Two years ago, the Browns spent $100,000 on a report that told them to draft Teddy Bridgewater. Owner Jimmy Haslam ignored the findings, may or may not have taken the advice of a hobo, and instead selected Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick. Bridgewater is now the Vikings' franchise quarterback and Manziel is out of football altogether.
But all the losing -- the Browns are 19-45 since Haslam bought the team in 2012 -- has the owner re-evaluating his thoughts on analytics' role in football. He's hired former Major League Baseball executive, Sabermetrics pioneer and Harvard trained Paul DePodesta as the Browns' chief strategy officer. Joining DePodesta in the front office: Fellow Harvard graduates Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and Kevin Meers.
Hey, credit to Haslam for trying something -- anything -- different than the old standard, "Let's fire a bunch of people first and sort out the rest later." Clearly, that wasn't working. And to quote Jerry, "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."
But you know who isn't from Harvard? New coach Hue Jackson, a man not only deserving of the job but who is known for his ability to get the most out of his young quarterbacks. Except that maximizing the potential of Robert Griffin III or whomever the team drafts with the second-overall pick may be the least of Jackson's worries.
According to an ESPN the Magazine profile of DePodesta and his management style, Jackson could be the "wild card" in whether this grand experiment works, or just the latest chapter in the never-ending "Factory of Sadness" saga.
[Jackson] favors gut, eye and instinct over data -- even to own detriment. Seemed out of loop at combine when he suggested analytics "not going to drive our organization." Hope is Jackson can bring balance and unique perspective to data-driven decision-making.
One NFL executive described Jackson as possibly a "very bad fit" in Cleveland, a description that extends beyond the head coach.
"It's not just Hue Jackson," the exec continued. "When data overrides gut, the majority of his coaching staff will all be there screaming, 'What the f--- are these computer guys doing? They don't understand football, they don't understand the locker room. They're killing us.'"
And when that happens -- and it will -- we'll see just how much Haslam has matured as an owner. Will he panic and start firing people without any thought to the repercussions? Or will he preach patience to both his non-analytics-leaning coaching staff and a desperate fan base? History suggests the former, though DePodesta's professional background suggests he won't scare easily. More importantly, he knows the Browns won't be transformed into winners in one offseason.
"I was standing right in front of [NFL executives] in line [at the airport after the NFL combine] and I could hear them in back of me and they were talking trash about me and the Cleveland Browns," DePodesta said recently at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. "I said, 'All right, this is like 17 years ago in Oakland all over again.' That's part of the fun."
We'll see who's laughing in the coming months and years.