The Cleveland Browns being a mess on the field and off is one of the most tried-and-true tropes of the NFL. Since Jimmy Haslam took over as majority owner of the team, the team has rebooted its front office and coaching staff seemingly every six months. The fact that the team goes into the 2015 season with the same head coach and general manager as the prior year is actually kind of extraordinary for the Haslam regime. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t discord that means yet another upheaval isn’t soon to come.
Browns reporter Tony Grossi is detailing a growing rift between head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, the specifics of which are kind of hilarious. Especially because the thing driving apart the coach and general manager relates to the sideline texting scandal that got Farmer punished by the NFL earlier this off-season.
The departure of Dr. Jamil Northcutt as Browns director of player engagement after 15 months won’t make a ripple with their football-starved fan base.
Northcutt was a nonentity to fans. A former college linebacker at the University of Mississippi, he didn’t make (or miss) a tackle, or directly influence what happened on game days.
But in the politics of Browns football, Northcutt was an inordinately major “player” in the 2014 season – a confidante of GM Ray Farmer and, it turned out, a thorn in the side of Mike Pettine’s coaching staff.
And Northcutt’s ouster – which the club is characterizing as a mutual parting – reflects a seeping rift between Pettine and the GM who is facing a four-game suspension for breaking NFL rules by texting, and badgering, coaches in the press box booth during games.
On game days, Northcutt had an undefined role on the sideline. Sources have told ESPN Cleveland that Northcutt was a recipient of Farmer’s in-game texting, and that he relayed messages from Farmer to the coaches. Another source said that was absolutely false.
There is a story of Northcutt having a confrontation with defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil during that horrible 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 16, in which nondescript Houston running backs Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes combined for 49 carries and 210 yards on the ground. O’Neil did not take kindly to Northcutt’s intrusion during the difficult day, sources said.
Grossi also relates a story of Northcutt pressuring the Browns’ offensive line coach to use a specific backup lineman after starting center Alex Mack was lost to injury last season. Northcutt’s job title of “director of player engagement” typically refers to someone that helps players adjust to life in the NFL, it seems he also served as a functionary to push Farmer’s demands with the coaching staff. And while Grossi avoids characterizing Northcutt’s departure as a “turning point” in the relationship between Pettine and Farmer, he presents it as evidence that there’s a struggle between the two as to who makes the calls on the team. But whatever. Who cares about disharmony behind the scenes when you got Josh McCown on the field?