Cleveland Browns execs talk analytics, quarterbacks

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Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown

BEREA, Ohio– It’s been a busy three weeks for the Cleveland Browns.

Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta held a news conference Thursday afternoon. They talked about the team’s quarterback situation, the new head coach and DePodesta’s background in analytics.

DePodesta spent time in the front offices of the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics and New York Mets, and is part of the inspiration behind the movie “Moneyball.”

“For me, it’s not just about numbers or algorithms; it’s about a mindset,” DePodesta said. “I’m not really here to be an analytics guy.” He said it’s about transforming this organization into a championship franchise.

Brown and DePodesta agreed a quarterback is key to a winning team. Both execs said they are still assessing whether the man for the job is already in the locker room, or if they’ll find him in the NFL Draft or free agency.

“We need a guy who can be here for a number of years,” Brown said. “We’re happy to have Josh (McCown) in the building and obviously, Johnny (Manziel) on the roster.”

But when asked about how the team plans to handle Manziel, Brown said they need to be clear on expectations.

“How much can we do? Johnny is individual, he’s a man,” Brown said. “I think it’s important he understands perfectly the situation he is in.”

Brown said he met with Cleveland offensive lineman Joe Thomas just days after the season ended.

“He’s a great asset to our organization on and off the field,” Brown said. “Joe is like us, very competitive. His questions for us were largely about how we’re going to win.”

Last week, the Browns announced Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as the team’s new head coach.

More changes to the coaching staff are likely as league sources say Cleveland hired Ray Horton as defensive coordinator and parted ways with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

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Jen Steer January 21, 201612:26 pm

We should be starting momentarily. 

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Paul DePodesta says he’s happy to be back in Cleveland, thrilled to be here. He worked with the Cleveland Indians.

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Brown thanks Jimmy Haslam for putting his trust in him.

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“For me, it’s not just about number or algorithms, it’s about a mindset,” DePodesta says about analytics.

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Sashi Brown says the team does have some talented, young analytics guys. “Paul impressed us when we met with him,” Sashi says.

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Sashi Brown says “We have learned a lot internally” about DePodesta’s strategy.

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“I’m not really here to be an analytics guy,” DePodesta says. He says he’s here for the whole organization and transforming this franchise into a championship organization.

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DePodesta says his strategy doesn’t change from sport to sport, but there are nuances to football that he will have to learn.

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How did Brown win Jimmy’s trust? He says he’s made a lot of high-level strategic decisions, expertise in salary cap.

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DePodesta won’t be dictating the play on the field.

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On not having a tradition football background: “That’s something I’m used to… I understand the skepticism.” -DePodesta. He says he wanted to work in football, he’s always loved football.

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“Hue is obviously going to be a huge influence on everything we do,” DePodesta says about new head coach Jackson. “We’re not all clones of each other.” He emphasizes they all are bringing something different to the table.

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DePodesta on how he got connecting with Haslam and the Browns: Says Jimmy and Dee went on a quest to learn more about football, met with execs from different teams in different sports. DePodesta met with the Haslams shortly after the World Series.

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Sashi Brown says they are working to avoid the frustrating number of soft tissue injuries by setting up new protocol. Says they are hiring a new strength and conditioning staff.

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Sashi Brown on quarterback situation: “We need a guy who can be here for a number of years… We’re happy to have Josh in the building and obviously Johnny on the roster.”

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DePodesta: “Our goal is to be exhaustive as we can in that search… Maybe the answer is closer than we think.” Maybe the answer is in the draft, maybe it’s in free agency on QB situation.

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Sashi Brown says Josh Gordon has filed for reinstatement and will have to follow the protocol. They will meet with him on his physical and mental state.

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DePodesta says when it came to interviewing head coaching candidates and introducing himself, he said “Are you ready for this?”

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“It’s true in baseball, it’s certainly true in football,” DePodesta says about the human factor and the amount of uncertainty in the sport. “Even with the best intentions, we’re still going to be wrong… Some things won’t work out.”

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DePodesta emphasizes the learning process and not repeating mistakes. Overall, he hopes to be right more than he’s wrong.

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Did Brown and DePodesta get an assurance from Haslam that they will get time to make this changes? DePodesta says the team will be better off one year from now than they were today. “I think Jimmy and Dee really want to do this right. That was what made an impression on me. They were earnest, they were genuine.”

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“Very rarely is progress linear,” DePodesta says. 

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Sashi Brown says they needed to find a head coach that would change the culture, give the team more confidence. “Hiring Hue was a huge first step.”

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What is Browns’ big picture? “We believe we need to get an established quarterback here,” Sashi Brown says. “We need to go out and find the impact players.”

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Brown: “We can’t guarantee success.”

DePodesta: “I can’t overstate the importance of that (shared vision)”
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What is the plan for Johnny Manziel: “How much can we do? Johnny is individual, he’s a man,” Brown says. “I think it’s important he understands perfectly the situation he is in.”

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Sashi Brown: “We set an expectation for our team… For our players, everyday, every practice, every rep.”

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If a player doesn’t work out? Paul laughs and pats Sashi on the back “Right here,” he says laughing.

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Brown says Paul and Hue Jackson will have significant influence over decision making. 

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Back to analytics… Paul says it’s hard to tell how much analytics will play in the decision making, they just haven’t been in those discussions yet.

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Brown says he hopes to hire VP of player personnel in the next few weeks.

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Sashi Brown says he has already met with Joe Thomas, days after the Steelers game. “He’s a great asset to our organization on and off the field… Joe is like us, very competitive. His questions for us were largely about how we’re going to win.”

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Brown says they’ve already interviewed a number of talented personnel folks. It’s a tricky time to interview in the NFL. 

Cleveland Browns Training Facility