Poe's Law states that it is impossible to create a parody of extremism that will not be mistaken, perhaps by extremists themselves, for the real thing.
Haslam's Lemma to Poe's Law states that it is impossible to create a parody of Browns news that will not be mistaken for actual Browns news.
Internet trailblazer Nathan Poe formulated Poe's Law to explain how articles from The Onion or other satirical websites are often accepted as literal truth and lambasted (or wholeheartedly accepted) on Facebook threads and email chains. Poe's Law teaches us something about how our brains handle credible-looking sources in the Information Age -- we are programmed to take written words seriously and literally -- but also something about modern extremism of any kind, which can quickly abandon critical thought and lurch into a lampoon of its own excess.
Haslam's Lemma teaches us that the Browns are freakin' crazy.
Here is a breakdown of the last six weeks or so at Browns headquarters. The team fired head coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff in January after one season, a year most observers (and Chudzinski, probably) assumed was a rebuilding year in which the won-loss record was less important than player development. The Browns' search for a replacement was marred when Josh McDaniels, Todd Bowles and Adam Gase all publically renounced interest in the job. None of those three candidates took head coaching jobs elsewhere. They are happier as assistants in New England, Arizona and Denver than as head coaches in Cleveland. John Milton once wrote about such serving-in-heaven reasoning; Halsam's Lemma proves the inverse of Milton's Lucifer Postulate.
The desperate Browns tagged Mike Pettine, first-year defensive coordinator for a 6-10 team in 2013, as their head coach, barely trying put any "guy we wanted all along" spin on the selection. Pettine is an up-and-comer whose Bills defense played very well last year, and he brought along Kyle Shanahan, who spent so much effort distancing himself from his father in the last two months that he appeared to be auditioning for a remake of The Empire Strikes Back.
The coaching search was spearheaded by Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi, two executives often at loggerheads with each other and everyone else. Lombardi proved to be hands-on with roster decisions during Chudzinski's fruit-fly-life-cycle of a tenure, and the Browns made draft-strategy noises long before they had a head coach to provide input. So LomBanner appeared to be undermining the coaching search even as they conducted it, but other team executives, like assistant GM Ray Farmer (who appeared to occupy a tiny, powerless Dwight Schrute branch of the team's decision structure) had little say in who the Browns interviewed/dissuaded. Still, as brain trusts acquired at the last minute in late January go, Pettine and Shanahan appear to be a decent haul, a best-case scenario for a pair of executives who sought clever on-field strategists willing to cede personnel control.
Then, on Tuesday, owner Jimmy Haslam fired Banner and Lombardi. Farmer is now in charge of a coaching staff he did not have an active hand in hiring.
Let's back up for a moment. The Cleveland Browns have $45 million in cap space and two first-round picks. They possess these assets despite somewhat aggressive 2013 free-agent spending that brought Paul Kruger to the team. The Browns executed one of the greatest sports swindles of the last decade when they suckered the Colts out of a first-round pick in exchange for Trent Richardson, a power runner without the power. Banner and Lombardi had their shortcomings, but most owners would be happy with a front office that provided extra top draft picks and a major budget surplus after one season of digging out from a past regime that mistook non-traditional, middle-aged undergraduates for quarterback prospects.
Joe Banner is a cap guru. It's what he does. Or did. Michael Lombardi is an old-school Al Davis disciple: aggressive, outside-the-box, eager to pursue blue-chip talent. That's what he does. Or did. Haslam fired his executives for being too much like themselves.
Which might make a little sense, if he did not allow them to make a high-holy clusterhump of the coaching search first.
Ray Farmer arrived in Cleveland late last spring after seven seasons with the Chiefs. He acquired the "assistant general manager" title because he was "director of pro personnel" for the Chiefs; Banner wanted him for a similar role, but he could not be poached from the Chiefs staff (he was retained through the Andy Reid regime change) for a lateral managerial position. In other words, promotions are expensive, but titles are free. Farmer was primarily a scouting supervisor who reported to Lombardi, who reported to Banner, while Coach Chud reported exclusively to Banner. The Browns also have a team president, a former Cowboys executive and data guy named Alec Scheiner, but no one apparently reports directly to him, and if he was also fired on Tuesday, no one noticed.
Got all that? The Browns 2013 corporate flowchart was like one of those Seven Bridges of Konigsberg puzzles. You needed three credits in topography to determine who made some seemingly non-Euclidean decision: sending Brian Hoyer through the depth chart wormhole from third string directly to starter, for example. (It was Lombardi.) The Browns power structure was the kind of thing a guy who enjoys fiendish accounting machinations and inscrutable get-rich-quick gasoline-voucher schemes might cobble together in his spare time. Which makes it the only thing about the Browns that actually made sense.
Their busy two-month test of Poe's Law leaves the Browns with an experienced (but promising) head coach, a former Scott Pioli company man (think "second generation Patriots") with what appears to be complete control over personnel matters and a truckstop-baron-under-federal-investigation owner kicking human pawns all over the chessboard like a spoiled boy emperor. The only person in the organization who hasn't experienced the dizzying feeling of lost equilibrium is probably Shanahan, who thinks he is just sitting down to a family dinner.
Also, the NFL combine begins next week. Farmer will be conducting interviews with dozens of prospects, and meeting the representatives for free agents who thought they would be meeting Lombardi for the usual clandestine don't-call-it-tampering free agent negotiation groundwork. Hopefully Lombardi left notes. Unless Farmer has been pulling the strings all along, setting the others up like some Machiavellian boardroom ninja. If you read that Farmer orchestrated a coup tomorrow, you would believe it. Even if it was meant as a joke.
And that's the Browns' Poe's Law problem. It is almost impossible to make a parody of them now. I do it for a living, and I tried, but everything I write just sounds too … believable.
Haslam Fires Farmer for Jeff Ireland.
Browns Trade Two First-Round Picks for Kirk Cousins
Putin Invites Haslam to become Russia's "Trucking Czar."
Pettine Must Clear All Roster Decisions Through FBI Investigators
Jim Brown Wants Trent Richardson Back.
Tuesday's Browns news was so extreme that satire cannot do it justice. That's the comedy and tragedy of Poe's Law. The satirist wants to write jokes, but he worries that he is actually giving Jimmy Haslam ideas.
Browns fans deserve better than an Onion headline of a football team. The saddest reality of Poe's Law and Haslam's Lemma is that stupidity can be funny and a satire of stupidity can be funnier, but extreme stupidity, no matter how hard you try to mock it, is no laughing matter.