The AJ McCarron trade debacle has laid bare the plain fact that Browns coach Hue Jackson and the people who run Cleveland’s front office are not a good fit. But that should have been clear long ago.
In fact, it was clear to many people outside the Browns’ facility. It just wasn’t clear to the Browns.
When Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam fired coach Mike Pettine and General Manager Ray Farmer after the 2015 season, they quickly moved on to make a radical overhaul of their approach to building a team. That overhaul was exemplified by the hiring of Paul DePodesta, a baseball analytics expert who was one of the central figures in Moneyball. The Haslams were clear: They were going to go all-in on the Moneyball approach, to a greater extent than any NFL team had done before.
And then they proceeded to pair the Moneyball front office with Jackson, who doesn’t have an analytics background and doesn’t seem to believe in that approach. Saying they’re not a good fit isn’t 20/20 hindsight; we’ve been saying it since before Jackson ever coached a game in Cleveland, and an April 2016 ESPN the Magazine profile of DePodesta made it clear. That profile portrayed Jackson and his coaching staff as not only uninterested in analytics, but actively hostile toward the analytics people in the front office.
“It’s not just Hue Jackson,” an NFL executive quoted in that profile said. “When data overrides gut, the majority of his coaching staff will all be there screaming, ‘What the f— are these computer guys doing? They don’t understand football, they don’t understand the locker room. They’re killing us.'”
If the Browns wanted to rebuild their team using some of the same analytics tools that baseball and basketball teams have successfully used, they should have hired a coach who’s on board with that approach. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, for instance, has an economics degree from Georgetown, and has an appreciation for analytics. Would Schwartz have succeeded as the head coach in Cleveland? Who knows? But he at least would have been on the same page as the front office.
Jackson is not on the same page as the front office. The Browns may realize that now, after the current regime has lost 23 of 24 games. It shouldn’t have taken so long.