The Circle of Browns

“In the circle of life, it’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith, it’s the band of hope
Till we find our place on the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

 

“Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars
— The Circle of Life (Lyrics by Tim Rice)

I don’t have a lot to say about Alec Scheiner or Andrew Berry. Why don’t you just ask questions?

Why did Alec Scheiner quit being Team President?

The Berea fire code limits the number of unqualified backseat drivers in any building to three. With Jimmy Haslam, Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, they were over the limit.

Do you want to explain that?

I don’t need to. Terry Pluto covers the issue in this story. The only thing I need to add is that what Terry calls stories of Scheiner wanting to insert himself into the football side of the operation other people would describe as constantly questioning decisions and offering his unsolicited and uninformed opinions.

The guy was brought in by Joe Banner to be Assistant Banner– an obnoxious know-it-all. He was. Jimmy Haslam kept him on, because Scheiner was managing two projects:

The Stadium is done and the plans to abandon Cleveland was blown up by America’s Worst NewspaperTM spilling the beans. Taxpayer outrage blew up the deal. Scheiner’s usefulness was at an end.

Why’d they want to move training camp?

Money. Columbus is located almost equidistant from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The Browns used to dominate the market because they won. Now they’re getting marginalized.

Since he can’t offer a winning team, Jimmy Haslam thought moving training camp to Columbus would help him win people back.

Wouldn’t a better fanbase help the Browns?

Absolutely not. The salary cap limits how much they can spend on players. All moving training camp to Columbus would do is put more money in the pocket of Jimmy Haslam. He’s going to need money because he’s about to get indicted and he’ll have eight-figure legal fees.

For what?

For committing fraud– by signing contracts with trucking companies to guarantee them discounts and not providing it.

Geoff, he settled that case

No he didn’t. Pilot Flying J settled it. Employees of Pilot can still be indicted, and Jimmy was CEO. He’s going to jail.

Jimmy knows it, too. That’s why Dee Haslam– who had been in the background for a few years– suddenly has her name prominently on the website and in the press releases. When he has to step down, he’s hoping that the NFL will let his wife continue to own the team.

I think this whole case is total BS

I don’t. And I know more about this case than any writer covering the NFL. Jimmy Haslam is a crook. I have a post on this coming up. Anyway, with the Columbus move off the table. Scheiner had no job responsibilities left. He knew he wasn’t going to run the team. So he left.

Will the Browns miss him?

No. Good riddance to the little weasel.

Look, an NFL franchise isn’t the most difficult business to run. The TV money is guaranteed years in advance, the games sell out. You’ve got to supervise the people making day-to-day decisions– marketing, vendor relations, concessions– but it’s not a 40-hour a week job, unless you have a big project. On many teams, the owner, his wife or his kids handle it.

By far the Browns biggest problem since their return in 1999 is that their Team President rarely wants to just run the business. He’s always a wanna-be GM with no player personnel experience who still thinks he should get to sign free agents, make draft picks and trade people. Banner, Mike Holmgren, Carmen Policy, John Collins– the team would have run better if they’d been replaced by someone who didn’t like football and would have focused on their duties, leaving the operations football people alone.

So what’s the scoop with Andrew Berry?

He’s a somewhat more palatable version of Scheiner. He played football at Harvard (he was an Ivy League All-Star at corner for three years) and his plan was to be drafted by an NFL team, then move into the front office after he retired.

He didn’t get drafted, so he wrote to every NFL team looking for a position. The Colts hired him in 2009 as a “scouting assistant”. They made him a pro scout in 2011, a scouting coordinator in 2012 and then scouting director.

What does a Pro Scouting Director do?

I answered this question when the Browns promoted “Snapchat” Farmer. Let me just reprint it.


I assume you know what the “Director of Player Personnel” (or “College Scouting”, as some teams call it) does. He and his staff monitor the performance of every player in the NCAA who looks like he might be a half-decent player. They compile grades so the team knows who to draft.

The pro personnel director does the same thing for players once they leave college. It’s his job to grade everyone on the roster of every NFL team– including the reserves and the guys on the practice squad. Many franchises also have him look at the CFL rosters or even ArenaBall or (for kickers) pro soccer.

