DePodesta says he’s heard other team officials mock him, Browns

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New Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta is new to the NFL. He’s a former Major League Baseball general manager who also played a role in making the “Moneyball” approach popular with the Oakland A’s, and in his lone public appearance since joining the Browns he talked a lot about things like processes and shared vision.

If it seems like a stretch to think the Browns can turn things around with analytics driving those processes and a bunch of Harvard guys in brand new roles, you’re not alone. While leaving last month’s NFL Scouting Combine DePodesta said he heard officials from other teams mocking him, not knowing he was standing near them at the Indianapolis Airport.

“I was standing right in front of them in line and I could hear them in back of me and they were talking trash about me and the Cleveland Browns,” DePodesta said last week at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “I said, ‘All right, this is like 17 years ago in Oakland all over again.’ That’s part of the fun.”

In a feature story posted by Baseball America on Monday, DePodesta opened up about some of the issues he’s faced in his first 10 weeks in his new job.

“In baseball, I had a 20-year library of players and transactions and all that sort of thing that I don’t have right now, very admittedly,” he said. “As we were going through free agency this week, I was talking to some of the guys in the room and I was asking a lot of questions, but I said, I literally am not trying to lead the witness here, I truly don’t know and don’t have an opinion one way or the other. So that’s a real challenge for me, and just trying to take our mindset and bring it into football and create processes and systems around that is challenging.

“As an organization though, and probably even more importantly, we have big challenges in front of us. We have a super competitive league, we haven’t been very successful on the field and we have a big mountain to climb, but I think we have the right team of people in place to do it.”

The Browns chose to not be active in the first wave of free agency. Three offensive starters left for other teams on the first day the market opened, and by the weekend the Browns had lost five players to other teams and signed linebacker Justin Tuggle and offensive lineman Alvin Bailey, both of whom are young players who mostly have been backups.

Only time will tell whether the Browns are following some sort of analytics-driven plan or just didn’t mind seeing a bunch of guys from a 3-13 team in 2015 take significant money from other teams. In the Baseball America article, DePodesta said he learned from his time in baseball that the only way whatever new approaches the Browns will work is to have the vision and patience to stick with them.

“A lot of (baseball) owners would say, ‘Hey, we want ‘Moneyball,’ we want this disciplined approach to what we’re doing,” he said. “But then when it comes time to making that hard decision, they say, ‘I don’t want any part of this.’ I said, ‘I need someone who’s going to want to get on the roller coaster with me knowing that it’s not always going to be fun. There are going to be parts of the roller coaster that are going to be scary, that are going to be uncomfortable, but hopefully at the end of the ride when we get off, you’re going to want to say, let’s do that again.’

“I think that’s how we always got through it, was having that shared vision from the beginning and giving you the conviction to actually go through with it.”

53 responses to “DePodesta says he’s heard other team officials mock him, Browns

  1. I were Paul, I would’ve called the team/person out… embarrassed them completely.

  2. Welcome to the NFL…. I would love to know who “they” were… There can only be one winner and 31 losers…Cleveland much like 10 others are perennial losers… Put up or shut up

  3. DePodesta played both Division I football and baseball in college. I bet very few posters here played any level of even one college sport, let alone 2 like DePodesta.

    I bet many of the guys at the scouting combine cracking on DePodesta didn’t play any level of college football (many scouts and front office personnel in the NFL didn’t even play college football).

    This doesn’t mean that you need college football playing experience to be a good NFL coach or front office executive. But it does show that DePodesta understands what it is like to play football on TV.

    There are 7 active Harvard football players in the NFL. It’s a very real football program. Several current NFL coaches were assistant coaches at Harvard.

  4. Sure thing, baseball man. You’ve got 3 teams in your division capable of making a run at the conference (I’m aware of Baltimore’s record, they’re still a tough team to beat). two of them have won Super Bowls this century. They sure as hell didn’t pull it off by talking about it (maybe Baltimore did a little).

    Win a game of consequence and then come back and tell us all how dumb we are.

