Last week, Cleveland Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta was a panelist for a "Moneyball Reunion" at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Ben Badler of Baseball America published an article yesterday discussing how DePodesta is "ready to answer doubters in [his] NFL role."
Paramount to DePodesta's mission with the Browns is for there to be a firm commitment from the organization that no matter what, they will be along for the ride. For those of you who watched American Hustle, I think of it as making the commitment "from the feet up."
One of the keys for DePodesta making the jump to the NFL was making sure he felt comfortable that ownership would be fully on board with his vision, ideas and processes. In any leadership role, getting buy-in from the rest of the organization—both up and down the ladder—is critical.
"When I was going to the Browns," DePodesta said, "I had met with the ownership, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, and they asked me, ‘What do you want out of an owner?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t want.’ I said, ‘If you ever take your kids to an amusement park at Disneyland or whatever, they beg you to go on the big daddy roller coaster. They beg you. You say, ‘Are you sure?’ They say, ‘Absolutely, I want to go on this thing.’ So you wait in line for 45 minutes, it takes up a good chunk of your day, you finally get to the front of the line, they eyeball it, and they say, ‘Uh, I’m not getting on that thing. Not at all.’ And that’s what happens to a lot of owners. They would say, ‘Hey, we want ‘Moneyball,’ we want this disciplined approach to what we’re doing.’ 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.’ But 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."
In light of what has happened in free agency, reading that should be a reminder to Browns fans that we need to be very patient with the new front office and let them see this thing through. I'm not just talking about one to two years -- this is something that we need to be deep in for a minimum of three, but more like five years. When the Browns first hired DePodesta, I sensed the overflowing optimism among Browns fans -- there was a sense of pride that the franchise was taking a unique approach to try to not just turn the corner, but to be ahead of the curve in the NFL.
When free agency came along, much of that went out the window as we fell into the pitfalls of "why aren't we spending all of our cap space to retain or add new talent." When you hear about all of the Colin Kaepernick talk, the reason it hasn't come to fruition is because the Browns' front office has set a price -- if it's not met, they just proceed forward with their original plan. That's what happened with all of their own free agents that they didn't retain too. The article on DePodesta should help ground fans a bit more: as much as we want to win now, let's see this thing through and realize that, realistically, "winning now" isn't going to happen unless Hue Jackson is truly a miracle worker.
The Baseball America article also relays a quote from DePodesta on how other NFL teams were literally talking trash about he and the Browns behind his back in line as he was leaving the NFL Combine. I think that is part of DePodesta's job, though -- to realize the approach Cleveland is taking is unique, and ensure that, even in times of negative publicity (i.e. when the Browns were blasted by the national media for their approach to free agency), that no one hits the panic button or makes a rash move because you second-guessed your philosophy.
What do you think of what DePodesta had to say, Browns fans?
Moneyball Reunion— FantasyOmatic™ (@FantasyOmatic) March 11, 2016
Michael Lewis pic.twitter.com/6DTSnxTktv