BEREA — Bill Belichick was the last Browns coach to win a playoff game, following the 1994 season. Romeo Crennel was the most recent to survive four seasons, and he was fired after 2008. Eight coaches have tried and failed, mostly miserably, since the franchise returned in 1999.
General manager John Dorsey is in charge of finding No. 9 after Hue Jackson was fired Oct. 29. The search is underway, and “one of the most important decisions” he’ll make consumes Dorsey on his commute home in his big SUV.
“I think about that every day driving home and just make sure you don’t mess it up,” he said Wednesday during a bye week news conference. “That’s what I keep telling myself: Just don’t mess this thing up.”
The list of potential candidates is long and includes Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Dave Toub, Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell, Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.
Dorsey said Gregg Williams, who’s 1-1 as interim coach, will also get an interview.
“I think he deserves that,” Dorsey said.
He believes people will be lined up to coach the Browns, despite the constant turnover, lack of a winning season since 2007 and 15-year playoff drought.
He cited the devoted fan base, young talent on the roster, his ability to identify and acquire more talent, loads of salary cap space, 11 draft picks in 2019, the support staff, ownership and its willingness to invest in the organization.
“I’m going to tell you what, I really think this job is very attractive,” Dorsey said. “Those are exciting things for this organization moving forward and anybody, once they understand that, you’ll see, ‘You know what, Cleveland is a good place to be.’”
Dorsey wouldn’t reveal many details of the search, saying he’ll follow the formula he used when he had the No. 1 pick in the draft in April and surprised many by selecting quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not going to say very much because the importance of this selection, who that person will be,” said Dorsey, who was hired in December to replace Sashi Brown, who was fired after less than two years leading the football operations.
Dorsey said he and senior management met over the last 10 days to begin the process. He wouldn’t divulge who’s included in senior management but said the group will be kept “tight.” Assistant GM Eliot Wolf, vice presidents of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith and Andrew Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta are on the short list of possible members.
In a departure from the search that netted Jackson, an outside firm won’t be used to identify candidates.
“We don’t need that,” Dorsey said. “We’ll be prepared and we’ll get the best coach possible for this organization.”
He wanted to keep the focus on the final six games, but the next coach will have a much greater impact on the future of the franchise.
As director of college scouting, Dorsey was a part of the Packers search that landed current coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, but he’s never been tasked with leading the process and making the decision.
He said the process will be collaborative and include owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam. Dorsey knows what he’s looking for in the “right coach.”
“For me personally, I would like to see a man of character,” he said. “I would like to see a man who can lead young men. I would like a man who has high football acumen. Those are the three basic things there I’m looking for.”
Dorsey walked into an organization that’s been repeatedly sabotaged by dysfunction. Jimmy Haslam cited “internal discord” for the firings of Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, even when Jackson’s historically awful 3-36-1 record would’ve sufficed as the reason.
For far too long and stretching over a number of regimes and personalities, the front offices and coaching staffs haven’t meshed, leading to toxic environments and power struggles. Dorsey said he’ll use the interview process, which won’t get humming until the season ends Dec. 30, to identify whether a coaching candidate will be able to fit in and get along.
“Do they align within the organizational tenets of what you’re looking for?” Dorsey said. “As you go through the interview process, you’ll be able to see what really is in his soul and in his fiber, how deep of a knowledge does he have, what type of people does he surround himself with.
“I’ve been in the league a lot of years and I’ll know a majority of the coaches.”
Dorsey wouldn’t answer when asked if he preferred someone with NFL experience over a college coach. He said whether someone can make that jump successfully is on a “case-by-case basis.”
Former Cardinals coach and Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, 66, recently told The Canton Repository the Cleveland job is the only one he’d consider coming out of retirement for.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Arians,” Dorsey said. “Right now we’re in the process of beginning to finalize our plan. When it comes the appropriate tine, if he happens to be one of the people, you’ll find out.”
Dorsey didn’t want to put qualifiers on potential candidates, including whether he has to be a good fit for Mayfield.
“I just want the best possible head coach to move this thing forward regardless of age,” he said. “It could be a woman. I’m serious. We’re going to look at everything.”