  5. Until the Browns win deal with it idiot Browns fans and your persecution complex.

    I love the idiot Browns fans that go the media always bashes the Browns, there are no positive articles.

    Whats there to be positive about Clown Fans? Nothing thats what.

    To mock the Browns is fair game. Its easy to do. To mock him personally, is a little below the belt.

    Now to mock Sashi Brown is totally acceptable considering hes in charge of the 53 man roster and has no clue about football or how to build a roster

  6. Big difference between MLB and NFL. MLB has a multi-level, minor league system. That makes money ball more feasible because there is always a steady supply of replacements. And a place to groom those replacements. Not so with the NFL. Be it in the office or on the field, produce or be rid of ye.

  7. I’m not a Browns fan, but I really want this to work. Football teams are, by and large, run by a bunch of neanderthals. Super resistant to any type of change, and quick to mock anyone who does try to change anything.

    The funny thing is, moneyball in the NFL is not a new concept. There is a team in the league that has been practicing a version of it for well over a decade. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. In the last 15 years they’ve played in 6 Super Bowls, won 4 and made the conference championship 4 other times.

  8. Love the DePodesta hiring. It makes all the noise makers at ESPN (aka failed front office/scouts) unhappy. Cleveland hired how many “football people” over the last 17 years? Guess what? They’ve all failed! Give this guy a shot.

  9. Except that all those nay-sayers were right. As a life long A’s fan I can say Moneyball doesnt work in the playoffs. The law of averages plays out over 162 games.. But in 5 and 7 game series they do not because the sample size is too small. Billy Beane is 1-8 in the first round of the playoffs and has never been to a World Series in gis 18 years of beung a GM. Teams with top 10 payrolls have won every World Series this millennium. (even KC, look it up).

  10. I think the Browns are doing ok this FA period. The trick is to not sign any free agents at all, and let those free agents leaving turn into compensatory picks next year, and they’ll be ahead of the game.

  11. The “moneyball” teams in the NFL right now are the Ravens and Packers. They have been doing well using comp picks for a long time, and not signing other free agents, except their own.

  12. So, with Moneyball, how many World Series did the A’s win?

    It is easier to use analytics in baseball, since it is a sport of one vs one (pitcher vs batter). Also, it is a counting stat sport.

    Football, not so much. it is 22 men on the field, each doing many specific tasks to make the play happen.

  13. The Oakland A’s last won a World Series in 1989….well before “Moneyball” days! The Browns fan base should be up in arms as the lack of continuity and vision will keep this organization in the basement. (But the rest of the league appreciates you not keeping your own talent in-house)

  14. He definitely sounds like an intelligent person. And most intelligent people can be pretty successful in whatever they do, especially the ones who are willing to admit what they don’t know and rely on others, and it sounds like he has that down as well. It will be interesting to see what happens; I personally feel that if they give him the time to rebuild like the Raiders have been doing with Mckenzie then he can be successful. But based on how the Browns have handled things over the past few years, I’m not sure if he’ll get that time.

  15. You really do not qualify for your position.Get use to it. If you have success then good. If not…a lot of people will lose a lot of face in the Cleveland Browns org…including the owner. Good luck to all of you guys.

  16. Maybe he convinced the owner it will take a clean slate to start winning in Cleveland. A process that consists of high draft picks and trade downs to accumulate more picks, and compensation picks gained through the loss of players in free agency. Why should the Browns keep their starters who are free agents? They’re picking 2nd overall for gods sake!

  17. Baseball is far, far, far more ‘statistic’ enabled. You can tell the type of pitches a certain batter likes, how they bat against left, righthanders, and more and more.

    Football…except the QB… not so much. Good Luck, you’re going to need it.

    As for Alvin Bailey leaving the Seahawks for the Browns… why in the name of Vince Lombardi would you do that? You’ve been in the league 3 years and have three playoff appearances and a ring… you’ll never see another.

