Since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the dedicated fans of the Dawg Pound haven’t had much to celebrate. Years of management and roster overhauls created a tumultuous situation that resulted in mostly sub-.500 records and inconsistency across the board.
This season saw another failed year in the always competitive AFC North where the struggling club must contend with the often-powerhouse Bengals, Ravens and Steelers six times a season. The year resulted in another below .500 record, and the ouster of head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer almost immediately after the team’s loss to the Steelers on the final week. And just like that, the Browns and the Cleveland faithful were back to square one to start off 2016.
This time around, the Browns went outside the box, some would say extremely outside of it, with the hiring of baseball veteran and Moneyball originator Paul DePodesta as the team’s new chief strategy officer. DePodesta is known for helping usher baseball into the analytics era. Earning a name for himself in Cleveland, Paul joined the Oakland A’s front office in 1999, where he took his analytical focus to great success. After Oakland, Paul spent almost two years as the general manager of the L.A. Dodgers before moving to San Diego and then to the New York Mets.
The move to bring DePodesta to an entirely different sport certainly brought on some laughs, but the hiring could prove to be an excellent signing for owner Jimmy Haslam and the sluggish Browns. If you haven’t read Monday Morning Quarterback’s profile on Paul’s hiring, I recommend you do so now. The first thing that should be mentioned is that not only does Paul carry a storied football career that took him to Harvard as a wide receiver, he also thrives on challenges. He is a thinker that wants to challenge himself to improve, and in doing so, improve those around him. If Cleveland was searching for a brain trust to oversee strategy, they scored a touchdown with this hiring.
Beyond his familiarity with the sport, football is moving towards a data-focused game. Between player safety and more teams placing an emphasis on a Moneyball style of its own, the Browns could be the first club to really place a cultural emphasis on stats across the organization. If Paul can bring the same success he helped usher in with the Cleveland Indians, he may end up being the second coming of LeBron James to the beleaguered city, as exaggerated as that may sound.
And sure, it could go down as another failed move from the club, but it’s worth a shot. Now with coach Hue Jackson in place–a hiring that some think could cause a clash between DePodesta’s new ideas and Jackson’s traditional approach to the game–Cleveland can begin to focus on the future. There’s still a lot of work the franchise needs to improve, but this could be the about face it needs. If Paul and Hue can deliver, and the club practices some patience, the AFC North may just become even more competitive in the coming seasons.