BEREA — Jim Schwartz knows what it feels like to help deliver a championship to a city starving for one.
The new Browns defensive coordinator would love to do it again in Cleveland.
“You want to coach where fans are passionate,” he said Wednesday at his introductory news conference. “So you embrace that part of it. And I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to the fans here to get this right and to reward them. Because I’ll forget most plays of the Super Bowl that I was in with the Eagles. But what I won’t forget is that parade afterwards, it’s indelible in my mind.
“And in my mind, there’s only one place that would outdo that parade in Philadelphia and we’re here right now.”
The Eagles won the first Super Bowl in franchise history after the 2017 season with Schwartz as defensive coordinator. The Browns are still looking for their first trip to the big game and believe adding Schwartz is another step in that direction.
“Coach Schwartz’s resume speaks for itself,” said coach Kevin Stefanski, who fired coordinator Joe Woods after the season ended Jan. 8. “He’s somebody that I have a ton of respect for. We did not know each other personally, really before this process, but we have a lot of mutual friends, and I’ve admired his career from afar.
“He has done it at a high level at multiple stops and we really believe he’s the guy to lead our defense.”
Schwartz, 56, spoke for more than 30 minutes, starting with memories of his previous stint with the Browns. He began his NFL career in 1993 as an unpaid intern working for coach Bill Belichick.
Schwartz saw a picture of former media relations director Dino Lucarelli hanging in the media room named for him and launched into a story about buying his first sofa after Lucarelli connected him with Hall of Fame receiver Dante Lavelli, who owned a furniture story. He retold the tale of taking the last of the turkey in the kitchen for a sandwich just before Belichick walked in and got mad. He mentioned keeping defensive coordinator Nick Saban’s binder from the 1992 season when Saban left it behind after becoming coach at Michigan State after the 1994 season.
He credits his career, which includes five years and a playoff trip as head coach of the Lions and 14 years as a coordinator, to his start with the Browns.
“It was just unbelievable,” Schwartz said. “I was young. I didn’t have a wife. I didn’t have a family. I lived here at the office and even though I have a degree from Georgetown, I got my Ph.D. in football-ology from the Browns and from Bill Belichick.”
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) January 18, 2023
He didn’t know Belichick would win six Super Bowls and become arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, or Saban would win seven national championships and become arguably the greatest coach in college football history.
“As long as you had a good work ethic and you were willing to learn and you could keep your mouth shut, you could learn an awful lot,” Schwartz said. “And I was pretty good at all three of those things.
“It probably took me 10 years in the NFL to become an overnight sensation, but the years that I spent here was the basis for everything that happened to me later. The building’s changed a whole lot, but I think the ghosts have all stayed here.”
Beginning in 2001 with the Titans, Schwartz had been a head coach or coordinator for all but one season (2015) before spending the last two as a senior defensive assistant with the Titans. The step back was precipitated by thyroid and vision issues that have improved.
He was a head coach with the Lions from 2009-13 and has been a coordinator with the Titans, Bills and Eagles, leading a top-10 defense at each stop.
Stefanski cited Schwartz’s experience and passion for picking him. Schwartz, who said Stefanski is in charge of picking the defensive assistants, listed owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, general manager Andrew Berry and Stefanski for attracting him. Schwartz and Berry worked together in Philadelphia in 2019.
“Knew the way he thought and how smart he was and his long-range vision,” Schwartz said. “Always had in the back of my mind that’s a guy I’d like to work with again. And that’s sort of my idea of a GM, just unflappable, the same all the time.
“And then with Kevin, really my attraction with him was we came up the same way in the NFL. He started from the bottom like I did and worked his way up incrementally over time, and I have a lot of respect for that.”
Schwartz’s answers were long and nuanced, but he got right to the point describing how he wants his defense to play.
“The thing I’ve taken the most pride from is when people say that we play fast and aggressive,” he said.
The results support the style. The Titans ranked in the top seven in total defense in 2007 and ’08, the Bills ranked fourth with 312.2 yards allowed and led the league with 54 sacks in 2014 and the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl, the defense finished fourth in yards (306.5) and points (18.4).
Strong defensive lines have been a staple no matter where Schwartz has been. He had Pro Bowlers Kevin Carter, Albert Haynesworth, Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch in Tennessee, Marcel Dareus, Mario Williams and Kyle Williams in Buffalo, Ndamukong Suh in Detroit and Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham in Philadelphia.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was picked for his fourth Pro Bowl this season and has been a two-time first-team All-Pro. He set a franchise record with 16 sacks in 2021 and tied the mark this season.
“We’ve run a very D-line-friendly scheme that eliminates a lot of conflict for those guys,” Schwartz said. “We sort of let those guys go and be disruptive. I’ve talked to a lot of offensive coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of quarterbacks over the years and the way you affect the game the most in this league is by pass rush.”
He said it’s hard to win in coverage because of the rules, number of illegal contact and pass interference penalties and the “freak shows” playing receiver.
“But you can still win one-on-one on pass rush and a devastating pass rush goes a long way,” he said. “You can create turnovers off of pass rush. So we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on pass rush.”
Garrett was among the most double-teamed edge rushers in the league all season, and Schwartz knows opponents will build their game plans in an attempt to neutralize him.
“It’s my job to give him some answers and to be able to put some pieces scheme-wise and personnel-wise around him to allow him to be free and more productive,” he said. “The bar is set really high for a good reason.”
As for the rest of the roster, which has needs at defensive tackle and end and questions at linebacker and safety, Schwartz said he’s studied it some.
“We’ll keep an open mind, we’ll keep an open slate and what we’ll do and what players will play will really be dependent on how they do in the offseason program and what they look like in OTAs and how we develop in training camp,” he said. “It’s not going to be based on what happened last year.”