The re-emergence of “Moneyball” on cable TV has been timely for Browns fans. Not only does it provide insight into chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta — the Peter Brand character played by Jonah Hill is based on him — it’s a lesson in what can happen when a front office and coaching staff aren’t on the same page.
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) wants Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) to play first base, but manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) refuses. Beane finally settles the recurring argument by trading Carlos Pena (Gerardo Celasco) and leaving Hatteberg as the only option for Howe.
While analytics will likely never have the same relevance in the NFL as in Major League Baseball, the Beane-Howe dynamic crosses over. More than once since the Haslams bought the Browns, the organization has been done in by battles between the coaching and personnel staffs. In 2019, the rift came between the personnel and analytics departments.
Jimmy Haslam was determined to eliminate the potential for dysfunction with his latest organizational realignment. The new hires — executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski — stressed how in sync they are Wednesday when Berry was introduced at a news conference.
“One of the major attractions to returning to Cleveland for me is the opportunity to partner with Kevin Stefanski,” Berry said. “I can assure everybody in this room that outside of Kevin’s wife, Michelle, there is no bigger believer and supporter of Kevin than me.
“Kevin and I have a shared vision regarding football philosophy, culture and servant leadership that we think will lead towards success, and that forms the core basis for my excitement for what I know will be a deeper partnership over the next several years.”
Berry was part of the Browns’ search committee that interviewed Stefanski after the 2018 season. He finished runner-up to Freddie Kitchens, who was fired after going 6-10 in his lone season.
Berry, 32, said he and Stefanski, 37, maintained a friendship after the interviews. After Stefanski was hired Jan. 13, he joined the search committee for a general manager.
Stefanski spent 13 of his 14 years with the Minnesota Vikings with assistant GM George Paton, who interviewed twice for Cleveland’s GM job. It was assumed they’d make the most unified pair given their long history, but Paton withdrew from consideration. Berry agreed to come aboard three days later.
“George is a great friend of mine, but I can’t say that would have made us more aligned in all football decisions,” Stefanski said. “As it pertains to Andrew, he knows how I think and we talked about it. It is not just we are just hoping we are on the same page. We talked about everything under the sun in the last two weeks, our football philosophy, the way we are going to acquire players and just the specifics about how we are going to do all that.
“We have worked through all that, and I can promise you that that partnership is very important.”
DePodesta is the third part of the triumvirate under the Haslams and was highly influential in the hiring of Stefanski and Berry. He and Berry went to Harvard University, while Stefanski went to the University of Pennsylvania.
“Paul is incredibly intelligent, he has a wealth of executive experience, he is a great strategic and thought partner and most importantly, high integrity and a great guy,” Berry said. “Listen, you can never have enough great people in your organization and you can never have enough great people in your football operation, and I know that I have two of the best working with me today.”
The brass spent Monday and Tuesday off site bonding and planning.
“Like I have said numerous times and you all probably get tired of me saying it, just the way this group will work together, it will be distinctly different than before,” Jimmy Haslam said. “A high degree of confidence.
“I just think you have really smart people with low egos who continually want to learn and get better, do not care who gets the credit and it is all about winning. I can’t say it any more basic than that.”
Berry has the reputation of getting along with everyone. He’s already worked for three organizations (Colts, Eagles) and earned rave reviews at each stop, and former Browns GM John Dorsey kept him in 2018 despite inheriting him from Sashi Brown.
“I hope to prove myself as a living mosaic of the characteristics and skill sets of those five executives,” Berry said of the GMs he’s worked under.
An area that will be instrumental to staying aligned is talent acquisition. Berry has control of the 53-man roster but promises to make decisions through a collaborative process. Stefanski made it clear he’ll have a voice.
“Andrew is the general manager and I am the head coach, but I can promise you in decisions as it pertains to personnel, I will be involved,” he said. “We have had a dialogue already about that. We have to make sure that we listen to the right people, but it is going to be Andrew and I, along with a bunch of really good people in this building, making those decisions.”
Berry promises a shared vision. While many on the outside focus on the renewed commitment to analytics, he’s concentrating first on building the roster so it fits with Stefanski’s schemes and plans. That shouldn’t be hard because they say they believe in the same things.
“Look, success is never guaranteed, but what I can say is we are going to work together, we are going to work hard and we are going to work collaboratively across football operations and our coaching staff as we strive to turn this thing around and develop sustained success,” Berry said.