Anyone claiming knowledge on the exact pairing needed of head coach and general manager to bring the Cleveland Browns into the realm of competent NFL franchises is either attempting to fool their audience or themselves. There are no perfect men; especially to undertake the task of pulling the most dysfunctional organization in sports this century out of the abyss.
Exact structure required to achieve stability is also a false premise. The Indianapolis Colts have sustained success by the football-side reporting through the general manager. The Kansas City Chiefs work well with a structure organized for the general manager and head coach reporting to the same person. The New England Patriots have shifted more responsibility towards the head coach. Regardless of organizational charting, the individuals working together on a shared vision is the necessary component that has been lacking from the Browns.
An important exercise is then attempting to understand the different options that might be available and assessing both how it can work… and why it might fail. With the Browns, all options are always on the table for the latter.
How it can work: Both Stefanski and Berry are both accepting of analytics with data-heavy processes in how they operate, so these selections would indicate Paul DePodesta has claimed a power position in the organization. The Browns could finally have an accepted common vision for how everyone involved in the franchise operates from player acquisition to game plans all the way through game day decision-making. Stefanski has gained respect from many in the league for his ability to both put players in their best position to succeed and work with many different styles of other coaches.
Why it might fail: Stefanski would be yet another first-time head coach who would need to navigate the additional responsibilities and learn to delegate. Having a triumvirate with similar perspective is great, but the best organizations at weaving data into their processes (Eagles, Ravens, Patriots) have figured out how to also accept and integrate traditional scouting information. There will likely be learning curves and mistakes early on… and require some patience from Haslam.
How it can work: Wolf is the Browns current assistant general manager and respected by many in the NFL. He also worked with McCarthy as part of the Green Bay Packers organization for 11 seasons. McCarthy has expressed a newfound appreciation for analytics in football, and he has personally employed a small coaching staff the last few months in preparation for a return to the sidelines in 2020. Before the relationship blew up, McCarthy was credited with much of the maturation process at quarterback for Aaron Rodgers. One that Baker Mayfield needs to undergo now.1
Why it might fail: McCarthy’s game day decisions of the past are more in line with what was seen from Freddie Kitchens than most Browns fans will want to admit. He was great at winning press conferences by saying he would change, but McCarthy would continue to make the same mistakes. The same could be happening on a bigger scale now. He also apparently just found out about Pro Football Focus and NFL Next Gen Stats, which are publicly available. So, he is not exactly the most data-friendly coaching hire the Browns could make. Did you notice that his relationship with Rodgers blew up and the Packers were a much better team after he left?
Editor’s note: since the time of publishing, McCarthy has accepted the head coaching position with the Dallas Cowboys.
How it can work: A respected coordinator for one of the league’s best head coaches fails in his first stint as the head coach, himself. He returns to his post under his old boss before accepting another head coaching job years later having learned lessons from his previous set back. Except, he shockingly spurns this new employer before taking a different head coaching job. Such would be the timeline of events for McDaniels… such were the timeline of events for Bill Belichick.
Why it might fail: McDaniels was a disaster with the Denver Broncos. Issues with personnel meddling and ego when communicating with players hounded him. Has he learned from that time? Is he now ready to lead his own coaching staff and know what he needs to leave to other departments especially if his input leads to who gets hired at general manager? These are unknowns until a franchise hands him control.
How it can work: While Lamar Jackson was the best quarterback in the 2018 draft class despite where he was selected, Roman certainly was able to mentor him well and implement a system to help him best highlight his strengths. Under-cutting a rival, while helping themselves could be beneficial in multiple ways for the Browns.2
Why it might fail: Another first-time head coach with an unknown ability to assemble a coaching staff. Roman’s best offensive successes have featured dual-threat quarterbacks, which Mayfield is not. Who would be the general manager? How analytic-friendly is Roman? There are a bunch of questions.
How it can work: The offensive coordinator for Patrick Mahomes could implement some similar concepts for Baker Mayfield. Both quarterbacks are pass-first or even pass-only, yet do much of their damage as the pocket moves. Bieniemy has spent the past seven seasons working for Andy Reid in Kansas City, so he has a good example of how to build a strong culture and structure. Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy have demonstrated that Reid prepares his coaches for the head coaching opportunity, and Bieniemy is known for being detailed-oriented.
Why it might fail: How much is the offensive coordinator responsible for when Reid is there? Bieniemy is another first-time head coaching candidate, and how quickly he will learn what needs to be done himself versus delegated might be one of the bigger obstacles to tackle for the coach who has stated himself “I take a lot of personal pride in making sure everything is dotted, T’s are crossed and everything is absolute.”
How it can work: One of the greatest football coaches of this generation continues to mirror the legacy of Paul Brown by bringing the Browns back to prominence. Meyer’s ability to delegate and structure a coaching staff are not in question nor is his ability to motivate anyone within earshot. He has the type of infectious desire for football that will win over fans, players, coaches, and the front office alike. The greatest Hollywood-ending of Meyer’s life is with him holding up the Lombardi trophy while surrounded by Browns fans and players crying their eyes out.3
Why it might fail: Real life is not scripted by movie writers. Meyer is just a year removed from health issues forcing him from the sidelines for the second time in his career, and the jump from college to the NFL has proven steep for many quality coaches. Many of the questions surrounding first-time coaches would also be present with Meyer including the type of staff he could assemble.
How it can work: There are reports that possibly the entire trio of 49ers coordinators will interview for the head coaching position though only Saleh has thus far. All have been crucial in helping create a stable culture and organization in San Francisco after it had fallen into a short tenure of chaos following their last Superbowl appearance.
Why it might fail: Kyle Shanahan has a 32-point presentation to explain each possibility of failure for these coaches should they take the Browns head coach job. Given Shanahan’s intimate knowledge of Haslam’s culture of instability, the odds of one of these coaches even taking the position is greatly reduced. The difficulty of them bringing their closest coaching confidantes from San Francisco are also in jeopardy. Now add in everything above about being a first-time head coach onto that pile.
How it can work: Redemption stories are great. Daboll returning to where he had directed the worst offense in all of football4 to bring the Browns back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 would be legendary. He has worked with many in the Belichick tree of coaches, so it is possible that he could assemble a strong staff as well.
Why it might fail: Josh Allen is a much different type of quarterback than Baker Mayfield, so it is uknown how much of what he has done in Buffalo would translate to Cleveland. Before there, his post-Browns successes have mostly been when the deck was stacked greatly in his favor, such as being involved with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Daboll is not in high demand as a head coach in the NFL, and his inclusion at all on the interview list is curious.