Cleveland Browns Hire Former Cleveland Indians Front Office Executive Paul DePodesta

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Former Cleveland Indians’ special assistant Paul DePodesta is a very smart man, and on Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns startled the football world by hiring him for their own front office.

Given the title of “Chief Strategy Officer”, DePodesta will be largely counted on to use analytics and data to help the Browns become a winning team – much like he has done as a baseball executive for the last 20 years.

For those who don’t remember, DePodesta got his start (after a brief internship with a Canadian Football League team) as a Cleveland Indians scout. After two years, he was promoted to special assistant, helping Tribe general manager John Hart. DePodesta was a student of the Bill James school of thinking, using advanced metrics and analytics in a way that was not considered standard at the time.

While things may not have gone down exactly as they were pictured in the film Moneyball, the character of Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) was largely based on the contributions of DePodesta. His depiction in Michael Lewis’s book of the same title was slightly more accurate, focusing on his sabermetric contributions rather than exaggerating his personality.

DePodesta’s hire is nothing if not controversial. Since his days with the early 2000s A’s, when he helped them to an AL-best 20-game win streak, DePodesta spent time as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as a special assistant of baseball operations for the San Diego Padres and, most recently, the vice president of player development and scounting for the New York Mets. Nowhere in that 20-year career does DePodesta have even a modicum of NFL experience.

But DePodesta is no stranger to controversy. His sabermetric approach to baseball was not instantly accepted, and many teams are still hesitant to rely too heavily on it. They prefer to keep a balance between the traditional scouting “eye test” methods and more advanced statistics that don’t reflect things like “clutch” ability, veteran presence or clubhouse leadership.

How much – or how quickly – DePodesta will use sabermetrics to help the Browns attempt to build a Championship team is not yet known. Logic says that a proven executive would not leave his field unless he felt confident that he would be able to succeed in another area, so it’s unlikely that DePodesta, who was entrenched in the Mets’ organization and not on his way out, would have taken the Browns’ offer unless he was being given a significantly long leash to work his magic.

Would the Browns have taken Johnny Manziel if DePodesta had taken the reins before the 2014 draft? Is character and leadership as insignificant in football as sabermetrics makes it out to be in baseball? Can someone who has spent 20 years in one sport just switch leagues and apply similar strategies to a game that’s different in every way?

Those are just a few of the questions that will be asked over the coming months, as DePodesta makes a splash in the NFL. If anyone can do it, it’s him. He helped to create a revolution in the way baseball executives viewed their players, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can have that same effect on football. At any rate, it’s exciting to have him back in Cleveland. The Browns’ season may have been a disaster, but they are fortunate to have claimed such a talented executive for their front office.

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