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The Browns Are Still the Best Reality Show on TV

So what if ‘Hard Knocks’ is over? If this week’s news taught us anything, it’s that Cleveland’s football team is the gift that keeps on giving.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Cleveland Browns have had more drama this week than most NFL franchises have in an entire decade. On Sunday, they lost to the Steelers (not in overtime!) to drop their record to 2–5–1. On Monday, head coach Hue Jackson scheduled a meeting with team owner Jimmy Haslam to strip offensive coordinator Todd Haley of his play-calling duties, but was instead informed during the meeting that he was being fired. Later that day, it came out that Haley was being canned as well, and that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (!) would take over as Cleveland’s interim head coach. By Friday, Jackson was sitting across from Stephen A. Smith on First Take, trying to defend his regime against reports of “internal discord” and waxing nostalgic about the extremely recent past. “I wish [the Browns] would have given me the opportunity to finish it out,” he lamented on the show. Jackson, of course, was 3–36–1 during his Cleveland tenure.

Dysfunction is nothing new for an organization whose most memorable recent moments include fans spelling “GPODAWUND,” Brandon Weeden getting swallowed by a giant flag, and the best player on the team’s biggest rival kicking its punter in the face. Hell, Cleveland was featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks before the season, and the series highlight came when Jackson gave Haley a lecture on the differences between their chairs. But this week the Browns really out-Brownsed themselves. HBO cameras or not, they proved that they are the best reality-TV show America has going.

Let’s start with Jackson, a.k.a. Huey Headlines and the News, a.k.a. the NFL version of Coach Steve’s hormone monster from Big Mouth. (You’re the man, Baker!) Last week, Jackson said that he was getting more involved with the offense; he apparently failed when Haley didn’t take his advice, so this week he tried to oust Haley and ended up walking into his own demise, à la Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. As with all good reality-TV figures, Hue tried to fix everything by refusing to go away. He spouted some incredible nonsense in a Q&A with (making his First Take interview the second most unnecessary sequel news of the day) and told Mary Kay Cabot that the team’s analytical approach was … and I’m paraphrasing here … dumb.

Then there’s Haley, a man who has been known to trash both offenses (his 2018 Browns’ unit ranked 29th in yards per play before he was fired) and luxury homes, and who is not known for playing nice with quarterbacks or fellow bar patrons. Haley eye-rolled his way out of Hue’s good graces, and even though he won the support of no. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield in his power struggle with Jackson, he followed the head coach out the door.

This is where you might think that the Browns are doing the right thing. A fresh start! Everybody gets a new chair! Except that by promoting Gregg Williams to interim head coach, the Browns have axed Jackson in favor of the only coach in the NFL who commands even less respect. Williams was suspended for the 2012 season as part of the Bountygate scandal in which he offered various amounts of money to New Orleans defenders for injuring players on opposing teams. At a time when the league is facing mounting evidence that brain damage is inextricably linked to the sport, the Browns are rolling with the guy who said, “Kill the head, and the body will die.”

Of course, it’s important to note that people change. And what better place to change than in Believeland? Since Bountygate, Williams has rebranded himself as more meme than man, a South Park character come to life who thinks the volume of his voice indicates how seriously he should be taken. Just as the location of one’s genitals indicates where players should line up:

It was rumored that Williams would begin his interim tenure by promoting his son, Blake, from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Gregg spared us from that farce by announcing that he will coordinate the defense in addition to assuming head-coach responsibilities, which, wait, what? Williams now has not just one job, but two, and those weren’t the only jobs he discussed this week. He doubled down on his claim that he had four different head-coaching opportunities offered to him over the last 15 years in which he “didn’t even have to show up [for the interview], just sign the contract and come.” Perhaps Williams is telling the truth and it’s easier to get an NFL coaching job than to be approved as an Airbnb host. It’s more likely Williams was told “don’t bother showing up for the interview” and simply took that as meaning that he was being offered a job.

Elsewhere in Brownsdom: Mayfield got into some hot water for saying that Cleveland should have taken Patrick Mahomes II, not Myles Garrett, as the no. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Mayfield’s words are easy to interpret as a shot at his teammate, but if you listen carefully, you can discern Mayfield’s real message: I wish Mahomes was Cleveland’s quarterback so that Myles and I didn’t have to deal with this shit. (Asked about the Browns’ situation, Mahomes said, “You never want that.” That’s called a high football IQ.)

Freddie Kitchens, someone the Browns insist is a real person, was also promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator. While he has never called plays at any level outside of a portion of the fourth preseason game this year, I’m in favor of the move. Anytime you have the chance to pair Baker with Kitchens in your offense, you’re morally obligated to do so.

As for the players, well, life inside the NFL’s Real World house has grown tiring. Despite their diplomatic descriptions of everything that’s unfolded, you can see the get-me-out-of-here body language clear as day.

As a wise sports philosopher once said: I feel bad for the Brownies, but this is tremendous content.