Why It’s Time to Love Mike Brown
Jun 11, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Ohio governor John Kasich (right) stands with Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
For many fans, Mike Brown is a name that causes angst, frustration, and down right repulsion. They’re not misplaced feelings; Mike Brown has led this organization down some treacherous paths that have left even the most loyal fans considering why they root for such a team. Though I understand these feelings of distrust and a desire to continue to look at the man with repugnance, I’m here to tell you, it’s time to move on. The Bengals have now begun a new era and part of that has to do with Brown.
Mike Brown is clearly a prideful man and pride can be a dangerous thing. He is also the type of guy who dislikes change. But this is where much of the Bengals success has begun. Mike Brown had enough self-reflective ability to make major changes within the organization, which began with some demands made by Marvin Lewis in 2011. Rather than simply let Marvin go, Brown decided to stick with the disgruntled, demand-filled coach while addressing some of his concerns. This was the beginning of Brown’s relinquishment of powers and an organizational pivot.
Brown’s decision to begin to trust the people around him allowed for ideas and styles to coalesce into the Bengals’ new identity. Lewis wanted to focus on drafting quality people rather than simply talented players who also come with baggage. He is responsible (along with Duke Tobin) for building such a talented roster full of players who are also good citizens. Katie Blackburn, Brown’s daughter and the Bengals’ executive vice president, clearly has an eye for talent and the foresight to discuss decisions with Lewis. It’s led to the resigning of important pieces that would’ve gotten away in the past–see the deals for Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Andy Dalton, Vontaze Burfict, and, presumably soon, A.J. Green. Blackburn is clearly good with the books.
But the most significant change is clearly Duke Tobin’s responsibilities. Here is what Marvin Lewis had to say regarding Tobin in 2013.
"“I’ve been very impressed with Duke from the very onset. He’s continued to grow. Mike has given him a great deal of responsibility and put him in charge of a lot of things. He’s my liaison as far as what we do on the pro side, when we have injuries (during the season) and he’s directing the scouting efforts throughout and making sure that everything’s done and the cross-checks are done so we’re able to do everything we have to evaluate these guys.”"
Tobin currently has the title of “Director of Player Personnel,” but many believe that Tobin is basically the team’s GM at this point; technically Brown still holds that title. With this presumed reality in mind, consider that only two NFL owners carry the titles of owner and GM simultaneously: Mike Brown and Jerry Jones. Clearly this structure isn’t working well, so Brown’s relinquishment of power is certainly a commendable decision.
The point here is that Brown has done something most people can’t: admit when they are wrong and allow more qualified people to take your place. Brown has said as much in the past when telling Geoff Hobson, of Bengals.com, that people can “blame me” for the team’s past reputation (it’s a great piece on this topic). Brown also has admitted that he’s stepped aside allowing Lewis and Blackburn to run the organization.
It’s an especially hard thing to do for many people, but fans should appreciate having such a self-reflective owner.
What Brown takes “blame” for is also something else to consider. Mike Brown called himself a “redeemer“, something we all remember during a particular irritating point in Bengals’ history. But is this quality really something for fans to be ashamed of? Mike Brown spoke on this topic with Hobson in the same piece.
"“Over the years we dug ourselves into a hole, and I’m probably the one who did it. We would bring in guys and work with them. Sometimes they came around, sometimes they didn’t. Yet, I think we did the right thing. Certainly it was good for them. We gave them opportunity when some of them didn’t have opportunity and a lot of them proved that they deserved that opportunity. But in the process of doing that over the years we became branded as something of a club that had too many guys that didn’t toe the line. I don’t think that was ever really true but we did have a couple of spectacular cases.”"
While I disagree with Brown in that this organization had far to many of these guys, Brown’s intention was clearly genuine. This desire to help potential players wasn’t really the issue, more so it was his execution of such practices. In order to accomplish such a goal, strong leadership must engulf these types of guys. Brown’s redeemer days are far from over and it has benefitted the Bengals in recent years. Since Marvin Lewis was given the reigns to this team, he has built one full of good people and strong leaders. This has allowed potentially troublesome players such as Adam Jones, Vontaze Burfict, and rookie Jeremy Hill to thrive; all of these players came with previous baggage. It’s a testament to not only Brown’s intentions, but his willingness to relegate himself to a decrease role which has facilitated success with these types of players.
Mike Brown is also a loyal man. It’s an attribute that all people can appreciate and Brown has displayed this quality. Couple things that must be considered here. First, an again, Brown stuck with Marvin Lewis in 2011 rather than give in to his typical temptations. This could be attributed to a hundred different reasonings, but in the end, it’s looking as though Brown’s decision was correct and that’s all that really matters. Another reality to admire is the Bengals’ stadium name. Although I appreciate the stadium topic being a contentious one for many fans, for this argument, I’m simply referring to its name. Who can’t appreciate a family man and the Bengals are a family run organization. Brown has stuck by the stadium’s name allowing it to remain as a commemoration to his father, an NFL icon, Paul Brown. He’s spurned potential sponsors to keep the family name in tact, which for a family run organization, is nothing short of laudable. It says much about his commitment to “family.”
But Brown has also shown the fan base loyalty and appreciation recently. Brown and the Bengals recently chose to opt into the NFL’s “relaxed blackout rule.” Again a contentious topic, but is there really anything wrong with this decision? Of course Brown and the Bengals are going to seek tickets sales publicly, but as one of the few teams lowering the requirements to get games on television locally, it’s a classy move. According to Andrew Brown, the Bengals’ director of ticket sales, the club doesn’t benefit from the move.
"“Having games on TV locally does not benefit the club financially, but it’s in the best interest of the fan base, and we believe it’s in the club’s best interest as well to make local broadcasts more achievable.”"
In the end, many of these decisions and qualities of Mike Brown have translated into today’s sustained success and what should satisfy fans more the winning. The Bengals are one of only five teams to qualify for the last three postseasons. Though it’s understandable that fans, who yearn so earnestly for success, are frustrated with the playoff shortcomings, this team was very young in those years; Andy Dalton would’ve been one of the youngest Super Bowl winning quarterbacks if he had won last year (somewhere around sixth). The Bengals have gone 9-7, 10-6, and 11-5 in the past three years and have worked themselves to become AFC North champions. These years may prove to be the building blocks towards the ultimate success that both this team and the Bengals seek.
After being a “Civic Joke,” as CBS’s Gregg Doyel so kindly puts it, for so many years, Brown and the Bengals have built the kind of team that fans can finally be proud of. Amidst all of the NFL scandal, amidst all of the AFC North’s issues–Steeler arrests, Browns’ ownership scandal, and the Ray Rice situtation–isn’t it nice to be on the other side. Players like Devon Still and Rex Burkhead supporting the effort against pediatric cancer. The Bengals organization as a whole helping raise tons of money towards this effort.
The Bengals are now a beacon of hope for the league during these tumultuous times as a team other organization’s should strive to be like. Here’s Marvin Lewis on Brown.
"“I think we’ve been able to dispel that myth that was around here that Mike Brown didn’t care about winning, because really that’s all he cares about,” Lewis said. “He just wants to make sure we devote all of resources [sic] in that direction each and every year as we get ready for the season. We devote our resources to the players that are in this building.”"
Leadership comes from the top, and it all began with Mike Brown.