November 30, 2004

Browns Head Coach Butch Davis Resigns

BEREA, Ohio - Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis resigned under pressure Tuesday, leaving a last-place team with five games left in a sinking season filled with close losses and costly injuries.

The Browns dropped their fifth straight game on Sunday, 58-48 at Cincinnati. The team went 24-36 and made the playoffs just once in Davis' four seasons as head coach.

Davis left with three years remaining on a contract worth about $12 million. It wasn't immediately clear if he agreed to a buyout.

Browns president John Collins was to speak at an afternoon news conference, team spokeswoman Lisa Levine said.

Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie or defensive coordinator Dave Campo was expected to take over as interim coach for the Browns, who host the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday.

Campo coached the Dallas Cowboys for three seasons before being fired after the 2002 season. Robiskie was Washington's interim coach for three games in 2000.

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 son to Florida to avoid all the attention.

The Browns, who are 3-8 this year and just 8-19 since the end of the 2002 season, have 13 players on injured reserve, including six starters. They continually came up short in tight games during Davis' tenure, and this season was no different: The team lost three games by a total of 13 points.

In a statement, Davis said "intense pressure and scrutiny" made the move necessary.

"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."

Amid speculation last week that Davis was about to be fired, Collins said the coach would remain in place for the rest of the season - unless he resigned.

Davis, who helped restore the University of Miami's program before joining the Browns in 2001, could be a candidate for the job opening at Florida.

In January, Browns owner Randy Lerner gave the 53-year-old Davis a two-year contract extension through 2007 and the added title of executive vice president, despite the club's 5-11 record in 2003.

Lerner felt pressured to keep Davis, thinking the coach was being courted by several college programs.

Davis took the Browns to the playoffs in 2002, their only postseason appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999. But the team endured more than its share of hard-luck losses; sustained an array of costly injuries; underwent a roster-cleaning salary-cap purge in 2003 and a yearlong quarterback controversy last season; and mourned the death of owner Al Lerner.

Davis was on Cleveland's sideline when Browns fans rioted by throwing thousands of bottles on the field in 2001 and when linebacker Dwayne Rudd threw his helmet in the 2002 opener, costing the Browns a victory.

On Monday, Davis recounted some of those moments.

"In four years," he said, "I have seen some of the most bizarre things."

Asked if he planned to stay with the Browns, Davis said, "Sure. Absolutely."

When he joined the Browns in 2001, Davis promised to lead Cleveland to the Super Bowl. But after a tenure marked by some poor drafting, he leaves far short of that goal, and the team doesn't seem any closer to a title than when Davis arrived.

Davis had total control of all football decisions with Cleveland. His power inside the organization grew when Dwight Clark, the team's director of football operations, resigned in 2002.

Some felt Davis pushed Clark out the door. After Cleveland's disappointing 2003 season, Lerner hired former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf to assist Davis in assessing the team's roster and preparing for drafts. But Wolf, who rebuilt the Packers into Super Bowl champions, quit after just a few months.

Lerner intends to hire a general manager this winter to work with Cleveland's new coach.