Many ways to handle players off the field

May, 30, 2014
May 30
10:52
AM ET
At the end of one of former coach Butch Davis' seasons with the Cleveland Browns, several of his players complained that they wanted Davis to loosen some of his rules.

Primary among them was players wanted to be able to leave the team hotel on Saturdays to go to dinner or visit family and friends.

Earl Little and Robert Griffith said they were professionals and should be able to be trusted for a few hours away from the hotel.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark Duncan"We're going to treat our guys like [men] until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise," Browns coach Mike Pettine said.
This, of course, led Phil Dawson to make his famous statement that the only thing he wanted changed was wins, and he’d practice naked if he was told to and it meant the Browns would win.

Davis' response, of course, was to "loosen" the rules the next season by telling the players they could indeed go out to dinner, but only to two restaurants he had selected, both within walking distance of the hotel.

It produced some rolled eyes.

This story came to mind during the entire Johnny Manziel-Vegas trip/non-story of last weekend. Because coach Mike Pettine made an important statement when he said the Browns would not micromanage players away from the building.

"Just like anybody else, he’s a man," Pettine said, "and we’re going to treat our guys like that until they prove that they need to be treated otherwise."

The interesting thing is the different ways coaches have of treating players like men. Davis no doubt felt his approach was the best way to keep control of players, who preferred another way.

Don Shula was known as a disciplinarian, but he let players have four or five hours to themselves on the road on Saturday. Some guys would meet friends and family and go out, others would stay in their rooms. That was the system Chris Palmer followed with the Browns before Davis changed it.

Way back when, Forrest Gregg (head coach from 1975-77) had curfews on Fridays and Saturdays before home games. Someone with the team would drive to players' homes and actually look for their cars, and if they didn't see them then they’d call the player at home.

It’s not tough to imagine how that went over.

Sam Rutigliano followed Gregg and took the “treat them like men” mindset an extra step by eliminating curfews and allowing the players to stay at home on Saturday nights before games.

It worked well until one player continued his “Party With (Player)” night at a Cleveland establishment the evening before a Monday night game.

There are all kinds of ways for players to make it work.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are quiet off the field, and they win. Bobby Layne played fairly well and had a very good time off the field. Joe Namath was renowned for his celebrity appearances at New York nightspots.

Manziel isn't Layne or Namath or anything close, as he's quick to admit. But he does bring celebrity elements to the Browns.

Experience seems to show that the system that works best is the one that has responsible players, guys who understand the sacrifices needed to win. They don’t need a lot of rules because they “get it.” The Browns seem to have a lot of those kinds of guys.

But experience also shows that Pettine makes good sense by saying he’ll treat his players like men until they show they need to be treated otherwise. He’ll expect them to know the system and rules and follow both. But he’ll not overdo the rules off the field or away from the building. It’s a logical approach.

Treat a player like a teenager and he’ll probably act like a teenager.

But treat responsible players like men, and they’ll probably act like men.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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