Monday, August 06, 2007

Interview with Bill Livingston of the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer about the AFC North

On Wednesday, August 1st, Stiles Points conducted a telephone interview with (Cleveland) Plain Dealer sports columnist Bill Livingston....I want to thank Bill for his time - it was greatly appreciated....the AFC North was the focus of the interview.....

Q1. Why has the Cleveland Browns franchise struggled since it came back into the league in 1999?
BL: I think the (Carmen) Policy/(Al) Lerner ownership team was over-rated. I think Lerner would do whatever it took to win because he wanted to restore his good name in town. (Former NFL Commissioner Paul) Tagliabue set up this marriage with Policy (photo). In my estimation, Policy would admit he was not a football man. Policy brought Dwight Clark over who made some horrendous personnel decisions and draft choices. I feel that Policy brought him over basically because Clark would not say anything about salary cap violations that took place with the 49ers. That is just my theory. Also, they were under a severe time deadline. (Former head coach) Chris Palmer was like the sixth or seventh choice as coach. But they missed on so many draft picks - not just (Tim) Couch and Courtney Brown.

Then (Butch) Davis came in and started taking high risk guys. It was a continual process with Davis making up for his mistakes from the year before such as taking "Big Money" Gerard Warren, whom I call "Pocket Change" and I should not have even called him that because he was never in the pocket (after the quarterback), instead of LaDainian Tomlinson. Then the next year they took (William) Green because they did not get a premier running back the year before. I think it was a combination of the rushed circumstances that it took to sell the team and just not a good management team with Policy and Clark right off the bat. They had a great number of middle round draft choices that they missed on and that is where you really build your team.

Q2. Do you think current general manager Phil Savage is taking the organization in the right direction?
BL: Oh I hope so. I think he just wants to go out and scout basically. He is not that consumed by the business side of being a general manager. I certainly like the draft that they had this year. It is kind of amusing to me that he (Savage) speaks about all this character then he takes guys like Eric Wright and Jamal Lewis. I don’t really see the Indians and Cavaliers who also make a big deal about character taking risks like that. But maybe those teams are not that much behind the eight ball as the Browns are. Plus it is a lot easier to contend when you have a LeBron James or Grady Sizemore.

Q3. Speaking of Butch Davis (photo), do you think he was a good coach who was just in a bad situation here in Cleveland or was he not cut out to be an NFL head coach?
BL: My thoughts on Butch is that he had an enormous credibility gap inside the locker room and outside it in the end. I think he was not straight with players. I think his constant spinning and playing his own draft picks when obviously they were not going to be anything special hurt him. The way he would talk up his guys to protect his position in the organization. I think everyone saw through that and not a whole lot of people believed him in the end.

Q4. Browns fans hate to hear this, but why do you think the Steeler organization is more effective?
BL: They have a very solid, very stable ownership. After a real slow start, the Rooney family has been solid. I am not a native Clevelander but I understand the rivalry (between the Steelers and Browns) and how tough it is to see a team that is a two hour drive away winning so much but I don’t think the hatred should extend to the Rooney family. The Steelers voted for the Browns, perhaps it was self-serving to some extent because of the rivalry, but I think the Rooneys can be trusted to do the right thing and I don’t think you could have ever said that about Art Modell and you cannot really say it about the Lerner family because he (Al Lerner) midwifed the move. Now, that doesn’t mean the son (Randy) has to pay for this for years and years. But I didn’t think the slate was wiped clean when Al Lerner bought the team. The team sucks because you moved the team.

Q5. What are your views about Randy Lerner (Al's son and current owner of the Browns)?
BL: Oh I think he is in a tough position. He wants to win. I don't think he has a strong personality but you don't have to as an owner as long as you pick the right people. I would like to see him be successful on a personal level. He promised his dying father that he would try to make this work. Plus, there is no fun in covering a constantly bad football team. We used to have a little pool in the pressbox when the Indians had that ‘99 team of who would score more, the Indians or the Browns. Also for some time, maybe the first couple of seasons that the Browns came back, there was this great trivia question. Who has won more in Ohio - the Cleveland Browns or Tiger Woods? Between the tournament in Akron and (Jack) Nicklaus' tournament in Dublin, Tiger had the edge for awhile.

Q6. The Steelers begin a new era under new head coach Mike Tomlin. What do you know about Tomlin?
BL: I don't know much about him. I would think this is a year of transition for them (Steelers) with a new coach and Big Ben (Roethlisberger) coming off his worst year when nothing went right for him. I would not expect them to be a premier team this year. But you know, they (as an organization) have always had these slipbacks but they always come back right away. You have to admire the stability of the organization.

