The Brown Elephant in The Room

mike-brown
If Mike Brown agreed to allow HBO to do their annual training camp special, Hard Knocks, this year on the Bengals in order to improve the team’s image and its culture, then the desired effect after the first episode hasn’t gone as planned.

As a person, I was dismayed at the way the team goes about cutting players in training camp. Team employee Jim Lippincot, woke up before 5:30 am, pulled his shorts up to his armpits and rapped on the door of a sleeping J.D. Runnels. Runnels, groggy and confused, was told he was cut based on his perceived lack of ability and was informed that a van would be awaiting him at 7am that morning to take him to the airport.

But as a fan, I understand, that business is business and the most important thing is to win games; not to be nice. Therefore, I was most horrified to see how hilariously backward the franchise somehow operates itself on a day-to-day basis.

Without an inside look like Hard Knocks, fans for years have questioned the business savvy and football instincts of owner, team president and all-powerful Bengal ruler, Mike Brown. There have been organized efforts to expose Brown’s unorthodox way of maintaining his football team, and a lack of success has led fans to become bitter and salty toward the man in charge.

This off-season was an overall success for the Bengals and seemed to shore up some doubts about the team’s future; doubts that were magnified after a four-win season.

But then HBO pulls back the curtain and exposes the sad, little man hunched over the controls; a man who looks to have lost his spark and only wakes up everyday because his body tells him to. I looked at this man and I removed a win from my prediction for the Bengals’ season, putting it currently at 6-10.

At some point early on at camp, Brown attempted a motivational speech to his players and coaches that had the tone and inspiration of a eulogy. Anyone in the room had to wonder why they would aline themselves with such a bland individual, but then likely remembered the large wads of cash that he provided to them. He should have just passed out fifties to everyone and left. Why trudge along through a painfully awkward formality? If Mike Brown is at all fired up about the season, he certainly has a funny way of showing it.

Then there is Brown’s daughter, Katie Blackburn, who was asked about the negotiations between the team and first-round pick Andre Smith.

Her response had a certain Cleaver Family quality to it:

“You’re offering these people so much money and for some reason they’re saying its not enough. All I know is that usually these things have a way of working out. I would hope that it’ll work out with Andre sooner rather than later.”

With Gee Whiz attitudes like this toward serious business like player contracts, it’s no wonder that 10 out of the last 16 draft picks have missed time at training camp because of a holdout. I’m sure it’s a complicated process that takes lots of work on both sides of the board table, but as a fan, it’s a little disconcerting to hear from a high-ranking Bengal employee that these things just have a way of working out.

But the most revolting scene was seeing Brown cram all of his coaches into a conference room, and share “wild thoughts” about changing a defensive lineman into a tight end, and then seeing the coaches shift in their seats and begrudgingly agree to give it a try. Based on this, is it unfair to assume that Brown would rather convert an existing player to a different position rather than sign a new player? He even said that the player in question, Chris Harrington, had good speed for a defensive end, but very good speed for a tight end—if that even makes any sense—in what sounded like an attempt to sell the skeptical coaches on the suggestion.

He then went on to inform the coaches of how the final depth chart would shake out, and Marvin Lewis was shown leaning back in his chair and rubbing his face. Not having the final say must be difficult for Marvin. Being told how to run his team by a man with a proven lack of football intelligence must feel like an elephant sitting on his chest. A big brown elephant.

Mike Brown was handed the team by his late father, Paul Brown, a man has who rightfully earned his spot in the football annals for a being a great innovator of the game. Paul Brown didn’t need a general manager or a team of scouts; he was smart enough to do it himself. Paul Brown could inform his coaches on how the team would shape up because he was a championship coach himself. But all Mike Brown has championed is strong-arming the City of Cincinnati into a stadium lease that many people felt was underhanded and self-serving. And to follow Mike’s reign will be Katie Blackburn and her husband Todd, who, in all seriousness, can do no worse.

There are proven models all over the country of ways to run a successful NFL team (we know, Pittsburgh, we know. Sit back down please). The common theme to most of these is that owners pay people who know the game to run the team. Typically it makes sense to look outside the family in order to fill these positions. The owner writes checks, sits in luxury suites and hands over trophies—it’s that easy. Mike Brown should give this lifestyle a try, for the benefit of us all.


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