Lonely at the Top

I like to think that my opinion on Mike Brown has evolved over the years. I don’t consider him the devil or the anti-Christ or any other supernatural, malevolent being. I choose not to portray him as a dreadful or malicious person, as someone who hungers for the disappointment of others and revels in the misfortune that failure brings while simultaneously padding his wallet. I do not subscribe to the idea that he acts with anything other than good intentions toward the Cincinnati Bengals—though it’s also not lost on me the road good intentions have been known to pave in the past.

I merely think Mike Brown is not very good at his job. I think he wants to be and tries to be and has every intention of attaining success, but it just hasn’t happened with any consistency. And while he is clearly too stubborn to recognize those flaws and how they’ve been proven again and again over the past two-plus decades, I do think he’s getting better. Which is preferable to the contrary.

The evidence of this improvement is seen in various examples, including positive results via the draft, additions to the scouting department, and the murmurs of Brown continually relinquishing more and more control over football operations to his coaching staff. Even Brown’s frugality—which has been one of his more notable, long-criticized traits—has paid off when signing or trading for low-risk cast-offs, such as Pacman Jones and Reggie Nelson, or even the previously anonymous, such as Andrew Hawkins. And yes, there is the ever-deflating statistic of only three playoff appearances in the past 16 seasons, but to be fair, the three occurrences have all come since 2005.

Yet all of those are hardly cause for celebration—they’re steps that successful franchises treat as second nature and perform almost subconsciously, actions their fans rightfully take for granted. When examined through the lens of Super Bowl contenders and perennial playoff teams, the baby steps of Mike Brown are precisely that.

I was reminded of all this by a recent article from ESPN Dallas, which examined and quoted Brown in regard to his relationship with Cowboys autocrat Jerry Jones. The piece discusses how both men serve as head of family-run franchises, the only two owners in the NFL that also control the everyday operations of their team. And despite their differences—Jones being an ostentatiously rich showboat in a big market, Brown a rather cheap and reclusive curmudgeon in a small market—the two have forged an appreciation for each other through their similar situations.

It’s a rather disappointing article to read for Bengals fans (and Cowboys fans too, I assume), because more than anything else, it reveals that Mike Brown still doesn’t quite get it. It illustrates that Brown continues to pride himself on owning and managing the team—making all of the decisions—evidently regardless of whether it results in wins or losses. His obstinacy remains intact, an unending refusal to surrender any power to a more accredited “football guy.” He is unflinching in his commitment to win “his way,” despite a consistent inability to do so during his tenure at the top.

“When our teams win, there is a silence,” Brown is quoted in the piece, referring to himself and Jones. (Though hopefully this post—written in the midst of a four-game winning streak and potential playoff run—will serve as testimony against that.) He also went on to say, “We have blogs that seem to thrive on just how stupid we are or I am,” which is really pretty funny when read only at face value, sans subtext.

In fact, Brown’s unwillingness to step aside can’t even point to Jones as justification at this point. The Cowboys have won only one playoff game in the past 16 seasons, a discouraging statistic that still makes Bengals fans envious nonetheless.

“When you come down to the essentials,” Brown says in the piece, “[Jones and I] do a lot of the same thing for our football teams.”

This is true. It’s also the problem.

But the team is currently playing well (which Brown does deserve credit for), with a legitimate shot at earning back-to-back winning seasons and playoff berths, something unheard of here since the 1980s. Hopefully this recent change of fortune for the franchise—winning more than losing—doesn’t recede anytime soon though. We certainly know Mike Brown won’t.

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