  18. It is kind of ironic to watch the old school/oldboy club conservative NFL types(& fans) making fun of anyone when they think the underwear Olympics and asking combine recruits dumb and civil liberty/legally challenged questions actually works to some rational end. Given the draft bust list in every given year is probably over 50% these guys are just above the scientific and statistical level of just plain guessing instead of having any kind of logical system. The baseball and Harvard guys probably couldn’t do worse than the “pros” in places like the Washington with RG3 with all the picks they gave up with nothing to show,Ravens who haven’t had a good draft in 5 years much like the Raiders and Bears.

  19. If you are working with the Cleveland Browns and you can’t stand a lot of criticism, you are working for the wrong team. Face it, the Browns have been bad for a long time. They have made so many questionable deals and draft picks that you could write a book entitled, “Things not to do with an NFL team”. Until proven otherwise, this latest philosophy will be criticized – maybe even ridiculed – until it produces. Get over it or get out of town because there will be a lot of it.

  20. “You’ve got 3 teams in the division capable of taking a run at the conference”. Talk about delusion. The Ravens had one improbable run 4 years ago and haven’t even made the playoffs in 2 of the last 3 years. The steelers DID actually manage to make the playoffs, finally this year I guess. And did the have color television the last time the bengals won a playoff game? The days when the afc north was a strong division are long over and then they have the Browns who ARE the laughingstock of the nfl along with the Cowboys. Complete delusion

  21. I’m not going to say that an analytics based approach won’t work in the NFL but it would definitely be a lot harder. Football and baseball are too very different sports. Baseball is statistics driven with things like era, on base percentage and batting average. In baseball when you step up to the plate you are most likely going to fail. If you hit the ball 3 out of 10 times you are a star. In the NFL if you complete a pass, catch the ball at a 30% catch rate or run for 3 yards a carry you won’t last long and your team will not win.

  22. Past management made mistakes that resulted in 5 starters being free agents this year. Why were they not locked up for longer a year ago?

    Those spending all their cap space now will find they don’t have room to renegotiate their talented players contracts in advance.

  23. If it stops them from the Tim Couch thing, and keeps them from overpaying bumms. Lets try it. I mean it cant get any worse. Everyone knows in football the sleeper guys win the dang game.Look at Elderman. I just want a team that shows up. Dosent lay down…. or loses with 3 sec to go.

  24. Not spending a bunch of money in free agency is the first smart thing the Browns have done in years.

  25. There are two ways to build a successful team in the NFL. DePodesta seems to be taking the first.
    1. Calmly by analyzing what is available, not overspending on the current shiny object. Have a vision with a plan and stick to it. Take the good with the bad and adjust the plan accordingly.
    2. Get a few illicit films, a little air out of the balls, pay your QB a bunch under the table, get your fans to blindly believe everything you put out to the media.

  26. You people calling for him to call out those that mocked him, aren’t as smart as he is.

    It wouldn’t go over very well if you call them out, and then you fall flat on your face… Just saying. Sometimes it is better to just remain silent. He knows who they were, and I’m sure he isn’t going to forget.

  27. Well, we certainly have tried to make the big splash in free agency in the past and that has only led to failure and disappointment. When you look at teams that spend the most in free agency, you’re looking at teams with the lowest winning percentage over the last 10 years.

    There is also an argument to not spending money on key cogs on a team that went 3-13 last year. What exactly are we keeping? There’s also the argument to be made that you don’t get any better by letting the good players you have developed leave in free agency.

    The fact is I’m a Browns fan. I love my team and will root for them and watch them regardless of how they perform. This is an outside the box type of structure and philosophy they have. Will it work? Probably not, but if it does the Browns will be at the forefront of the NFL. Can’t remember that being said since Otto Graham and Paul Brown.

  28. What compensatory picks will the Browns get for the guys who have walked? The Ravens regularly clean up through that process, and some of the best teams in the league generally aren’t active in free agency (pats, steelers, packers). Sounds a lot like what he thinks discipline is.

    Doesn’t seem like a horrendous strategy/theory…execution may be another story.

  29. How can anyone NOT mock this franchise?

    The owner is possibly a criminal facing real prison time.
    The quarterback is an alcoholic frat party boy.
    The top wide receiver is coming off a year long suspension.
    They allowed their best offensive lineman to get away while preparing to draft their next rookie franchise quarterback. (Poor Kid)
    And they willingly switched to some of the ugliest uniforms in the history of the NFL.

