Paul DePodesta explains his role, plans to remain with Browns

Chief strategy officer says they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary

Daryl Ruiter
January 14, 2020 - 10:13 pm
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – If you had Paul DePodesta as the first coach or executive to receive a contract extension since the Haslams came to town in 2012 you should win a prize.

Although DePodesta’s original four-year deal is running out, he has no plans to leave any time soon.

“My feeling has been, and I talked to Jimmy [Haslam] about this, let’s get the head coach in place, let’s get the GM in place, the rest of it will work itself out,” DePodesta said. “I’m not concerned about it. I expect to be here.”

DePodesta, who joined the Browns after spending nearly 20 years in Major League Baseball, ironically got his start as an intern with the Indians back in 1996 before being promoted to advance scout and eventually a special assistant to John Hart.

He moved on to Oakland in 1999 where he teamed up with A’s GM Billy Beane and championed the use of sabermetrics that have been adopted throughout the game since.

Remember the movie “Moneyball?” DePodesta, who didn’t want his name used in the film, was famously portrayed by Jonah Hill as Peter Brand.

Everywhere DePodesta went – the A’s, Dodgers, Padres and Mets – he won but the jump to the NFL has yet to be as kind.

“I think people have a really warped view of what analytics is,” DePodesta said. “I think I may have a very different conception of what everybody else has. When I think of analytics, I just think of having sure frameworks to make decisions under uncertainty. I mean, look, everything we do in these jobs, is really built around uncertainty. What players are we going to take in the draft? What we are going to call on third-and-eight? It is all about uncertainty. So, what frameworks can you create that at least stack the odds in your favor. Give you a better chance of being successful and whether that is drafting a player, hiring a coach or calling a play. It is not necessarily about numbers and spreadsheets.”

 So, what is it exactly that DePodesta does?

“I think my role really first and foremost, is to not only help us create but also implement that shared vision and then ultimately make sure that we stick to it, really relentlessly and that is really my role,” DePodesta said, joking that his kids ask him that same question. “I look at all the processes that are within a football operation. Whether that, again, whether that is hiring someone, whether that is how we do scouting; whether it is how we look at things with numbers. I sort of dig into all those processes and make sure that they align with our vision and that we all as a group continue to stay aligned and be on the same page.”

Those concerned that DePodesta has eyes on taking over the entire football operation can breathe easier.  

“I am not going to pick the players but I am going to try to make sure the players we do pick, again, align with our vision of what we believe is a winning franchise,” DePodesta said. “My charge is not to watch tape and say, ‘Oh man, this guy has got real good feet.’ We have got scouts that are way better and way more qualified to do that than I am to do that. But when we come down to make a selection, it is my role to say, ‘Okay, are we doing, are we making a decision that actually aligns with our way and that makes sense?’”

The other concern is DePodesta commutes from California and is not in the office full time, yet he wields tremendous influence with owner Jimmy Haslam.

“I think my wife and kids would take issue with that characterization,” DePodesta said. “Look, I have been here every week since the beginning of training camp.”

DePodesta explained why he hasn’t moved his family to Cleveland.

“We have a large extended family in San Diego that is incredibly helpful and incredibly supportive,” DePodesta said. “These jobs, this industry is tough and we decided that at that time, that we wanted our kids to be able to grow up in that environment. If it meant that I would have to take on the burden of travel to do my job, then that is what I was going to do. This was before I even went to the New York Mets and that is the way I did that job for five years and now I have continued on with Cleveland.

“Look, I do not think...It has not been an issue. Like I said, I am here every single week and we get our work done.”

Haslam agrees.

“Paul is a very smart guy and the fact that he is not there every day, I do not think makes a huge difference,” Haslam said. “He is there more days than he is not. He is a great contributor, his role will remain the same and Paul is going to do everything he can to make the head coach and the general manager, once we select that person, successful.”

The Browns have continued to lose – the meter is running strong at 12 consecutive losing seasons and 17 years without a playoff berth – despite DePodesta’s best efforts to cultivate data that could give the them an advantage.

“When I first got here in the beginning of 2016, look, I did not know the NFL at all,” DePodesta said. “I should not have had a strong voice in anything that was going on. I was trying to learn and absorb as much as I possibly could and as the years have gone on, not only me, but I think a bunch if people in the football operations have just tried to figure out any way they could help, any way they could help the team be successful, and I think that is still our mindset going forward.

“Hopefully, I can contribute more today than I could a year ago, certainly more than I could four years ago. Look, I am far away from having all of the answers, and I think all of us in the building, we do not have all of the answers. I have said this before, the people who work in research, etc., we are probably some of the most uncertain people in the building. I mean, again, that is kind of the foundation of what we do. We are trying to figure out probabilities of different things that might happen or create processes that might stack the odds in our favor.”

This was DePodesta’s third coaching search, but the first in which his choice got the job. He hopes it will be his last for a very long time.

“I am a big believer that there is a real cost to change,” DePodesta said. “Forget about financial cost, there is a cost to turnover. They talked about it in there, the different coordinators that people have had to go through, the different people in the building, the different philosophies, different schemes. There is. There is a real cost to that. We have to get this right.”

DePodesta, who lead this latest search, believes they got this one right with Kevin Stefanski while recognizing that belief also rings hallow in Cleveland where this is hire No. 5 for Jimmy and Dee Haslam since January 2013.

“I think we feel we ran very thorough and deliberate process this time. We feel great about the result,” DePodesta said. “At the same time, I do not think that is going to give anybody any comfort, right? We need to go out and win. We need to go win football games. I do not think there is anything I can say today to convince people that, hey, we got the right answer. I think Kevin did a great job and I think his work will speak for itself. But ultimately, the proof is going to be in how we go and play.”