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The View From Pluto: Browns Hope a Pyramid is Their Victory Formation

Browns chief strategist Paul DePodesta (left) and team owner Jimmy Haslam are leading the search for a new head coach.
Browns chief strategist Paul DePodesta (left) and team owner Jimmy Haslam are leading the search for a new head coach.

The Cleveland Browns are looking for their sixth head coach and sixth general manager under owner Jimmy Haslam. And the jobs are becoming less desirable with each passing year. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says Haslam is yet again changing his approach after firing Freddie Kitchens and John Dorsey at the end of the 6-10 season.

Only team left

The Browns are the only NFL teams without a head coach. New York, Washington, Dallas and Carolina have all filled their vacancies after firing their coaches. Pluto says that while the Browns say they want to take their time, "They know that they have a tarnished reputation."

So, Haslam's approach is to shake up the heirarchy. He's taking the job of hiring a coach out of the hands of a general manager, since Dorsey got it wrong by selecting Kitchens. “No longer is the pecking order of owner, GM and coach. It’s now a pyramid. On top is the owner and on the two bases is general manager and coach,” Pluto said. 

Then you have the team's chief strategist, former baseball executive Paul DePodesta. Hired by Haslam in 2016, DePodesta joined the franchise to help bring many of the analytics ideas from baseball into football.

“As the bodies are being like hauled out of Berea, he is still standing," Pluto said. "He has outlasted coaches Hue Jackson, Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens in four years. He’s also leading the coaching search.”

McCarthy to Dallas

With that structure in place, the Browns have been interviewing candidates. One of their likely top choices was former longtime Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy. On Monday, he agreed to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, which Pluto says speaks volumes about the Browns' reputation. 

Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave head coach Jason Garrett 10 seasons before he was fired. "[Jones] probably said to Mike, 'Where do you think you have a better shot -- along with having a pretty good team to take over in Dallas -- just to survive for a few years?'”

Now, New England Patriots offensive coordinator and Northeast Ohio native Josh McDanielsis the likely frontrunner for the job, but Pluto says it will be a tough sell. McDaniels is interviewing with the Giants too. 

A dysfunctional family

And Pluto said there’s a cloud hanging over the franchise despite the team improving its roster over the last two seasons. “[A coach] has a bad first year and it’s not just one year. You are stuck with two decades of futility. It’s like marrying into a totally dysfunctional family.”

Pluto acknowledges owner Jimmy Haslam is a big part of the problem. “He desperately does want to get this right...but doesn’t have the patience to do so. Jimmy doesn’t handle when things go wrong very well and his temptation is to fire and change.”

Pluto said he would have kept general manager John Dorsey and sat down with him and figured out what went wrong in selecting Freddie Kitchens. "There’s players here," Pluto said. "But what happens is, they have to sell themselves to the candidate as much as he does to you if he has options whatsoever.”

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Amanda Rabinowitz
Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio’s sports scene.