In the past 20 years, the word “analytics” has been tossed around with many different players, coaches, and many executives in all sports.
The term has been stretched, warped, and yanked around so badly, that it’s completely lost it’s shape.
Many organizations and front offices claim to use analytics more or less than others do, but you will always find at least a small form of it used in some organizational capacity.
Browns front office executive Paul DePodesta made himself a household name in the movie Moneyball that featured his Oakland A’s teams.
DePodesta was known for being on the cutting edge of analytics when his vision morphed the low-payroll Oakland A’s into playoff contenders.
How do many view analytics 20 years later?
DePodesta spoke about analytics today:
“I think there’s a large misconception about analytics in general that it’s all about data,” DePodesta says. “That it’s all about guys sitting at their computers and running through spreadsheets. That’s not the reality. We focus a lot on strategy, we focus a lot on process.”
In January 2016 Browns owner Jimmy Haslam made big headlines when he hired Paul DePodesta as his Chief Strategy Officer.
It was reported that DePodesta would report directly to Haslam in his role.
To many that had worked with DePodesta or knew him personally, it was not a surprise that he would be most comfortable reporting directly to Haslam and nobody else.
After Oakland, DePodesta, had a short run as the general manager for the Dodgers that lasted only 20 months before being fired.
He also had short year stints with the Padres and Mets as well.
When DePodesta left the Mets for football, it did not surprise one colleague with the Mets.
“ always looking for a challenge,” who was “not just a baseball guy.” He characterized him as a brilliant systems analyst who “does not like confrontations,” a trait that may have worked against him in his tenure with the Dodgers.
For many Browns fans like myself, I remember the headlines being something like this:
“Hapless Browns hire baseball’s Moneyball stat geek as football guru.”
When the Browns appointed Paul DePodesta chief strategy officer shortly after naming Sashi Brown the director of football operations, many viewed the Browns as a full-bore analytics team.
The term “Bill James comes to football” was also a headline widely used.
DePodesta Hired For More Than Analytics
When Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta were introduced in their press conference, Brown mentioned that DePodesta’s role would be “more global,” than just analytics.
Brown suggested that Depodesa’s role is more about “vision and strategy.”
DePodesta mentioned his mantra:
“If we weren’t already doing it this way, is this the way we would start?”
“Paul has invaluable experience in management and leadership with a number of highly successful sports teams,” said Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown. “His ability to create better processes and systems throughout organizations, his use of data as a tool to produce better outcomes, and his relentless focus on looking for innovative ways to create more success will be a strong asset as we look to be as comprehensive as possible in our decision making.
Haslam Trumped DePodesta When He Hired Hue Jackson
Browns fans need no formal reminder on how the Hue Jackson era in Cleveland went.
When he was hired in 2016 by the Browns he went on to become, statistically, the worst head coach in modern NFL history with a 3-36-1 mark (.080 winning percentage).
Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown were known to favor Sean McDermott as their top choice.
Wickersham reported that after a few rounds of interviews, the brass voted 4-1 in favor of Sean McDermott, the Panthers defensive coordinator at the time. It was said he was also open to new ideas as well.
However, Haslam trumped everyone and wanted Hue Jackson.
McDermott, the former defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, was hired as head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2017.
The Bills are currently 10-5 and headed to the playoffs with McDermott’s career head coaching record at 25-22 (.532).
DePodesta wrote Haslam an email arguing that the Jackson hire went against many of the characteristics of successful coaches they had discussed. Brown met with Haslam — there’s always a race to be the last one to talk to Haslam before a big decision — and told him he thought hiring Jackson would be a bad call. “I hear you,” Haslam said.
Then Haslam flew to Cincinnati and hired Jackson, who would report directly to ownership.
#Browns One has to wonder what the state of the team would be had Haslam & Co. listened to the guidance of Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.
McDermott > Hue (and Freddie for that matter) https://t.co/WTcZ6sJqVg
— Cody Suek (@WFNYCody) December 22, 2019
Paul DePodesta’s 2017 Brock Osweiler Trade Was Known As “Moneyball In Action”
Moneyball in baseball was designed to find market inefficiencies.
An inefficiency in football could certainly be identified as a large quarterback contract that bottlenecked a team’s salary cap.
In 2017, the Browns identified the Brock Osweiler contract in Houston as just that and started making phone calls.
They were able to acquire a second-round pick to take on Osweiler’s large contract at the time.
They even started trying to find trade partners after acquiring Osweiler to try to get even more assets while eating some of his salary.
The trade made headlines around the NFL because it was something that people had never really seen before.
In essence, the Browns were paying big money for a 2nd round pick.
I wonder if Bill Polian can’t wrap his head around the Moneyball-esque trade the #Browns made for Brock Osweiler a few years ago.
The player it netted them? Nick Chubb. pic.twitter.com/3VbObb4IxI
— JEFF manDLOWErian (@JeffDLowe) September 30, 2019
The Browns ended up releasing Osweiler before the 2017 season began.
But, who did the Browns end up acquiring with that 2nd round pick?
The answer: Nick Chubb
I would say that turned out pretty well.
After Sashi Brown Was Fired, Many Thought It Was The End Of Analytics And DePodesta
When Sashi Brown was fired, many people viewed the Browns as going from an analytics-driven front office, back to “football people.”
However, that seemed premature as it shocked some to learn that Paul DePodesta would not be following Brown out the door.
In fact, it seemed as if DePodesta’s influence would just be starting to grow from within the organization
DePodesta’s Influence On Gregg Williams As Interim Coach In 2018
In late 2018, Charles Robinson of yahoo sports reported that Todd Haley was the preferred choice of Browns GM John Dorsey to take over after Hue Jackson was fired.
