The Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington [redacted]s have all fired their head coaches in the ritual known as Black Monday (although technically the Browns let their coach Rob Chudzinski go Sunday night, the first time Cleveland football has been first at something in a long time.)
Weep not for the tossed out coaches who are being paid millions to leave a twenty-hour a day job that seems like a toboggan ride to an angioplasty. Instead, save your tears for the fans, because this annual NFL colon cleanse should not blind us to a blaring truth. The problem with these franchises runs far deeper than whatever alpha male with pretensions of Patton is roaming the sidelines. There is a reason three of these teams have never won a Super Bowl in the forty-seven-year history of the big game.
The Browns are owned by a man named Jimmy Haslam, who is under a federal investigation for his company’s involvement in “fuel rebate fraud.” He said this week that the criminal probe and looming indictment “has been a distraction.” The Vikings are owned by Zygi Wilf, who was ordered by a judge in September to pay an $84.5 million settlement to someone he defrauded in the 1980s. This did not stop the state of Minnesota from giving him the funds to build a new billion-dollar stadium. Despite civic protest, Wilf received the money this year after threatening to move the team to Los Angeles. (“Moving the team to Los Angeles” has become the NFL version of "It’s not me, it’s you.”) In Washington, a former dynasty turned laughingstock, team owner Dan Snyder has taken what was once the most valuable franchise in sports and created a situation that was described by Steve Coll in The New Yorker in 2009 as “a failed state, an intractable dictator, and an impotent and suffering populace.” He also spent the last year defending his team’s racist “Redskins” nickname in a manner so shrill, he turned Charles Krauthammer against him.
These are not franchises in need of “someone inspiring” or “smarter game schemes” or “Jon Gruden” or whatever threadbare hooey gets expectorated from NFL talking heads. The problem is owners whose duplicity, meddling, graft and parasitical parsimony have turned their teams into joy-sucking failures. Most damning is that in each and every case, with the possible exception of Detroit and Tampa Bay, the team would be better served by just firing the owners and keeping the head coaches who were sent packing. Even in the cases of Detroit and Tampa Bay, where it is a definite positive for all concerned to wave goodbye to Jim Schwartz and Greg “Chet” Schiano, you are still left with owners who once thought it would be a great idea to hire Jim Schwartz and Greg Schiano.
These are teams who are blaring advertisements for the idea that “sports without owners” should be a universal aspiration. If our taxes are now paying for the stadiums anyway, if the NFL’s annual flood of revenues, divided at the top, guarantee profitability and if we can all agree that no one has ever bought a ticket to watch Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer fire a concession worker, then what purpose do any of them serve? I have written often in the past that the Green Bay Packers model of fan ownership should be the goal in every city. It ensures your team won’t continue to bleed municipalities of millions and it also guarantees that football decisions would be made by football people and not billionaires working out their junior high gym class pathologies. Look at what just happened in Green Bay. Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone earlier this season. Message boards and the media alternated between shouting for him to get back in the damn game or to just hang it up for the season so the team (really the fans) wouldn’t be in limbo. Instead, football people made football decisions and Rodgers returned for the team’s last game, sneaking a suddenly dangerous Packers team into the playoffs. If Dan Snyder owned the Packers, he would just have had Rodgers stuffed and mounted in his living room wearing a knitted sweater that read, “Friends 4ever.”
So many of these owners upon firing their coaches said some variant of “Our fans deserve better.” We do. It starts with failed owners being compelled by the league, by fans or by their own sclerotic consciences to get out the “for sale” signs and head out of town. It would be honorable. It would be admirable and it would be the best for all concerned. To the owners of these punch-line franchises: It’s not us. It’s not the players. It’s not the coach. It’s you. And we’re just not that into you.