Chances are you've never heard of Jed Hughes.
Yet he's the most critical piece of the Cleveland Browns' search for the perfect head coach and general manager.
As owner Jimmy Haslam announced Sunday during his press conference, the club has hired Hughes to help find the team's next coach and general manager. Haslam has used Hughes' talents in his other business ventures. Hughes is a person Haslam trusts, and thus critical to the search process.
So who is this guy?
Hughes serves as "Vice Chairman, Global Sector Leader, Sports" for Korn Ferry, Executive Recruitment & Talent Management. In simple terms, Hughes is an experienced executive headhunter.
Hughes began his career as a coach, serving as a graduate assistant for the Stanford Cardinal from 1972-1973. Hughes then joined legendary coach Bo Schembechler's staff at the University of Michigan as the linebackers coach. Hughes spent two seasons with the Wolverines before heading to UCLA, becoming the defensive coordinator. He made the jump to the NFL in 1981, serving as a secondary coach for the Minnesota Vikings.
Following a two-year stint in Minnesota, Hughes went to the Pittsburgh Steelers to learn under Chuck Noll as a linebackers coach. After five years with the Steelers, Hughes finished his coaching career with the Browns as a linebackers coach in 1989 under Bud Carson.
As Hughes told Jenny Vrentas of Monday Morning Quarterback in an interesting interview in November, Hughes entered the executive search firm business with Spencer Stuart in 1997. Hughes then transitioned to Korn Ferry, his current employer.
Since entering the profession, Hughes has a wealth of experience. The Michigan and Stanford grad first helped Jerry Jones hire Chan Gailey in Dallas and has since consulted on high-profile hires such as Seahawks GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
In his profession, Hughes has a sterling reputation. He has helped to hire some of the top coaches and general managers in the NFL. But what is his approach?
Consider this quote from his interview with Vrentas about his role in assisting with a search:
"It varies depending on the assignment. But initially, it is to gain alignment on what the organization is looking for. And then once you gain the alignment, then you begin to look for potential candidates who would fit. Then depending on if you are in the NFL, and you have rules as to when you can interview people and you have to seek permission, you begin the interviewing and assessment phase. In the NFL, you have tight time deadlines, especially if you are in the playoffs. I was involved in hiring Dan Quinn and we had to wait until the Super Bowl was over to be able to hire him, so there is a little bit of risk there. That’s an ownership decision. That’s one that the owner has got to be patient in believing that there is a good opportunity it’s going to happen; that they are going to be able to get that person."
Hughes has obviously gained a wealth of knowledge and experience from his consultations. He has developed a few interesting ideas, particularly about general managers in the NFL.
Hughes has a few major beliefs about NFL general managers. First, he believes great GMs are not born, but made. Hughes also says stability is critical:
"We looked at the teams that have won championships in the major professional sports leagues in the last five years, and almost all of them have done it with a first-time GM, which is pretty incredible. Only two didn’t. That’s very revealing. Also, who is in place first, the GM or the coach? If you look at the Spurs, Gregg Popovich was in charge before RC Buford was named GM; Pat Riley was in charge [in Miami] before Erik Spoelstra was named head coach. So, usually it’s the GM, but in some cases, the head coach runs the show as it’s done with the Patriots and Bill Belichick.
The other thing is stability. Look what has happened with the Mets. The Mets hired Sandy Alderson, he hired the coach, Fred [Wilpon] has supported him and they’ve been able to build a team that is now competitive. You had alignment, you had stability, people bought into the philosophy and Sandy is one of the truly great leaders as it relates to collaboration and bringing people into meetings and having lunch bucket kinds of meetings. Most organizations are not built on developing people within their organizations. They are built to try to win immediately."
The quotes above tell us two things. First off, Hughes has been consulting with Haslam about this situation for some time now, and likely led Haslam to structure the organization the way he did. Secondly, the Browns are looking for a first-time general manager.
The second truth should have become apparent the moment Haslam announced Brown's promotion, but Hughes' beliefs and influence upon Haslam cement the idea.
Another source gives us insight into Hughes' thought process -- a report about NFL general managers that Hughes published on Korn Ferry's website in September 2015. It's well-worth the read, though it is a bit lengthy.
In the report, Hughes lists eight critical characteristics. The Browns will look for someone with these traits:
"Intelligent and confident— be able to justify decisions.
Active learners—always be engaged in the process.
Anticipating future trends and understanding how to successfully navigate the landscape.
Willing to be completely immersed in their role.
Eager to teach and mentor others with the goal of developing their staff.
An advocate for a transparent environment— be willing to expose your staff to the draft process, free agency, negotiations.
Delegating tasks, hence empowering their team to perform.
Exhibiting a mindset that enhances new ideas and constantly develops new talent."
Some of these characteristics are cliche -- you'll find many of these traits listed on a standard job application. Even so, Hughes' list gives us an insight into the direction the Browns will take in the search for a general manager.
All things considered, if the Browns follow Hughes' advice, the club is likely to hire a veteran head coach and a first-time general manager.
Hughes' presence in the search process should calm the nerves of worried Browns fans. Hughes has experience and track record of success in the NFL.
The important question is: Will Haslam listen to Hughes' advice? We'll soon find out.