“After some conversations with those who know the Browns, I’m now more certain than ever that chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta has been more influential than anyone outside of the organization understands. I think everyone (including me) has been led astray about the current power structure in Cleveland. Especially where it concerns Dorsey.”
Robinson went on:
Here’s what is clear: Haley believed he was in line to step into the interim coaching job if Hue was fired, and he got that belief from Dorsey and some of Dorsey’s subordinates on the personnel side of the organization. And when that didn’t happen and Haley was fired, he was completely blindsided by it,” Robinson wrote. “Which means one of two things – either Dorsey and his subordinates stabbed Haley in the back (which they didn’t), or Dorsey was overruled in the process when it came to his chosen interim. I believe it was the latter, with DePodesta having a more significant hand in the process than anyone realized and Haslam giving the green light to fire Haley. Boiled down, I think DePodesta has more power than most people realize, while Dorsey has less.”
It Was Reported That DePodesta Preferred Kevin Stefanski Over Freddie Kitchens
When the Browns started their head coaching job interview process earlier this year, these were the reported panel members:
- Jimmy Haslam, owner
- JW Johnson, son-in-law to the Haslams and team executive vice president
- John Dorsey, general manager
- Eliot Wolf, assistant general manager
- Paul DePodesta, chief strategy officer
- Andrew Berry, vice president of player personnel
It was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that it came down to 2 candidates
My understanding is that two finalists for the #Browns head coach job are Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski. At this point, those are the only two known finalists, so that may be it. @TomPelissero said Stefanski headed there now, Kitchens is still in the building.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 8, 2019
Per a league source, the choice may come down to an internal battle of wills, with the football guys (led by John Dorsey) pulling one way and the analytics guys (led by Paul DePodesta) pulling the other.
The problem is that both Dorsey and DePodesta report independently to owner Jimmy Haslam. The reality is that quarterback Baker Mayfield could break the tie, and his input definitely matters.
Who ultimately broke the tie according to reports?
Baker Mayfield according to Florio as well.
Florio on his radio show:
“Dorsey wanted Freddie Kitchens, and DePodesta wanted Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. And at one point, it was leaning Stefanski, but you know who broke the tie, baby? The guy who has come in and really taken everything under his power and control in Cleveland. Baker Mayfield wanted Kitchens. Baker Mayfield gets Kitchens.”
The rest is history with Freddie Kitchens.
Currently, in 2019 the Vikings offense is ranked 7th in the league at 25.9 points a game led by offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
Does this mean that this would have translated into great head coach?
It certainly doesn’t, but it does show Stefanski to be a consistent offensive mind in the NFL.
A One And Done Firing Of Freddie Kitchens Would Look Bad For Dorsey
It was recently reported that the Browns planned to retain Freddie Kitchens in 2020 “barring a horrific collapse.”
However, at the time of this report, there was a rumor about a difference of opinion when it comes to Freddie Kitchens.
Sources have told Pro Football Network Insiders Ben Allbright and Tony Pauline that there is a difference of opinion when it comes to Kitchens.
As we reported on December 12, trouble is brewing in Cleveland.
On one side is GM John Dorsey, who is in favor of keeping Kitchens. On the other is owner Jimmy Haslam, who would strongly consider a change.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) December 22, 2019
It would make sense that John Dorsey would not want to be quick on pulling the plug with Freddie Kitchens.
It would certainly look bad on his part and could potentially lower his influence on future coaching hires.
If The Browns Do Fire Kitchens, DePodesta Could Have The Final Decision On A New Coach
I wrote earlier on how in 2018 Charles Robinson reported that DePodesta’s influence is growing from within the organization.
After DePodesta was hired in 2016 as the Browns Chief Strategy Officer, I found this quote to be the most interesting that was said about him at the time.
It comes from Josh Byrnes:
“From the standpoint of raw intelligence, Paul is the smartest person I’ve ever been around,” said Josh Byrnes, vice president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, who worked with DePodesta in the Indians’ front office. “From a strategizing viewpoint, he’s brilliant. If the owner gives him enough runway, I have no doubt in a short time Paul will make an impact.”
The key quote that I took out of what he said is this:
“If the owner gives him enough runway, I have no doubt in a short time Paul will make an impact.”
Many people who have worked with DePodesta have also described a guy who is “off-the-charts intelligent.”
One MLB source who has worked with new #Browns hire Paul DePodesta describes him as “off-the-charts intelligent and a great guy.”
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) January 5, 2016
The Mets released the following statement after he left for the Browns:
“Paul completely reorganized the Mets scouting and player development functions and had an extraordinary impact in both areas, but he was also very directly involved in our trade and free-agent acquisitions,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement, via Adam Rubin of ESPN. “His commitment to excellence and his passion for innovation will be missed by the Mets and all of baseball. I wish him well with the Browns.”
To many outside of the organization, DePodesta’s role is still really a mystery.
Most people really do not have a real understanding of how involved he is with football operations or what his influence is.
But, I found it very interesting that he was not let go as well when Sashi Brown was fired.
I also found it very interesting that it’s reported that he continues to be a part of the head coaching seach member panel.
Let’s be honest, not every report you come across will be 100% accurate.
But, there seems to be a lot of consistent smoke reported since 2016 when DePodesta arrived in Cleveland.
And as the old saying goes, usually where there is smoke, there is fire.
And if all the reports are true about what head coaching candidates DePodesta preferred, he’s not doing too bad in his recommendations.
Even though Haslam built an analytics-driven front office in 2016, he never truly committed to it.
Will this offseason be different for the Haslams in terms of what voice is most influential?
Nobody knows the answer to this question.
But one thing is for certain.
Paul DePodesta’s voice seems to be slowly getting louder.