The goal is to have a complete, accurate ranking of every player who has completed college, so if the team needs to acquire talent, they know exactly where to look.

Some teams also use the Director of Pro Personnel to scout upcoming opponents on the schedule (since he has to evaluate those players anyway), so the coaches know what to expect and where an opponent’s weaknesses are. Others ask him (or his office, at least) to keep tabs on the waiver wire. That way, if another team cuts a player they liked in the draft– or that he has rated highly– they can claim him.

That doesn’t sound too difficult.

Really? Tell me whether Garrett Gilkey (at the bottom of the Browns’ offensive line depth chart [at the time]) is better or worse than LaAdrian Waddle (the last offensive lineman on the depth chart for the Lions).

Oh… I see your point.

In some ways, being a pro scout is more difficult than college scouting. The people you’re thinking about drafting all play. Once they hit the NFL, you probably won’t get to see much of them. But the ability to do that homework well– to dig out a player like Edwin Baker or David Nelson in mid-year [both players had been valuable in-season pickups for opponents who beat the Browns] , if the team needs him– is what separates a good team from a bad one. This is why New England can have half the roster run over by a drunken Zamboni driver and still make the playoffs– they can always pick up players who can help on the fly.

A bad front office, on the other hand, signs people like Willis McGahee after they trade Trent Richardson, because they can’t find anyone.

But the most important work the Pro Personnel director does is to grade potential free agents.

Free agency doesn’t have as much cachet as the draft, but if you can find a good player who’s been stuck behind some other team’s star– or doesn’t fit their system but would be ideal for yours– you can add someone who contributes immediately.

Most teams feel that college scouting is more important, since you have a limited supply of draft picks and can pick up a Hall-of-Famer. But the Pro Scouting Director saves you from a salary cap disaster, where you tie up $40 million on a player like Paul Kruger.


Is Berry good at what he does?

I don’t think so. If he were, why would he come here?

That’s all you can say?

I could give you 2,000 words, but it would boil down to those 12. You want more, I can do more.

1. He was a Pro Personnel Director; the Colts haven’t done free agency– at any level– well. The hallmark of a great Pro Personnel man is little-known, highly skilled players who save your bacon when the chips are down. At two pretty visible positions, the Colts made embarrassing moves:

  • In 2013. when the Colts lost starting RB Vick Ballard (their leading ground-gainer as a rookie), they traded a #1 pick for Trent Richardson. He turned out to be a huge mistake. First Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw beat him out– then Dan Herron.
  • After the 2014 season, the Colts ditched Richardson, but signed Frank Gore. He’d gained 1,000+ yards in eight of the last seasons (in the ninth he missed five games) and never averaged less than 4.1 yards a carry. But he was 32– he gained 967 yards, averaging 3.7 per carry.
  • In 2015, QB Andrew Luck got hurt. Indy’s backup was 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck. When he got hurt (not shocking, given that he was 40), they tried 33-year-old Charlie Whitehurst (who’s never been any good) and then Josh Freeman, a former #1 who busted out of both Tampa and Minnesota.

The Colts haven’t plugged anyone surprising and good into any of the holes. They don’t have a waiver wire pickup or a nondescript free agent who came on big. Former Brown Mike Adams (who’s 34) is the strong safety; they have WR Andre Johnson and DE-LB Robert Mathis (both 34) started; they signed LB Trent Cole and G Todd Herremans (both 33).

So you’re blaming Berry for the organization’s flaws?

No. You can claim Berry wasn’t the guy who wanted the big-name busts– that he warned against them. You can say it was Owner Jim Irsay, GM Ryan Grigson, coach Chuck Pagano or Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton who screwed up. (Though blaming it on Hamilton wouldn’t make me feel good, since he’s coaching here now.)

But what you can’t say is “Look at all the great spare parts he found.” The Browns have done a better job with players like Scott Solomon, Austin Pasztor, Jordan Poyer and Austin Davis.

2. Even the Browns didn’t think he was highly qualified. The main reason these searches didn’t drag on endlessly is that the Browns didn’t shoot too high. They didn’t spend weeks trying to convince people who have better things to do to come to Cleveland.

