Browns' Davis resigns

Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

BEREA, Ohio Butch Davis never wanted to abandon his dream job and all its ego-soothing power. The last-second losses, freaky injuries and intense scrutiny on his family changed his mind.

It was time for Davis to go. The Cleveland Browns will move on without him.

After arriving three years ago with the promise of winning a Super Bowl title, Davis resigned as Cleveland's coach on Tuesday, leaving the last-place Browns with five games left in another sinking season.

Davis' departure came two days after the Browns dropped their fifth straight game, a 58-48 loss that followed a script similar to so many others in the Davis Era: close but not good enough.

Although he had been promised last week by team owner Randy Lerner that his job was safe for the remainder of this season, Davis decided he wanted out and surprised the team by stepping down.

''I'm not sure what changed,'' Lerner said. ''My sense of it is that the whole environment had become very difficult to manage emotionally, and it was his sense that enough was enough. I know his family's state of mind was a huge piece of the calculation. ... I did encourage him to stay.''

First-year offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie will coach the Browns for the rest of the season. His first game won't be an easy one: The Browns host the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday.

''He picked a hell of a week to make this decision,'' joked Robiskie, who served as Washington's interim coach for three games in 2000 after the Redskins fired Norv Turner. ''I'm not auditioning for the job. I just want to see the Cleveland Browns win.''

Davis inherited a 5-27 expansion team devoid of any depth or star players from Chris Palmer in 2001. He went 24-36 during his stay in Cleveland, leading the Browns to a 9-7 record and a playoff appearance in 2002, his second season after leaving the University of Miami.

But since then, the Browns regressed, going 8-19 amid a string of close losses, costly injuries and chaos.

This season, Davis squabbled publicly with quarterback Jeff Garcia, whom he signed to a four-year contract as an upgrade over Tim Couch. The Browns also had some embarrassing moments: running back William Green's ejection for fighting before the Pittsburgh game and defensive tackle Gerard Warren's taunts he was going to rough up Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Those distractions didn't help Davis' case, and neither did the Browns' mediocre play.

Davis had three years remaining on a contract worth about $12 million. Lerner refused to give details of a financial settlement, but intimated he will pay Davis the rest of his deal.

''I did it because I felt that he always acted in good faith,'' Lerner said. ''He did honor the contract in terms of what was in his heart. I think he gave it everything he had, and that's all you can ask a guy to do.''

Davis had unquestioned authority over the team's football operations department. But now that he's gone Lerner plans to overhaul the front office. He will begin by hiring a general manager.

Lerner has studied the infrastructure at New England and Philadelphia and decided that's what he wants the Browns to look like.

''There is no magic,'' he said. ''We need to concentrate on organizations that have been successful and we need to understand how and why they have been successful and we need to assume those practices.''

Pressure had been mounting on Davis for weeks as the Browns' season crumbled with a score of injuries to key players and a handful of agonizing losses. Things got so difficult for Davis and his family last week that he sent his wife and 11-year-old son to Florida to avoid all the attention.

The Browns, 3-8 this season and just 29-62 since returning as an expansion franchise in 1999, have 13 players on injured reserve, including six starters. The injuries may be a legitimate reason for Cleveland's current state under Davis, but the Browns aren't the only team to have players go down.

''Anytime you get four years, four years should be enough,'' said tight end Aaron Shea. ''Injuries played a role but other teams have injuries, too. I don't think you can use that as an excuse. Maybe the change is for the best.''

With the losses piling up, Davis' demeanor changed noticeably. His confidence had been shaken at the realization his plan to rebuild the Browns wasn't working.

In a statement, Davis cited ''intense pressure and scrutiny'' as the driving forces behind his resignation.

''I accept responsibility for the mistakes that we have made,'' Davis said, ''but it was my and my staff's intention to do everything we could to lay the foundation and build a team that could win a Super Bowl. I hope that some of my decisions we have made will be a part of a brighter future for the Browns organization.

''My future is clear for the moment. I have no immediate plans to stay in coaching.''

Davis, who brought the Hurricanes back to national prominence before joining the Browns, will likely be a candidate for the coaching opening at Florida.

Davis fought back tears during a meeting as he told Cleveland's players he was leaving.

''I didn't expect him to be emotional like that,'' said fullback Terrelle Smith. ''He opened up his heart to us. He told us the story about his family and that makes you feel bad. But life goes on. I hate to see him go.''

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