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Sports

How a Numbers Guru with a Plan for a 'Shared Vision' Helped Turn Around the Browns

a photo of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and team chief strategist Paul DePodesta
Erik Drost
/
Wikimedia Commons
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam (right) hired Paul DePodesta (left) as Chief Strategy Officer in 2016 to help revive the franchise.

After decades of dysfunction, the Cleveland Browns are considered Super Bowl contenders. And there's one person at the center of the turnaround: Paul DePodesta. He's a numbers guru who owner Jimmy Haslam hired in 2016.

Terry Pluto got a chance recently to talk with DePodesta, who rarely gives interviews. DePodesta is based in San Diego with his family and comes to Cleveland regularly for meetings.

Working his way up
DePodesta started his career with the Cleveland 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. DePodesta was portrayed in the movie by actor Jonah Hill, however, unlike then-general manager Billy Beane, DePodesta did not permit the use of his name because he didn't like being portrayed as a "numbers guy in the corner," Pluto said.

At 31, DePodesta was named the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers but was fired after less than two years in 2005. It was "too much and too soon," Pluto said. He went on to work for the San Diego Padres and then spent six years as an executive with the New York Mets, helping the team make the World Series in 2015.

"I think it will help them when the hard times hit, not to fracture as they have in the past."
Terry Pluto

Coming to the Browns
In 2016, owner Jimmy Haslam was desperate for a change, following a number of on and off-the-field problems. He brought in DePodesta, who had a big learning curve.

"[DePodesta] said he had 20 years of a library in his head ... of baseball players - [He] had nothing, was at zero for football," Pluto said.

But Pluto said DePodesta, now in his fifth year in Cleveland, has built up his football library and has been in a position to help the team in drafting players and making other high-level decisions.

After quietly working the background, his role shifted to the forefront in 2019. "After [that] season, Jimmy Haslam fired yet again everybody. [He] turned over to DePoesta and said help me [find the right guys]," Pluto said.

DePodesta's "shared vision"
DePodesta's goal when he came to Cleveland was to instill a culture that's built around collaboration and fixing the longstanding divisions within the front office. However, Pluto said there was never the right people in place to be able to foster that "shared vision," as DePodesta calls it. It's a structure built around a sense that each member of the front office has input on decisions like drafting players and development.

So, after the 2019 season, Haslam fired GM John Dorsey and coach Freddie Kitchens and asked DePodesta to find the right leaders.

That led to the hiring of General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, and what followed was 2020's breakthrough season.

And Pluto says DePodesta's "shared vision" will set the team up for long-term success.

"I think it will help them when the hard times hit, not to fracture as they have in the past," Pluto said.