What the ESPN expose means for the current Cleveland Browns

It’s officially been over 48 hours since ESPN posted Seth Wickersham’s piece. Northeast Ohio and football fans across the country have now had a chance to digest the information and react accordingly. For Browns fans, the general message of the article was a familiar one. Owner Jimmy Haslam has never been viewed as a successful leader of the organization. His 21-75-1 record since purchasing the team is all you need to know to form that opinion. Sure, some of the specific quotes and stories were interesting to read about, but all in all, no Clevelander finished the article and gasped. The Browns organization has had internal dysfunction? Color us shocked!

The media predictably picked up on the highlights: Hue’s reaction to being fired, Haslam’s questionable nickname for former general manager Sashi Brown, and inappropriate images being broadcasted across the teams Berea facility for all to see. But for those who’ve been paying close attention to the team, there are much more important bits of information that were included. I thought Wickersham did a fair job. There was always the option to paint a more ominous picture, but the ESPN Senior writer made sure to reference the improved situation the team currently finds themselves in. There was quite a bit to digest. Below I’ve included some of the highlights, and how it relates to the future of the Cleveland Browns.

1. Overall, the article emphasized what happens when Haslam becomes hyper-involved in the franchise’s operations, serving to grow the conversation amongst football fans. I see this as a positive. How often in today’s world do we see the public overwhelmingly support the same opinion? If Haslam wasn’t hearing this before, he sure is now. Take a back seat Jimmy. Allow those you’ve hired to do their job.

2. We can see a positive contrast between the hiring of Hue Jackson and the hiring of Freddie Kitchens. According to the article, senior management voted 4-1 in favor of hiring current Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott in 2016, with the lone nay being that of Haslam himself. The owner would go on to ignore the selection committee’s advice and hire Jackson. While there was no report of Haslam favoring a coaching candidate outside of Kitchens, he still managed to sit through over half a dozen interviews without latching on to a rogue contender. If we are to take Dorsey’s word, senior management formed their opinion, and the owner accepted it at face value.

3. The 2018 draft was viewed by most as a slam dunk for Cleveland. Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb have all exceeded expectations in their rookie year. Surprisingly, no reports have surfaced that claim any disagreement amongst front office personnel when it came to these selections. Not even Ward’s, which shocked most draft analysts who believed the Browns would use their pick to select Denver Bronco Bradley Chubb. I see this as an improvement. ESPN’s article claimed that Hue Jackson influenced Haslam to select Myles Garret with 2017’s first overall pick. It also claimed that Haslam was instrumental in bringing Johnny Manziel to Cleveland, a decision he orchestrated from the team’s ‘war room’ surrounded by various friends who’d come by his personal invitation. The beauty of what we’re seeing now is that there are no longer reports of a ‘Haslam pick’. The owner seems to be dialing back his itch to assume control of roster decisions.

4. Dorsey appears to be growing more comfortable with analytics, according to the piece. He was reported as saying he didn’t need “f—ing nerds” to tell him how to evaluate players after assuming the role as general manager. According to Wickersham, his attitude toward chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and his analytics team has since grown less hostile. Dorsey himself stated that Paul would be actively assisting in their recent search for a head coach. This is important because DePodesta still reports directly to Haslam, allowing for a possible power struggle to emerge between Dorsey and him. One can only hope that the two will remain on the same page, agreeing to use analytics as an aide in decision making while continuing to trust the gut of an experienced and proven GM like Dorsey.

5. In the article, Wickersham quotes Dorsey as saying “I flexed my muscles and got what I wanted.” He’s referring to the organizational structure that now allows Kitchens to report to Dorsey and Dorsey to Haslam. For far too long the general manager and head coach have reported to the owner separately, creating an unnecessary tension between the two figures that had the franchise spinning it’s tires for much of the 2010’s.1

6. Finally, the article opens with an address given by Haslam to Browns employees after the firing of Hue Jackson this past October. It’s a speech he’s given many times since he bought the team over six years ago. ESPN reported that the owner was embarrassed that he made another overhaul in coaching. This is very, very good news. Haslam is at the same time both trigger happy and desperate for continuity. Perhaps the publicity garnered by his past mistakes will inspire him to override his impulse to affect change.

My main take away from the press conference announcing Freddie Kitchens as head coach was Haslam’s absence from the podium. On YouTube, you can revisit the hiring of Jackson, Chudzinski, and Pettine and see that Haslam took a much more active role in front of the camera. The stream later panned out into the audience where Jimmy and Dee sat watching Dorsey and Kitchens speak. The two looked miserable, I mean really, really not happy. After a group picture with their GM and new head coach, the two silently exited the room. Clearly, they were not looking to stick around and shake hands. Hopefully, laying back will become an easier pill to swallow. Haslam has walked backwards into one of the more optimistic scenarios this franchise has seen in years. In two decades the Cleveland Browns have experienced an owner who wanted too little to do with the organization, and one who wanted too much. I believe Haslam has the ability to change and allow the current roster to bloom into a playoff contender. Whether the sharp dressed Tennessean actually follows through with that is up to speculation.

  1. Editor’s note: that type of quote alongside the f-ing nerds quote are the types of bad indicators that wore out Dorsey’s welcome in Kansas City. Let’s hope things work better this time. []