Robiskie Deserves Full-Time Opportunity

By Todd Porter
Updated: January 3, 2005

Terry Robiskie
Terry Robiskie

HOUSTON — Consider it a cleansing. A long-needed bath to wash off the stench of a 4-12 season that crashed and burned many weeks ago.

With 25 seconds left in Sunday’s game at Reliant Stadium, Browns interim Head Coach Terry Robiskie took his second step toward having the interim title removed.

The first step was winning over the locker room during a time of dissension. The second was winning Sunday, 22-14, over the Texans.

Cleveland safety Robert Griffith and defensive end Kenard Lang — two veterans whose opinions count — grabbed the Gatorade bucket. Robiskie was distracted by a handshake.

The Gatorade landed perfectly on the back of his neck. On this Sunday, the first in nine weeks, the Browns executed just about everything perfectly, even the Gatorade celebration, something the team doesn’t have much experience with.

With a victory over the middle-of-the-road Texans in hand, a miserable season mercifully came to an end. That might have been better than the actual victory.

Now, the healing can begin.

Now, the rebuilding takes shape.

Now, the most important period of Randy Lerner’s ownership will unfold.

Cleveland will begin its climb from mediocrity to respectability.

Before Sunday, the onus was on the players to perform. It was on the coaches to scheme and get the most out of their players during a forgotten season, one that Butch Davis was no longer around to deal with the mess he created.

Now, it is on Lerner and Collins to get it right.

Both believe that process begins in earnest today, which is great news for Browns fans. The Ravens won’t make the playoffs, meaning executives Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage are fair game. They should be on a plane to Cleveland this week.

Get them in for interviews. Discern whether New England’s personnel chief Scott Pioli is a legitimate candidate. Scour the earth for the right general manager.

Then tell him his head coach is here. The new GM’s role is to get the rest of the puzzle together and not ignore guys like Kelly Holcomb and Lee Suggs. They can make a difference.

Tell him there are pieces to the puzzle in the locker room, and Robiskie knows how to use them.

This was a game the Texans had more business winning than the Browns. A Houston win would have given them a .500 season, their first non-losing season since their formation in 2002.

Judging by the smile on Lerner’s face, he appreciated what Robiskie did. He was the guy who didn’t quit on the players in the middle of trying times. Lerner sought out Robiskie on the painted dirt at Reliant Stadium and didn’t care that Robiskie’s clothes were soaked in Gatorade. Lerner didn’t care that he was wearing a nice purple tie. Lerner hugged Robiskie and shook his hand.

“I believe Randy has been in the locker room after every game,” Robiskie said. “Randy was in the locker room today. He saw me covered in Gatorade. If that doesn’t pitch itself, I don’t know what will.”

In terms of draft position and standings, this was a meaningless game for Cleveland. There isn’t much difference between picking second and picking third, as the Browns will do in April’s draft.

This was about character and heart. The Browns showed some Sunday.

“Winning this last game is huge,” Griffith said. “Guys will leave with a good taste in their mouths.”

What came out their mouths Sunday was clear.

They want Robiskie as the head coach next season. The career NFL assistant deserves a chance. He deserves more than a token interview. He deserves more than being among the final three candidates simply to appease the players.

Coaching in the NFL isn’t about schemes, X’s and O’s or game plans. Every guy at this level has that. You don’t fake your way this far.

The good head coaches, the ones who get to the postseason and have their teams on the brink most years, are the ones who know which buttons to push. They’re the ones who squeeze every last ounce of talent from the team and get their best effort on Sundays.

Robiskie has that.

Look what he’s done with Gerard Warren. Prior to Robiskie taking over, it was assumed Warren was hanging around, taking up a roster spot.

The former first-round pick played these last five games under Robiskie like he was a Pro Bowler.

“(Warren) has the most talent of any guy on this team,” Griffith said. “As soon as he wants to play dominating football, it’s all over.”

Robiskie made Warren his five-week project. He pushed the right buttons. He knew he couldn’t take a hammer and hit the buttons, he had to push them.

“Gerard was an animal today,” Robiskie said. “Gerard is incredible with how much he’s picked up his play since I took over. Gerard is like some of those guys you either got to reach out and choke ’em or hug ’em.”

Warren should be Robiskie’s best statement on why Lerner should stick with him.

“He deserves a fair shot at it,” Griffith said of Robiskie, reiterating what most of the locker room said Sunday. “Guys played for each other. Guys played for Terry. Guys played hard today. We looked pretty damn good, too.

“I can’t take the rebuilding again. If you rebuild, you go back and evaluate everything. I don’t need evaluated. I have 11 years of film. If they get a guy from the NFL in here, I just hope it’s Terry to be honest with you.”

Running back Lee Suggs, who seems destined for a 1,000-yard season next year if he stays healthy, said the attitude of the franchise changed when Robiskie took over. Playing football became fun again.

“It was like night and day,” Suggs said. “Guys like Terry.”

They didn’t like Davis, which he brought on himself. Players know where they stand with Robiskie. Take veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia. He knows where he stands in Robiskie’s world — not very close to the former NFL running back, but at least he doesn’t have to wonder.

The players were campaigning for the guy they trust. They were lying if they said they weren’t glad it was over.

Almost no one said otherwise, though.

“Do I wish we were playing in the playoffs next week? Absolutely,” tackle Ross Verba said. “Do I wish we were playing (just) another game? No. It’s time for it to be over.”

Lerner and Collins couldn’t have asked for a better ending. Neither could Robiskie.

The Gatorade-soaked shirt was off his back. A new white coach’s shirt hung on his broad shoulders.

The stench was gone.

The season, thank heavens, was over.

Today, the Browns turn the page. If Lerner cares what the players want, Sunday was Robiskie’s last day of this season — and his first of next season.