Last year, when Browns General Manager Sashi Brown was fired and replaced by John Dorsey, it appeared to be the end of the analytics era in Cleveland. Dorsey blasted the previous regime as not knowing how to find real football players, and it seemed that an old-school approach to building a team was coming back.
But the real analytics expert in Cleveland was Paul DePodesta, not Sashi Brown. And a year later, DePodesta is still in Cleveland, and still powerful enough that he may play a big role in hiring the Browns’ next head coach.
Although DePodesta has kept a low profile in Cleveland, eschewing media appearances and staying quiet, he’s still the team’s Chief Strategy Officer and is considered the No. 5 person on the organizational flow chart, behind only owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Executive Vice President JW Johnson and Dorsey. DePodesta reports directly to the Haslams, not to Dorsey, and from all indications the ownership still believes DePodesta is a smart guy who understands how to build a successful franchise.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo reports that DePodesta is more influential than people outside the organization realize, and Robinson suggests that it was actually DePodesta, not Dorsey, who backed Gregg Williams to become the interim head coach when Hue Jackson was fired. That would make sense, as Williams — despite his Bountygate reputation as a hard-nosed, old-school football coach — has said he believes there’s value in the analytics approach that DePodesta champions.
That also suggests Williams should have a good shot at keeping the head-coaching job on a permanent basis. If DePodesta has Haslam’s ear, and DePodesta likes Williams, then it seems highly likely that the team would keep things going with Williams, especially considering how well they’ve played since Williams took over.
That doesn’t mean Williams is sure to keep the job. But it does mean that he has to be considered a serious candidate. And whoever gets hired as the next head coach will likely need to impress three people: Jimmy Haslam and John Dorsey, of course, but also Paul DePodesta.