Q7. You've heard the rumors, Bill Cowher (photo) will be the next head coach of the Browns. What do you think about that?
BL: I don't know if Cowher would come here. If so, they would have to work out what to do with Phil Savage. Would Savage become a super scout for the team? I am sure Cowher would probably want Butch Davis type power if he was going to come to Cleveland with the franchise is such disarray that it is. Although there is some building blocks now. The bottomline, I don't think he is going to come to Cleveland. When you think of it, who is the premier player with the Browns. Kellen Winslow is a very good player but he's difficult to deal with and he is never going to be the player he was after those injuries. Compared to the Indians with Sizemore and (Victor) Martinez, and (Travis) Hafner, and (C.C.) Sabathia and with the Cavaliers with number 23, right now, who is a good return for your entertainment dollars? It's not the Browns.

Q8. What are your thoughts about Romeo Crennel? He seems like a nice guy who may not be head coaching material.
BL: I think he should have made more of a public display with Braylon Edwards last year when he went to the Ohio State-Michigan game without permission. He (Crennel) supposedly took care of it internally, as they say, but he did not get the message across publicly that he is in control and would not tolerate it. One of the curses of Cleveland is that we do not hire established head coaches in any of the three sports. Mike Fratello was probably the last head coach who was established when he was hired. It is always trying to catch lightning in a bottle with the new guy. Hiring Romeo was a lot like the organization did when they hired Bud Carson. Romeo has the experience and knowledge, but does he have the fire and determination and eagerness of a younger head coach? I don't know. Right now I would say Romeo Crennel is in serious danger of being sacked after this year, if not before.

Q9. I am going to throw out a few names of people from the AFC North and you tell me the first thing you think of.
Carson Palmer - BL: Oh I think he is going to be very good. I picked the Bengals to go to the Super Bowl last year but they fell victim to a plague of lawlessness. I think he is for real. I am not sure he was entirely sound after the injury he suffered in that playoff game. I believe if that knee injury did not happen, Pittsburgh would not have won the Super Bowl. I think the Bengals would have beaten them in that first game. I think he is legit. I think he is the best quarterback in the division.
Jamal Lewis - BL: A big problem for him is that he won't be able to run against the Cleveland Browns anymore. The offensive line is better and hopefully he has a more productive season than (Rueben) Droughns did when he had 1,000 yards. But we'll see.
Brian Billick - BL: I think he is over-rated. He is this offensive guru who won with one of the greatest defenses ever. He has never really developed a quarterback even though he is supposed to have this Midas touch. But, you have to give it to him that most years his teams are right there in the hunt. I consider him over-rated though.
Troy Polamalu - BL: I think he is a very good player. He's the type of player that the Browns fans hate because he is a Steeler but I think they would love him if he played here. He is an immediate visible player with that hair.
Bernie Kosar - BL: First of all, retrospectives have certainly shown that Bill Belichick was correct that he (Kosar) could no longer perform at a high level anymore. I thought he was the perfect guy for Cleveland at the time. A city that was down on itself at the time got this kid who loved the town. He wanted to be here. People love players like Kosar or (Brian) Sipe, those scrappy type of players. That is the romance of sports. They capture the fans' hearts. He was probably the last guy who was the face of the franchise.

Q10. Talking about Kosar, how come he has not had an active role in the organization since its return in 1999?
BL: Well, I really don't understand that either. One of the things that really bothered me about the Policy/Lerner camp was that they got Kosar's endorsement of their ownership, but I guess Kosar did not get anything in writing. I don't know what type of promise he got, but he certainly thought he was going to be involved in ownership. It was the Modell ownership all over again. There was one star on the franchise when Modell owned the team and that was him. Ernie Accorsi used to say, "don't quote me too much" because it took away from Arthur. Policy wanted to be the star. He was a ten percenter as Wayne Embry used to disdainfully speak of minority partners. I think they did have some concerns about Bernie's willingness to be involved on a daily basis because he wanted to still live in Florida. Overall, I think Policy wanted to be the dominant voice of the Browns. It's a shame though. It should have happened.

Q11. What are your thoughts about the off-the-field problems with the Cincinnati Bengals?
BL: They need to clean that up because it looks like this commissioner is not going to tolerate that type of behavior. I always thought there was every bit as much, and more so, thugishness in the NFL than there is in the NBA which has such a bad reputation. In the NFL you are farther away from the players, they wear helmets and uniforms that you cannot see their tattoos and all the dreadlocks and other racist assumptions. But as far as the Bengals, they have the parts to be a very good team as long as Palmer gets back to where he was two years ago.

Once again I want to thank Bill for his was a joy talking to him about football...


GMoney said...

Great interview, I loved reading Bill's (and Bud Shaw) columns in the PD when I lived up there.

Chloe said...

i don,t think deadlocks have anything to do with tatoos or anything else you said was thugish most people with dreadlocks are very peaceful people you make people scared of people with deadlocks when you say things like that a thug is something that is on the inside not outside

peace universoul

Anonymous said...

Everyone who currently lives in Cleveland knows Bill quit trying a long time ago. He doesn't understand the community even after all these years of living here and his columns the last three years have been almost unreadable. I hate that his views are shown on espnnews or internet as representing Cleveland. I wish he would have taken the buyout and local voice would take his place.

twins15 said...

Nice interview!