeanor. But I admittedly winced every time you claimed how a player "battled" or how you insisted on using the word "progress" to describe what we were seeing out there.
I continued to find the way that the Cleveland media seemed to create mountains from molehills baffling. At first, I laughed and applauded what I deemed to be "trolling" those media personalities whom I thought were unnecessarily giving you a hard time. At first, I enjoyed your sarcastic and condescending replies to those whom I felt deserved flack for their unfair and unwarranted criticism of you.
I realize now, however, any and all criticism is deserved unless you win in the NFL. And you haven't won. You must expect that to come back on you, despite whatever hand you feel you've been unfairly dealt. You must expect to field the tough questions and be put through the ringer in a city desperate for a winner. You can't fend off the flames inching nearer by saying "I get it". You must bite the bullet and grin and bear it. You must not get defensive and sever the conduit between you and the contingency your new boss is trying to impress. In doing so, you simply continue to feed the beast that is trying to devour you. And I'm not sure how much longer I can stand by and watch.
Perhaps you feel it's not fair that Tom Heckert didn't give you more veteran players to supplement the youth on the roster you inherited. Or that Mike Holmgren refused to teach you the ropes of dealing with the press for fear of stepping on your toes. Or that, just as the excitement of training camp reached its peak throughout the fan base, Randy Lerner took the wind out of your sails by announcing the sale of the team. Perhaps you feel like the rug is being pulled out from under you and you will never get the chance you were promised when you were hired.
Perhaps if Joe Haden hadn't selfishly decided to stay up late and party one night in Vegas... if Phil Taylor hadn't torn a pectoral going a bit too hard in the weight room... if L.J. Fort would've intercepted that pass from Michael Vick in the end zone... if Greg Little would've caught a few more passes in Baltimore... if Brandon Weeden would've completed that pass to Josh Gordon on 3rd and 1 deep in Giants territory... perhaps then we're not here, at 0-5, talking about the things you can't control costing you your job.
Perhaps then we're also not talking about losing the last 11 games dating back to last season. Perhaps then we're also not talking about poor play-calling and questionable in-game decision-making. Perhaps then we're also not talking about having "thin-skin" at press conferences and "dropping F-bombs" in private to members of the press who ask questions that annoy you. Perhaps then we're also not talking about phone calls to ex-coaches saying you're "in over your head" on local sports radio talk shows. Perhaps then I'm also not here pulling a public 180 after standing by and defending you for as long as I have.
But there comes a point when you have to reward those who have faith in you with something more than hope. And it's just not happening. I know from experience that a team begins to take on the personality of its coach. And that true character is revealed when one is forced to handle adversity. Fair or unfair, the buck stops with you. And frankly, I'm tired of putting the onus on everyone else. I refuse to continue the charade of blaming everything else for what has transpired over the past two seasons under your watch.
I said I'd wait to judge your tenure as coach until the second half of this season but I'm not entirely certain you'll get that long. I wanted to see if the players continued to play hard for you but I feel that may say more about them than it will about you. Your new owner can't like what he sees. I feel you and everyone else may have seen the writing on the wall and now it's only a matter of time. I wanted to believe this wasn't going to be the case, but I cannot deprive myself of that impending reality any longer.
I wanted you to prove to everyone that you weren't the bumbling idiot everyone said you were. But you've done nothing to sidestep the pitfalls laid out before you. At some point, I feel I have to call a spade a spade. I hate the fact that this means we may be starting over with another new coach next season for the umpteenth time. I hate that this might mean these young players will have to deprogram their minds and learn a new system. I hate that it feeds the league-wide perception that Cleveland is a place where coaches' and players' careers go to die. I hate that it might mean another step back when I want desperately to move forward. But you can only allow yourself to be stuck in traffic for so long before you have to search for an alternate route. I've taken you about as far as I can, Pat. There's a truck stop up ahead and I'm letting you off.