CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Paul DePodesta has traveled this road once before.
He was the butt of jokes after joining Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s front office and implementing the expansive use of sabermetrics to help keep the small-market franchise a contender in a league without a salary cap. He went on to become the only executive to win division titles with 5 different organizations.
After 2 decades in baseball, DePodesta got another brilliant idea – join the Cleveland Browns. What could possibly go wrong?
The Browns mired in constant turmoil and losing since returning to the NFL in 1999 have decided to shake things up. They’ve made so many awful decisions over the years that they had to hire DePodesta, to essentially save them from themselves.
Apparently, and to the surprise of none, the rest of the NFL can’t contain their laughter as evidenced by his recent experience while waiting to for his flight at Indianapolis International Airport following the NFL Combine.
“I was standing right in front of them in line and I could hear them in back of me and they were talking trash about me and the Cleveland Browns,” DePodesta said last week at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “I said, ‘All right, this is like 17 years ago in Oakland all over again.’ That’s part of the fun.”
So, how many Harvard guys does it take to fix the Browns? Three?
At least Jimmy and Dee Haslam hope that’s all it takes.
It stands to reason NFL-lifers, who may feel threatened by anyone that dare questions the way they’ve done things for half a century, have come up with something as witty as ‘Google boy’ to call the Browns’ new chief strategy officer but what DePodesta needs to understand is that the snark, cheap shots and laughter aren’t really aimed at him. He just happens to be the latest lightning rod for everyone around the league to take aim at because he works for the Browns, who are as a franchise until further notice, considered to be a complete and utter joke.
They are on their eighth – and fifth in the last 6 years – front office-coaching combination, have amassed the worst record in the league at 87-185 since returning, have started 24 different quarterbacks, blown 5 first round draft picks in 3 years (potentially looking at 7 in 4 depending how the class of 2015 pans out) and the closest the team has been to the playoffs in 15 years is just to actually be mathematically alive on Dec. 1.
The jokes just write themselves.
Comedian Conan O’Brien included the hiring of DePodesta in his NFL Honors monologue after making a joke about the city of Cleveland wanting to fire the whole team after a 3-13 season. “The Cleveland Browns also have hired an executive away from the New York Mets. They hired a guy from the Mets. Yep. The Browns have finally figured out their problem: they’re playing the wrong sport,” O’Brien said.
He’s not wrong. The sport of professional football has escaped the organization for the better part of 17 years where they’ve managed just 2 seasons above .500 and 4 without losing 10 or more.
DePodesta admitted to Baseball America, who published a story on him Monday, that the first few months on the job in Berea haven’t been easy.
“In baseball, I had a 20-year library of players and transactions and all that sort of thing that I don’t have right now, very admittedly,” DePodesta told the publication. “As we were going through free agency this week, I was talking to some of the guys in the room and I was asking a lot of questions, but I said, I literally am not trying to lead the witness here, I truly don’t know and don’t have an opinion one way or the other. So that’s a real challenge for me, and just trying to take our mindset and bring it into football and create processes and systems around that is challenging.
“As an organization though, and probably even more importantly, we have big challenges in front of us. We have a super competitive league, we haven’t been very successful on the field and we have a big mountain to climb, but I think we have the right team of people in place to do it.”
Free agency hasn’t made things much better with 5 unrestricted free agents finding it difficult to contain their excitement while escaping the Browns within hours of being allowed to do so. Things won’t get much better this fall either as the Browns – at least as of now – are poised to go full Philadelphia 76ers and field one of the worst teams in NFL history in an effort to tear down and rebuild the perennial 4-12 and 5-11 juggernaut.
“A lot of owners would say, ‘Hey, we want ‘Moneyball,’ we want this disciplined approach to what we’re doing,” DePodesta told Baseball America. “But then when it comes time to making that hard decision, they say, ‘I don’t want any part of this.’ I said, ‘I need someone who’s going to want to get on the roller coaster with me knowing that it’s not always going to be fun. There are going to be parts of the roller coaster that are going to be scary, that are going to be uncomfortable, but hopefully at the end of the ride when we get off, you’re going to want to say, let’s do that again.’ I think that’s how we always got through it, was having that shared vision from the beginning and giving you the conviction to actually go through with it.”
Time will tell if the Haslams will have the intestinal fortitude to withstand another round of criticism and losing to see the new vision through.
If it doesn’t work out in Cleveland, DePodesta can take solace in the fact that the Browns have the best severance package in the NFL. That actually isn’t a joke. Just ask Chris Palmer, Dwight Clark, Carmen Policy, Butch Davis, Pete Garcia, John Collins, Romeo Crennel, Phil Savage, Eric Mangini, George Kokinis, Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert, Pat Shurmur, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine and Alec Scheiner.
So DePodesta shouldn’t take the criticism personally. Not working for the Browns.
If anything, DePodesta should do what he did with the A’s and use it as motivation to get this train wreck back on the tracks.
Do that, and the joke will be on the rest of the league.