Cleveland Browns ADI Success Theory: Alignment

Shawn Stevenson

A new offseason has begun, and the Cleveland Browns find themselves going through another organizational change. Ownership approached the vacancy searches with methodologies focused on Alignment, Diversity, and Inclusion. This three-part series analyzes the impact of the offseason hires, how their individual roles fit within the organizations vision, and what should be different compared to previous regimes. Part one of the series will focus on Alignment.

The distraught franchise enters a new decade with a new head coach and new general manager. Rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski is now the twelfth new coach for the Cleveland Browns since 1999. He is joined by first time general manager Andrew Berry, who will be the franchises tenth GM during the same time period. Ownership claims that they have found the right combination of people to build a winning franchise. Both Stefanski and Berry were granted five-year contracts, which implicitly links their fate together and makes alignment even more important.

For many longtime fans this looks to be more of the same since Jimmy Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns in 2012. Haslam has been an extremely impatient owner and is quick to fire coaches and front office personnel at a moment notice. Since purchasing the franchise no general manager has lasted more than two seasons and only Hue Jackson has lasted more than two seasons as head coach. These firings have been a direct result of poor performance on the field as the Browns are 33-94-1 since 2012.

These common misfortunes for the Cleveland Browns won’t continue once the right people are hired into the organization. Ownership and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta believe they hired the right people because of the methodologies and processes leading up to the hires. The hiring search was referred to as methodical because of their due diligence analyzing each candidate and not rushing to make any hire. This creates optimism for the future because ownership properly utilized Paul DePodesta as they hired the head coach and general manager.

Most fans are unaware of exactly what DePodesta’s role is with the organization, which is understandable because of his utilization of analytics in decision making. Analytics has been a widely misunderstood buzzword surrounding the team since his hiring in 2016. That same year in a January press conference he simplified his responsibilities by stating, “My job here is really to help us create and implement those processes that we think are going to give us a sustainable advantage over time”. Those processes he spoke of, were implemented this year to fulfil vacancies, and establishing a sustainable advantage falls on the shoulders of Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry.

A big reason for optimism is that the franchise seems to have a shared vision and total organizational alignment. The team is not entering an offseason where they are searching for a franchise quarterback, which has caused so much internal dysfunction in the past. This was evident during the Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson era as they could not centrally agree on identifying talent for roster either through the draft or free agency. Following their dysfunction and a 1-31 record, Sashi Brown was fired and quickly replaced with John Dorsey. Even after the changes internal discord continued the following season between Hue Jackson and Todd Haley.

Complications were easily viewed by fans during the team’s appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks. A scene captured during a coach’s meeting showcased Todd Haley physically frustrated with Jackson regarding players sitting out of training camp. Issues continued into the regular season with their offensive philosophies, and eventually they were both fired midseason in 2018. Following that decision, the team finally showed their potential under a coaching staff with a direct vision. That potential can be exceeded with Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski’s coaching staff having a unified vision.

Entering an offseason with true alignment will increase the likelihood of effective roster building. Berry can approach free agency and contract negotiations with intentions of identifying talent that best fits the coaching staff's schemes. It will decrease the chances of players being released or signed for solely contractual reasons without regard of their impact on the football field, similar to Sashi Brown with Hue Jackson. Also, the NFL draft should include players with less character concerns and better schematic fit to extend their longevity with the team, unlike recent picks Antonio Callaway, Austin Corbett and Genard Avery.

The alignment between Berry and Stefanski is so vital because their ability to support one another creates the foundation for a winning environment. Andrew Berry seems to be an advocate of Stefanski after stating during his introductory press conference, “I can ensure everyone, outside of Kevin’s wife Michelle, there is no bigger believer and supporter of Kevin, than me. Kevin and I have a shared vision regarding football philosophy, culture, and servant leadership that we think will lead toward success.”

Their selfless initiative to build a winner of the Cleveland Browns, was further exemplified by Jimmy Haslam’s comment describing their character, “You have really smart people with low egos, who continually want to learn and get better. They don’t care who gets the credit and it’s all about winning”. This selfless demeanor was not present in the most recent regime of John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens. Egocentric mindsets and pride essentially wasted a year with a talented roster because of the need for overall decision-making power. The results never equated to the level of verbal boasting which ultimately resulted in their own demise.

The difference in this regime are foundational processes that support the organizations football philosophy and the utilization of analytics. Andrew Berry’s football philosophy exemplifies alignment, and is supported by his statement, “From a cultural standpoint, you’ve heard this idea of collaboration. Making sure we get the best ideas, the best perspectives as we make any major decision. Rather it’s on the roster, on the field, or across football operations so that we can ensure we’re driving the organization towards excellence.”

This collaborative process supports the implementation of analytics to make informed decisions. Kevin Stefanski also encourages the use of analytics after he said, “We’re looking to make informed decisions, as a play caller or maybe player evaluation. Information is power.” 

It is obvious that the team is working under a shared vision and is prepared to work collaboratively to build a winning organization. Their decision-making process will be very important over the next few months as the team approaches free agency and the NFL draft. Berry and Stefanski must hold each other accountable and that should increase the likelihood of the franchise being success. They are working under the same five-year timeframe and must prove to fans why their alignment will be beneficial in creating a sustainable advantage.

The Cleveland Browns are presenting an organizational alignment model that they believe will be successful. Alignment is very important to make sure processes are being executed efficiently. This offseason for the Cleveland Browns not only established true alignment but diversity and inclusion across the organization. Read part two of the ADI Theory to learn about the impact of Diversity within the organization.

Comments (1)
Tiffin Buck
Tiffin Buck

For this team alignment is very important. I’m optimistic.


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