Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is continuing his unconventional approach to reorganizing the team.
After promoting Harvard-grad analytics expert Sashi Brown to the head of football operations, Haslam has hired another numbers guru to be his chief strategy officer. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto likes the move:
Paul DePodesta has spent his career in Major League Baseball – beginning with the Indians as a front office assistant in 1996. He went on to work for the Oakland Athletics where his stat-based approach to analyzing talent was depicted in the book and movie Moneyball. At 31, he was named the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but was fired after less than two years in 2005. He went on to work for the San Diego Padres and for the past six years, he's been an executive with the New York Mets.
Strength in the numbers
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says one of DePodesta’s strengths is player development and scouting, which the Browns desperately need. "He's not the scout that was on every dusty diamond, looking at every peach-fuzzed face kid, kicking a rubber. His job was to bring all the research together and then figure out which guys work. Baseball's been doing this stuff for years."
DePodesta, as vice president of player development and amateur scouting, helped the Mets become National League champions last season. And Pluto says that credit goes to DePodesta. "You know why the Mets have been good? Because they have drafted well. Most of their good players have come from their farm system. The Browns' last five drafts -- there's 32 teams -- they're either ranked 30th or 31st. Really what the Browns see is that he is a systems guy."
Training and conditioning
DePodesta also has a background in sports-science. In December, he joined the Scripps Translational Science Institute, where his task was to be using his data-deciphering skills in the medical industry. Pluto says that will be another asset. "The Browns led the league with 15 concussions. They want to look at their whole weight training and that whole department."
Addressing off-the-field issues
Pluto says DePodesta's other role will be in player engagement. His job will be to help the players with their problems off the field. "Here's the idea. On the analytics side, you sort through these guys, so you have not as many problems to begin with."
He adds off-the-field issues have loomed large for the Browns. "You got Johnny Manziel running around, causing all kinds of problems. The latest is a weekend at Vegas when he's supposed to be in Cleveland having his concussion treated. Justin Gilbert, [was] also a No. 1 pick in 2014 just like Johnny Manziel. [He's been] sleeping through meetings, that stuff. Their two No. 1 picks had attitude problems and personality problems that were either ignored or missed in the 2014 draft."
Mixing business and football
Pluto says he can warm up to the idea of having executives from the business side of football taking a more active role in player issues. "If they're not micro-managing; if they're doing big picture things, getting this thing organized, I'm all for it. Fans can say, 'What are they doing with this baseball guy,' this or that. I think DePodesta is smart enough to make this work. I think Jimmy Haslam's at the point now where he has to step out of the box."
Will it work?
"I don't know... If you've watched the Browns, the temptation is to say nothing will work," Pluto says. "But it's not the same old stuff. This guy is a really bright guy. I find it hard to believe he would come to the Browns unless he thought he had a chance to succeed. They're paying this guy a lot of money. I don't know what [the salary] is, but he was in line to become the next manager of the New York Mets."
The Browns are now interviewing coaching candidates and then they will hire a general manager.
"I'm fascinated to see how it's going to work out," Pluto concludes. "I'm intrigued."