BEREA — The Sashi Brown experiment lasted less than two years.
Brown was fired Thursday morning from his role as executive vice president of football operations, the team announced.
Owner Jimmy Haslam said coach Hue Jackson will return for 2018.
Jackson won the power struggle between the front office and coaching staff that had grown tenser over their two years together, with Haslam deciding the upgrade was needed in the talent-evaluation department.
“Hue Jackson will remain our coach and will return for the 2018 season but we feel it is necessary to take significant steps to strengthen our personnel department,” Haslam said in the news release announcing Brown’s firing. “We have great appreciation and gratitude for Sashi’s commitment and leadership to our organization but believe transitioning to someone with strong experience and success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams is critical to the future of the Cleveland Browns.”
The timing, with four games left as the Browns try to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16, allows owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam to interview candidates not employed and hire one if desired.
NFL Network reported a search firm has been vetting former Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey for a month, and interviews could begin as early as this week, according to ESPN.
“We have begun the process of having productive conversations regarding leadership of our football operations and will provide further updates when appropriate,” said Jimmy Haslam, who wasn’t scheduled to meet with reporters Thursday.
Brown, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was originally hired as executive vice president/general counsel Jan. 16, 2013. He was promoted to executive vice president of football operations on Jan. 3, 2016, despite no football background.
He implemented a unique and long-term rebuilding plan with a heavy reliance on analytics.
He let quality starters leave in free agency, repeatedly traded down in the draft to acquire more pick, made 24 in his two drafts and handed Jackson the youngest roster in the league this season.
Brown missed on more draft picks than he hit, and the Browns were 0-12 this year and 1-27 under his watch — the worst stretch in NFL history.
The Haslams decided status quo was unacceptable, especially with the deteriorated relationship between Brown and Jackson.
“I want this to be real and clear, the way I know Cleveland and Browns fans can appreciate: Our win-loss record since I became executive vice president isn’t going to cut it,” Brown said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “We worked hard. I am so grateful to the people I worked with throughout my four-plus years with the Browns, particularly the people I worked with the past two years. We embarked on a mission to rebuild the Browns for long-term, sustainable success. We were committed and aggressive in our approach, even if unorthodox at times. We made dramatic changes and put in place a foundation on which championships can be built.
“Obviously, the Browns have not yet achieved the turnaround we wanted for a franchise and the best fans in the NFL, who deserve it more than any other in sports. I know that turnaround is coming. I thank Dee and Jimmy and the rest of the Haslam family for taking a chance on me. And when that turnaround happens, wherever I am, I will smile — more than a little bittersweetly — and say, to myself, ‘Go Browns!’”
The Haslams took over ownership of the team during the 2012 season. In a little more than five years, they’ve fired four heads of the football department and three coaches.
They were on board with the unusual rebuilding plan laid out by Brown when he replaced fired general manager Ray Farmer but didn’t trust him to lead a third offseason.
“The 2018 draft and offseason is pivotal for our franchise, we need to ensure that we maximize our opportunity for success; with our picks, free agency and building our roster,” Jimmy Haslam said.
The Browns have 13 draft picks in 2018, including five in the first two rounds — likely No. 1 and another in the top 10. They could also have nearly $100 million in salary cap space.
Three events in two years likely sealed Brown’s fate.
His first big move as head of the football department was trading the No. 2 pick in 2016. The Browns received three extra picks, including first- and second-rounders, and Philadelphia used the No. 2 selection to draft quarterback Carson Wentz, who’s already a leading MVP candidate.
In April, Brown traded the No. 12 pick to Houston, which drafted quarterback Deshaun Watson, who set several records before suffering a knee injury. The Browns received a first-round pick in 2018 to move down 13 spots.
Meanwhile, the Browns haven’t identified their quarterback of the future and started five in the last two seasons.
The final straw could have been Brown’s failure to execute a Halloween trade-deadline deal after agreeing to acquire Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron. The proper paperwork wasn’t filed to the league office in time.