That made things easier– but it also means that we know the ceiling on the ability.

Terry Pluto says he spoke to “one NFL executive” about Berry. Because Terry doesn’t do a lot of NFL-style networking, and he’s spent the last 30-some years in Cleveland, we pretty much know it’s a former Cleveland guy– Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli or Tom Heckert are the likely guys. Those guys are all competent, so when they say they didn’t know much about Berry, that’s a ding. The story also mentions some of the other candidates:

  • Brian Xanders was the GM that Josh McDaniels installed in Denver. He did pick half a dozen players who started more than two years… but he also chose Tim Tebow. He is currently working for the Lions in a position without responsibilities.
  • Martin Mayhew spent seven seasons running the Detroit Lions, who went 47-65 with him in control. (The site is wrong, he wasn’t the GM during the 0-16 season).
  • Dennis Hickey was the GM Miami hired instead of Snapchat. They went 14-18 in 2014-15, and he put the Dolphins in Salary Cap Hell, by signing (among other players) Jordan “Poke” Cameron and Ndumakong Shoe. Before that, he worked In Tamps Bay when the Bucs were going down.

If those guys are the competition, you know the Browns weren’t reaching very high. Xanders was the guy you might think about– but even then you’d prefer to try someone who

You’re holding the competition against Berry?

If I told you that your new bodyguard had won a “Strongest Man” competition with Pee Wee Herman, Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Goldthwait, would that impress you?

3. Highly-competent employees don’t join bad businesses. That’s especially true in an industry like the NFL, which has a limited number of openings. There are only 32 businesses, and only four positions of power in football operations:

  1. General manager
  2. Assistant GM
  3. Director of College Scouting
  4. Director of Pro Scouting.

Berry went from one of the better franchises in the league– even in an off-season, the Colts went 8-8 and were in a three-way tie for the 14th-best record– to the league’s worst. The only franchises that have missed the playoffs more seasons than the Browns are the Bills (who went 8-8) and Raiders (who went 7-9). They both have a core of talent that the Browns can’t match.

If you ranked front office openings positions by desirability from 1-128, with… maybe Ozzie Newsome of the Ravens at #1, Berry went from a position in the 60’s or 70’s to 127. The only position less desirable would be the Pro Personnel Director of the Browns.

Going to College Scouting is a step up

Yes– although the College Scouting job for the Browns isn’t very desirable. You have Paul DePodesta and his quants ranking prospects. Sashi Brown– Captain of the Titanic that is the Browns’ free agency system– makes the final call. Hue Jackson gets a role. And Jimmy Haslam– who ordered the team to make Worst Draft Pick Ever– might get involved.

End result– with all those wanna-bes taking credit, nobody will know whether Berry was the prime mover in any draft pick. Unless the Browns become a powerhouse– at which point people will rush to hire everyone associated with the franchise– he’s condemned himself to a career dead-end.

So why would Berry take the Browns job?

Do you know any people who’ve graduated from Harvard? I do. The worst of them believe they can do anything better than everyone else. This presents two plausible explanations:

  • He took the job because he assumes Brown and DePodesta (both Harvard grads) will win Super Bowls and he wants to add a few titles before he takes a GM job at another team.
  • He knows he can do a great job– and figures, if they fail, he’ll be left standing.

But you don’t believe either?

No I don’t. Berry had been doing the job since 2012– no promotion, no move to another team. That isn’t how the NFL works. Smart, ambitious people get results– at which point someone notices and he gets promoted or takes another job.

Unless someone is a senior person at a topnotch front office– or they like doing exactly what they do now and don’t want the hassles that come with being the GM– great people don’t stick around. And they don’t jump from a perennial playoff team to the worst front office in the league.

So what do you think will happen to Berry?

He’ll scout and file reports that nobody will listen to. By 2020, the owner and the front office will be gone and the Browns will be a black mark on his resume. At which point, he’ll have to take a scouting position or go off to Wall Street and new people will come in. As the song says:

“Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars”

In case it isn’t clear to you, line #4 refers to the fans.

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