Cleveland Browns ADI Success Theory: Diversity

Shawn Stevenson

The Cleveland Browns went through an organizational overhaul this offseason. Huge changes occurred in both the front office and coaching staff. 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 two of this series will focus on Diversity, following part one which covered alignment. 

The franchise is transitioning into an organization that emphasizes alignment and is working toward a collective vision. Establishing a collaborative environment that produces the best results includes a diversity of perspectives to assess varying viewpoints. In order to make an informed decision, all resources must be exhausted and the more variety within those resources increases the chance of success. Recent hires within the front office and coaching staff has promoted the importance of diversity within the franchise.

Hiring Andrew Berry as the new general manager is extremely influential for the organization and the entire National Football League. Berry is officially the youngest general manager in NFL history at just thirty-two years old. The hiring decision goes against traditional thinking within the league that a general manager candidate must be someone with a long and extensive resume of front office experience. Yet, there are plenty of contexts that people are given opportunities based on their perceived potential rather than just their experience. Jimmy Haslam assessed the hiring of Andrew Berry the same way and supported it by stating, “You know we thought about it, because thirty-two is young, it’s younger than most. But I think there is a lot of successful people who got a break at an early age.”

Ownership's support of Berry takes a calculated risk on his potential given their prior experience working with him from 2016 to 2018. Berry also gained invaluable experience working under his mentor, Bill Polian with the Indianapolis Colts and Howie Roseman last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. Jimmy Haslam mentioned that their references gave ownership additional belief of Berry's potential to be a successful general manager. Of course, with any decision there are critics that see more of the risk attributed with Andrew Berry. A common counterpoint argued against the hire is Berry’s contribution to a regime that went 1-31 over a two-season span. This may be a legitimate point to argue because they do not want a repeat of the same disappointing results.

But the lessons garnered from that experience is seemingly just as important as the tribulations on display. Berry has worked in both losing and winning cultures and has a better understanding of how to establish a successful foundation. Learning from his failures and changing processes during a new opportunity increases his chances of success. He has hands-on experience weathering through adversity from working with Sashi Brown and knows how to overcome adversity through analyzing change under John Dorsey. This will make the Cleveland Browns better because he can utilize the roster building philosophies from each regime, such as talent evaluation with Howie Roseman and cap space management from Sashi Brown. The potential 53-man roster will be a benefactor from Andrew Berry's trove of knowledge due the trial-and-error of his mentors.

Berry’s young age is the discussion topic that will make headlines, but the bigger influence impacts an entire demographic. Andrew Berry is one of two black general managers in the NFL, with the other being Chris Grier of the Miami Dolphins. This is extremely important for diversity across the league because African Americans are misrepresented in front office personnel given that rosters are over 70 percent black players. The timing of the hire comes at a crucial juncture given the recent controversy with the Rooney Rule. Minority candidates have been given limited opportunities to become head coaches and top personnel in front offices.

A lone bright spot within Jimmy Haslam’s ownership of the franchise since 2012, is the opportunities he has provided to African Americans within the organization. He hired Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown in 2016, placing black candidates as the head coach and general manager of a franchise, a current method only being implemented by the Miami Dolphins with Grier and head coach Brian Flores. Most recently, Alonzo Highsmith was the VP of Player Personnel under John Dorsey, a similar role held by Andrew Berry when he was hired back in 2016.

Being an African American executive, Berry understands the social influence of his new opportunity. During his introductory press conference, he said, “I believe success in the NFL comes from good people. Good people come from all walks of life and for that reason, we’re going to be very deliberate in pushing diversity across football operations because it leads to success.” Encouraging diversity opens the door not only for African Americans but other minorities as well. Diversity that increases social representation is important but as Berry stated it increases the chance of success because of various perspectives.

Creating a diverse environment goes back to the overall alignment the organization now presents. Head coach Kevin Stefanski shares similar philosophies as Andrew Berry and the importance of diversity. When asked by a reporter about the recent Rooney Rule controversy, Stefanski stated, “I’m going to do everything in my power and my role to affect change [coaching staff diversity] there. It’s important to me that we develop minority coaches particularly on the offensive side of the ball.” It shows that Stefanski has a critical understanding of his influence as a head coach and the opportunities he can provide for his coaching staff. Small decisions such as retaining running backs coach Stump Mitchell make an impact for building a diverse offensive staff.

Stefanksi has also provided a continued opportunity for African American defensive coordinator candidates, by hiring former colleague Joe Woods. The time spent together with the Minnesota Vikings had a strong influence for the hiring decision, but it also provides grooming for other minority candidates within the organization. Stefanki’s advocacy for diversity is so significant because he mentioned its importance last year to ownership when he interviewed for the head coaching vacancy. He is holding true to his word which so vital when creating a new culture and fortifying trust throughout the franchise. Providing more opportunities for minority coaches places the Browns in the driver seat for influence to encourage impactful change across the National Football League.

The ongoing construction of the Cleveland Browns is being solidified by a framework of alignment and diversity. They are introducing unique perspectives, to make a unified decision to increase their chances of success. This diversity within the organization will also help in better representation of the players and community the franchise embodies. The final cog of influence in the franchise's ongoing overhaul is inclusion. Read part three of the ADI Theory to learn about the impact of inclusion for the Browns and entire NFL.

Comments (1)

Ain't changed enough. As long as Jimmy Haslam a.k.a. Slick Jimmy, a.k.a. Mr-Fingers-In-The-Pie, a.k.a. The Smartest Man In Football, is still the owner the Browns are doomed.

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