Despite the fact that their jobs likely depend upon one another, there’s a damaging dynamic emerging between Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer. ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi posted a relatively damning column on Tuesday morning citing multiple sources who claim that the relationship between the Browns’ head coach and their general manager is deteriorating rapidly as the direct result of Farmer’s meddling by way of former director of player engagement Dr. Jamil Northcutt.
Farmer currently faces a four-game suspension from the NFL and a $250,000 fine for sending text messages to the coaching staff inside of the press box during games, which violates the league’s electronic devices policy. Farmer also apparently used Northcutt, who spent Sundays on the Browns’ sideline in an unknown official capacity, to communicate his wishes to the coaching staff on the sideline.
Northcutt has since departed from the Browns and the franchise is describing that personnel move as a mutual decision, but Grossi is claiming that the damage has already been done. And if that relationship is truly irreparable, a talented young Browns roster may never have a chance of succeeding regardless of whether or not Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel prove themselves to be a capable option at quarterback.
That’s particularly sad for a franchise that appears to be positioned for genuine success for the first time since the expansion franchise brought football back to Cleveland in 1999. And Grossi even goes so far as to suggest that a verbal exchange between Northcutt and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil after a loss the Houston Texans may have been the catalyst to the Browns falling from first place in the AFC North at 6-3 to last place with a 7-9 finish.
If those claims are true, and the alleged rift between Pettine and Farmer continues to grow, it’s hard to imagine any sort of sustainable success in Cleveland with a head coach and general manager that simply can’t coexist. But what makes matters worse is the fact that Pettine and Farmer’s jobs are codependent one another.
Farmer didn’t hire Pettine, but he was the assistant general manager when Pettine had his shoulder tapped as the next head coach of the Browns and then Farmer was appointed to take over for Michael Lombardi just over a month later. So while they’re not intrinsically linked through the hiring process, neither has the clout in the eyes of ownership to pull these kinds of power plays over one another.
They were both tabbed by Jimmy Haslam as the two best chances at making a the Cleveland Browns a competitive franchise with the expectation that they not only coexist, but that they feed off one another–Farmer provides Haslam the talent and Pettine puts that talent into the best possible position to win. And if they can’t do that, there’s nothing to say that Haslam doesn’t just cut ties with both and go the more traditional route of hiring a general manager and allowing him to pick his own head coach, or just going out and handing all those responsibilities to a single individual.
The Browns are talented and if they can get any sort of productivity out of McCown or Manziel or any other available quarterback, they’ve got a chance to be competitive. They proved that last year for 9 or 10 weeks when Brian Hoyer proved to be a serviceable option, but this is the type of infectious disease that’s impossible to contain.
If Pettine and Farmer genuinely feel this sort of disdain for one another, the Browns won’t be successful, which is disappointing considering the circumstances seem right for that to finally change. And that’s something that Browns fans have been waiting a long time for.