INDIANAPOLIS — Catherine Raiche’s year of firsts rolls on.
She’s at her first scouting combine as a member of the Browns and will be a key figure in her first free agency and draft with the organization. But after a dizzying stretch of several months, she’s found a comfort zone.
It wasn’t easy after being hired in May as assistant general manager/vice president of football operations, one spot below general manager Andrew Berry. She gave birth to her first child, son Zavier, in August and went on maternity leave.
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“I definitely do feel in a much better place and settled and having my routine and how I’m going to balance both worlds, because it is two very demanding jobs, two full-time jobs,” Raiche said Wednesday at the scouting combine in her first media interview since getting the job. “Definitely challenging early on because, just by nature, I wanted to be involved, I wanted to stay connected and I had maybe a little bit of a hard time finding that sweet spot. But as the weeks and months went on and I just have to get credit, honestly, to our ownership group and to Andrew for just being so flexible in giving me the ability to adjust it and being able to find that spot where we both felt comfortable.”
Berry was Raiche’s supervisor with the Eagles in 2019 and was blown away. When Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired away from the Browns last offseason to be general manager of the Vikings, Berry turned to Raiche.
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“Quite honestly, Catherine is one of the most talented front office executives I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Berry said Tuesday. “There’s literally nothing that she cannot do. She can evaluate, she can manage, she can lead, she’s really strong in contract management. Super smart. Super strategic.
“Honestly, I looked at it as an opportunity to add someone who I view as a rock star in the front office.”
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Raiche, 34, is from Montreal, and the Canadian and French accents come through. French is her first language, but she’s also fluent in English and Spanish.
She got her start in the sport in the Canadian Football League after practicing law. She worked in the CFL for five years, made a quick stop in the XFL, then joined the Eagles in 2019. She said she’s not looking ahead to a potential GM job, despite being the highest-ranking woman in NFL personnel departments and interviewing for the Vikings’ vacancy a year ago. The only female general manager in NFL history was Philadelphia’s Susan Tose Spencer in the 1980s, and her father, Leonard, owned the team.
“I’m excited in this role. I’m excited to be with the Browns,” Raiche said. “I learn daily, I’m eager to learn and I feel that you are never done with learning. That’s one of the things I think is very important. So I am really focused right now on helping the Browns, contributing to the success of this team and then what opportunity comes I’m excited for, too.
“And quite frankly I’ve never really thought about my next job. I’ve always focused on the one that I currently have and that’s what led me to great opportunities on and on and on throughout my career. So definitely excited for what’s up for us this season.”
#Browns assistant GM/VP of football operations Catherine Raiche meeting with media for first time. Here she discusses working with Andrew Berry for year in Philly. pic.twitter.com/auBColuizR
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) March 1, 2023
Her responsibilities and influence are vast. She was in the interviews that led to Jim Schwartz being hired as defensive coordinator and will be swamped with free agency beginning March 13 with a two-day negotiating period and the draft in April.
“I’m part of our senior group, strategy group, so really helping Andrew with doing film evaluations, both pro and college, as well as all strategic planning, player acquisitions and all the strategy that goes behind the acquisitions that we’re going to make in the offseason,” she said.
Talent evaluation is vital in her role, and Berry raved about her ability.
“I was on the road a lot scouting when I was in the CFL,” Raiche said.
Each offseason she picks a different position group and attends the installation meetings to further her understanding.
“I just listen all the way again to the fundamentals, and to me it’s important to better understand what our coaches are teaching and what we’re looking for,” she said. “So then when I do get on the road or I put the tape on, then I can know exactly what to look for and make sure that’s in line with what we’re looking for as a team.”
A more difficult first than creating salary cap space, convincing a top free agent to pick Cleveland or drafting the right receiver was leaving Zavier at home for longer than two days to attend the combine. Raiche believes she’s found the proper work-life balance.
“The thing that I’ve learned the most is how to not feel guilty having to manage both my professional and my personal life,” she said. “And I think it’s hard to manage that initially. And the reason I say this is because you want to be at work. I’m used to extremely long hours and I want to be a hundred percent at work and giving my all, but now I’m a mother as well and I want to be able to be there for my son.
“And I just don’t think as women in the industry we have to choose. I do think we should be able to do both. And when you have the right advocates around you to help you do that, which I feel so blessed and fortunate that I do have that, I think you can make it work. And I’ve heard so many young women over the years tell me, ‘Hey, whenever it’s time to have kids, I may have to step away. I don’t know if I can make this work.’ And if I can help and show that it’s possible, then to me that’s a big win.”
Zavier was born Aug. 14 in the middle of training camp, right before the joint practices with the Eagles. Raiche was on maternity leave until Week 10 but stayed connected with the team.
“I was so responsive initially still on work stuff that Andrew almost kicked me out of one of our threads to make sure I take some time,” she said. “But early on I was able to combine really both because, as you guys who have kids know, newborns sleep a lot, so I was able to continue watching our tape every week.”
She returned full time to Browns headquarters a couple of weeks before quarterback Deshaun Watson took the field after an 11-game suspension that followed more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, including assault. Raiche joined the team after the March trade for Watson but said his presence didn’t make it a difficult decision.
“It was not, and the reason is I had complete trust in the due diligence and the very thorough process knowing how Andrew operates,” she said. “I knew that anything that had gone through to get to this decision was definitely well thought out and they had left no stone unturned. And for those reasons I felt really comfortable.”
She’s made a quick impact within the Browns.
“She’s awesome. Cat is as good as I’ve been around, she’s as sharp as a tack,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “She knows every area of football, coaching, personnel, contracts, you name it, has an incredible and varied background. I spend a lot of time just sitting in her office bouncing things off of her. She’s got a very unique viewpoint. I think she’s a star.”