The Browns were desperate.
After making the playoffs all four seasons from 1985-88 but failing to make it to the Super Bowl, they were looking for that extra push to get them over the top.
Twice in that span, following the 1986 and ’87 seasons, the Browns had suffered close, heartbreaking losses to Denver in the AFC Championship Game. Broncos quarterback John Elway had really hurt them in those contests, so the Browns figured that to get to the Super Bowl, they needed to find a way to stop him, or at least slow him down.
As such, they hired Bud Carson as their head coach on Jan. 27, 1989. He replaced Marty Schottenheimer, who had been let go a month earlier.
Carson was 57 and had never been an NFL head coach. Still, he had long been considered one of the top defensive minds in the game in stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams and New York Jets.
When he was hired, Carson was charged with one goal – that is, getting the Browns past Elway and the Broncos and into the Super Bowl for the first time.
Carson switched the Browns from a 3-4 defensive scheme to an aggressive 4-3 alignment that focused on rushing the quarterback, and they hit the ground running – literally and figuratively. They went to Pittsburgh in the opener and handed the Steelers their worst loss ever, 51-0, and then three weeks later, they harassed Elway all afternoon in edging the Broncos, 16-13, at Cleveland.
The Browns finished 9-6-1 and recaptured the AFC Central title, then held off the Buffalo Bills, 34-30, in the divisional playoffs. That put them right where they wanted to be, opposing the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, but they lost once again, 37-21.
The Browns tried to regroup and make another run at Denver in 1990, but they had lost their mojo from the last half of the 1980s. With the club at 2-7, Carson was dismissed during a bye week, ending his short 1½-season stint with an 11-16-1 record (.460).
Offensive coordinator Jim Shofner took over for the rest of the season on an interim basis as the Browns finished 3-13.
Another defensive wizard by the name of Bill Belichick was then hired as head coach shortly after the season.
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