Money matters make it tough to change right now

Updated: November 23, 2004, 5:51 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Amid reports he could soon be fired, Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis will retain his job through the rest of this season, several sources told ESPN.com.

Those sources, some of them in the league and other close to Davis, said that Cleveland officials determined Tuesday that they will wait until after the season to review the status of the Browns' head coach. There had been strong hints that Davis could leave the franchise as early as Tuesday, only under certain conditions that did not include his dismissal, but the events moved in another direction.

The feeling was that, with such open speculation about his future, Davis would press owner Randy Lerner for a resolution of his status beyond this season. The rationale was that, if Lerner confirmed Davis would not be back in 2005, Davis might resign. But had that occurred, Davis would have turned his back on the three seasons remaining on his current contract.

Last summer, Lerner extended Davis' contract two seasons, through 2007, and it is believed he is owed between $10 million and $12 million on that deal. In fact, sources said the only way Davis will leave the Browns before the year ends is if he sacrifices the money remaining on his contract or if Lerner has a philosophical change of heart about firing a coach during the season.

On Sunday night, Lerner did consider firing Davis, as first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

In response to the speculation about Davis' future, the team issued a statement saying it wasn't planning any changes.

"The Cleveland Browns organization is acutely aware of our fans' passion and share in their desire for a championship team. We acknowledge the disappointment and frustration with this season's record," it said. "In response to a variety of media reports, we reiterate that we are keeping our organization intact in order to focus our efforts toward winning our remaining football games. Our commitment to Cleveland, and to winning, remain our only priorities."

The smart money is that Davis still exits the Browns after this season, with both sides agreeing and the parties reaching a financial settlement on the rest of the coach's contract. Lerner is not of a mind, sources confirmed, to fire Davis, even with the team's poor performance this year. And Davis, those sources said, wasn't going to walk away from the money remaining on his contract.

To date, there have been no substantive discussions aimed at settling Davis' contract, although it will not be surprising if preliminary talks commence before the conclusion to the season.

"The people who thought that this whole thing was going to come Tuesday, with some resolution, forgot about the money elements involved here," one source said. "Barring a miracle or a change of heart by the owner, [Davis] won't be back in '05, but there are a lot of issues to hash through. And what good was it going to do to fire him now?"

Since 1970, there have been 55 "replacement" coaches who took over teams during the season, and their aggregate winning percentage is just .313. It had been speculated that, if Davis exited before the end of the season, defensive coordinator Dave Campo, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, would assume the role of interim coach.

Sources said that Davis and Lerner met recently, perhaps even on Tuesday, to resolve the sense of urgency that had come to surround the situation in the wake of Sunday's loss to the New York Jets. They essentially agreed that Davis' status would be reviewed shortly after the final regular-season game.

Davis, 53, was hired in 2001 and has compiled a 24-35 record.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.