BEREA, Ohio (AP) – One’s a Harvard educated lawyer, the other a baseball statistics guru.
Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta seem oddly misplaced in the NFL’s macho world, like a couple of high school nerds who accidentally walked into the football team’s weight room on their way to the chemistry class.
And while both have diverse and decorated backgrounds in professional sports, neither has successfully helped restore a flailing NFL franchise.
These big thinkers are now tackling a problem as complex as any logarithm – solving the Cleveland Browns.
Recently appointed as the team’s director of football operations with final say over the 53-man roster, Brown was introduced Thursday at a news conference along with DePodesta, a former baseball executive whose first passion has always been football.
The two executives, whose pairing in Cleveland prompted some of the same eye-rolling DePodesta received early in his career, didn’t make any over-the-top promises at their initial public event.
They want to change Cleveland’s culture, the way decisions are made and create a vision for the entire organization.
DePodesta, who was persuaded to leave the New York Mets by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, said “most” of his friends in baseball told him he was crazy for going to Cleveland, seen by outsiders as an NFL wasteland.
“But it’s funny, a lot of the people who know me well reached out and said they really weren’t surprised at the end of the day, just knowing my passion for football and maybe even passion for a challenge,” he said.
DePodesta wasn’t afraid of Cleveland. He got his start here as an intern with the Indians in the mid-1990s when the Browns were gone and the city rekindled its love with baseball.
Haslam hired him as his strategy director, and although his expertise lies in analyzing data, DePodesta is savvy enough to know that merely crunching numbers won’t fix the Browns.
He’s aware that his presence in Cleveland has led to speculation that he’ll be printing out graphics and complex charts for Cleveland’s coaching staff to follow on game day.
That’s not the case.
“Analytics is not sitting behind a computer and pushing ‘enter’ and having it produce an answer,” he said.
“This game is not a simulation. It’s played by real people at the end of the day and because of that there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And for us, it’s about how do we use information and data to get our arms around that uncertainty.
“We’re going to be looking at all sorts of different areas, whether it’s scouting, personnel, player development – all sorts of different things.
“But it’s not always going to be about numbers or formulas, it’s the mindset of how can we use information or is there better information out there that can help us make a better decision.”
Brown said the club is still interviewing candidates for vice president of player personnel, the team’s lead talent evaluator. Brown said that hire should happen in the next two weeks.
Brown and DePodesta’s first assignment together was to join owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam in finding a coach and the hiring of Hue Jackson, Cincinnati’s former offensive coordinator, has been universally applauded.
There are some bigger decisions in the months ahead, including the futures of quarterback Johnny Manziel, suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon and the upcoming draft.
Brown said the team will not make any rash decisions on Manziel, whose second season ended with him on shakier ground than ever.
Manziel, who was following the NFL’s protocol on concussions, skipped a scheduled medical treatment on the final day of the season amid reports he was spotted in Las Vegas.
Brown said he did not know where Manziel was on the season’s final weekend and that he was fined for missing his treatment session. As for Manziel’s future, Brown said the team will sit down with the 23-year-old “at the appropriate” time to discuss his status.
“We’re not in any panic to make any decision one way or another on him,” Brown said. “He understands what’s ahead of him and what he needs to do to have a career in this league and with the Browns.”
As for Gordon, who has applied to Commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement with the league after being suspended for multiple drug violations, Brown said the team is in a wait-and-see mode
“Could Josh come back to this roster? Yes,” Brown said. “Is that necessarily going to happen? He’s got to be cleared first by the NFL to get to that point.”
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