(Photo courtesy of Cleveland Browns)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Simultaneously, Mike Pettine did the right thing and the wrong thing this week.
The right thing was not to abandon his designated starter at quarterback, Josh McCown, because of a concussion, which sidelined him early against the New York Jets in the Browns’ season-opening loss. Despite the inspiring (although not always inspired) play of Johnny Manziel the following week in a win over the Tennessee Titans, Pettine said he would wait and see about McCown’s recovery. And when he was medically cleared to play this week, Pettine renamed him the starter.
Sticking to your guns is not the issue. Sticking to the decision you made and not abandoning it at the first sign that the team’s No. 1 draft pick of a year ago has a pulse showed Pettine’s players he is a man of his word. McCown was his guy on the first day of September. So it should be three weeks later.
Yet the wrong thing was choosing McCown in the first place. Spare me the “doing what’s in the best interest of the team’’ and “selecting the guy who gives us the best chance to win’’ speeches. The fact of the matter in Cleveland is this: If McCown is in the best interest of the Browns, Mike Pettine won’t see the end of his contract in Cleveland.
Whether Manziel gives them the best chance to win this week is not the issue. The issue is that he’s the only quarterback who gives them a chance to win long term. For better or worse, he’s the guy they selected to lead them, and he needs to play.
The Oakland Raiders had to make the same decision with Derek Carr in his early days. Did he really give them the best chance to win every week his rookie season? No. But he was the future, and these days in the NFL George Allen was right: “The future is now!’’
So it should be in Cleveland.
Although it doesn’t happen very often these days, sometimes coaches tell the truth. Last Sunday was one of them.
Manziel had just eluded the pass rush of Brian Orakpo, rolled left, then stopped on a dime and fired across the field to his right to wide receiver Travis Benjamin for a stunning touchdown pass. According to Pettine, when Manziel did that, assistant coach John DeFillippo said in the coaches’ headphones, “Coaching is overrated.’’
That is not to imply coaching is insignificant or that Manziel doesn’t need plenty of it. It is particularly important in the NFL, where coaches have far more command of the game once it begins than other sports. But the growing notion that you can coach a bag of doorknobs into becoming an NFL winner is, was, and always will be bogus.
While coaches can help, great players make great coaches, not the other way around. Certainly there are systems that fit one quarterback better than another, and so the right guy has to be in the right place. But, as Chuck Fairbanks always used to say, “It’s not about Xs and Os; it’s about Jimmys and Joes.’’
In Cleveland it’s about Johnnies, not Joshes, and the sooner the Browns concede that and give Manziel the opportunity to prove he was the right choice … or the wrong one … the better off they will be. Is McCown the more reliable quarterback today? Probably. Is he the answer to their problems? Definitely not.
McCown is what Manziel is not. He is a proven commodity in the NFL. But what he’s proven is he’s 17-32 as a starter. In other words, he’s a backup.
Manziel may be, too, in the end because his game still has many flaws. But Sunday he went 8-for-15 with two touchdown bombs off Manzel-ian type freelancing. He’s also been sacked five times in a game-and-a-half, which speaks both to the Browns’ problems and his own. But the only way Manziel can establish who and what he really is is to play, as Carr did in Oakland.
Admittedly, Manziel’s off-field problems have limited him, but he appears to have taken control of his own life outside of football. Now it’s time to give him the same chance on the field.
“Maturity, Johnny is ready to go,” said Benjamin of the change he’s seen in Manziel. “He’s in the film room. He’s on the practice field before and after. He’s just one of those guys who loves football so much that he knew that he had to change and be mature about the situation.”
To be fair, Manziel has thrown three touchdown passes to Benjamin in the first two weeks, none of them less than 50 yards, so he has his own reasons to have a fondness for Manziel. But he also has a point.
Manziel may not be ready for prime time, but he won’t get ready watching Josh McCown, who long ago proved he’s an understudy. If Pettine doesn’t realize that, his head-coaching career will soon be in the hands of an undertaker. That’s simply how it is in today’s NFL.
Manziel took exactly the right tone this week after learning he was returning to the bench. He showed leadership by simply saying, “I’m going to be a team player and do what I need to do from here on out and be ready if my number’s called. I felt like I went out and did some good things. I bridged the gap, and that’s what we needed. Our team needed a win, and I was the next guy up. We got the win.”
True. And to a great extent his unconventional wildness was central in providing it. He did it because the upside of Johnny Manziel is this: He has rare talents. Whether they’re good enough to become a star in the NFL remains to be seen, but their presence is undeniable.
Johnny Manziel may prove to be a bust. Or he may not. But if the Browns are to become winners it won’t be because of Pettine’s brilliance. Or McCown’s. It will be because Pettine realizes what DeFillippo said is true: “Coaching is overrated.’’
Talent, however, is not.
If Manziel has enough of it, he’ll make Pettine and DeFillippo geniuses, just like Joe Montana made Bill Walsh (ever see his West Coast offense when Steve DeBerg was running it?), John Elway made Mike Shanahan (seen him lately?) and Troy Aikman made Jimmy Johnson (hello Barry Switzer, Super Bowl winner).
It’s been ever thus, but more so today than ever. Coaching is overrated. Talent is not. That’s not bogus. It’s the truth.