    Browns fans deserve far better. It’s unfortunate they keep receiving worse and worse.

  30. What I am hearing is “guys, I know we are gonna suck something awful this year BUT we didn’t want to overpay for the guys we lost this year and hurt ourselves for the future. The pain we will feel this year will be made up for in the future.”

    He isn’t wrong but #1 the fans have witnessed that team sucking for years and changing philosophies almost yearly, what makes you think they should give patience? #2 it is highly likely that the Browns have any sort of analytical system already in place, it takes serious time to build such a system and get your scouts to properly use it. The likelihood is that its 4 yrs or more to even respectability. Pretty tough sell, especially since if history is an indicator you won’t be around in 2 years.

  31. Bill Belechick didn’t play football above high school. But, he is so engrossed and involved in the finite intricacies of the NFL and football in general, that he’s been wildly successful. You can say what you want about the cheating rumors and the inflated (or not) balls, but knowing and intimately understanding the rules, where the edges are, and how to use them to win is knowledge that 99% of the rest of the NFL either does not have or simply does not understand. If DePodesta can actually bring some of that to the Cleveland Browns, then I’m all for it. The hard part to all this is it’s probably gonna take another 2-3 years to see if any of his tactics are successful; and given the past 16 years of abject futility, this losing stuff is getting really, really old.

  32. It will be interesting to see how a franchise like Cleveland will be able to change with a new way of doing things. I’m not sure if the important part of it is sticking to the analytics, or if the important part is just staying with SOME plan for more than two seasons.

    A constantly churning roster, front office, and coaching staff leads to a hodge podge roster and a lack of clear vision. If Haslam is serious about fielding a competitive team he’s going to have to find a plan and stick with it long enough to see something happen. You aren’t winning a Super Bowl first year in.

  33. Mocking the Browns? That shouldn’t be unexpected. I think even the most fervent Browns fan wouldn’t be shocked.

    Mocking DePodesta? Well – how about we see what he can do before passing judgment. Who knows – he might help make the Browns respectable in a couple of years.

    The real question – as steelerben said above – is does Haslam have the patience to give DePodesta a real shot at making his system work.

  34. All I know is leadership and brains aren’t a bad thing. Let these guys settle in a bit. I actually think it’s going to work out well. I also hate when people talk about “analytics” like it’s some type of witchcraft. We all us analytics each day. It’s taking in as much information possible to make – or confirm – a decision we need to make. I’m so annoyed by how backwards thinking people are. Watch the Paul Brown special on NFL Network – he used analytics. Bill Walsh had all the opponents plays and tendencies on a computer in the 1980’s. In any sport and anything there are trends and tendencies in what has happened. Why not learn from them and use that to validate a decision?

  35. The only way to change the perception is to just win. So just win. The Cleveland fans deserve it.

  36. And how many championships have the A’s won? Let’s not forget the Oakland the owner is cheap doesn’t care about winning. He collects the shared revenue and get’s on with his day. I know the Browns owner needs to save his money to buy his way out of prison and being cheap in the NFL doesn’t work the same like it does in baseball.

  37. I would love to see the analytics that resulted in letting 4 starters, including two pro bowlers, leave a 3-13 team. Mack took less money to leave. What does that tell ya?
    those guys in line at the airport were season ticket holders, not other GMs

  38. With the recent offer by the Browns of a 3rd round pick (a high 3rd) for Crapperneck, vs the Broncos offer of a 4th round pick (a low 4th), tells me all I want to know about “analytics” vs “experience” in football management.

    Same old Browns.

  39. The Broncos have also offered a 3rd round pick (according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee). Either deal hinges on the rework of Kaepernick’s contract, and Kaepernick doesn’t want to give up as much money to come to the Browns because he’s pretty sure they are going to use their #2 pick on Wentz or Goff.

  40. Deserved to be mocked for putting together a crap team year after year and bringing misery to your loyal fans year after year.

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