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Terry Talkin' about Coaches and Analytics


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Cleveland Browns have Terry Talkin' about search for coaches and the great analytics debate -- Terry Pluto

By Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer
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on January 09, 2016 at 9:20 AM, updated January 09, 2016 at 9:22 AM


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- With Lovie Smith being fired in Tampa Bay, there are now seven NFL teams searching for head coaches. Here's the list:
1.Tampa Bay Bucs
2.Philadelphia Eagles
3.New York Giants
4.Tennessee Titans
5.Miami Dolphins
6.Cleveland Browns
7.San Francisco 49ers

I put them in order of preference to most coaches. It's my list, so you can debate it.

You can argue that the Browns should be No. 7, and I won't spend a lot of time debating it. That's especially true if you're a coach who believes he can revive the career of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Tampa Bay is ranked No. 1 because the Bucs have the best young quarterback of these seven teams. Lovie Smith took the Bucs from 2-14 to 6-10 and was fired. He helped Jameis Winston adjust to the NFL life.

Dumping Smith after two seasons (2-14 and 6-10) seems odd. The Bucs said it's because the team was 6-6 and lost its last four games. For those scoring at home, the Bucs will be hiring their third coach in five years -- same as the Browns.

So owner Jimmy Haslam and his new front office of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta have some serious selling to do. The Browns are interviewing Doug Marrone, Hue Jackson, Adam Gase, Teryl Austin and several others.

Gase is talking to at least four different teams.

Given the Browns decision to go deep into football analytics and have Brown as vice president of football operations with control of the 53-man roster, not every coach will fit with their plans.


When Joe Banner was hired as the Browns CEO, he brought several ideas about analytics to the franchise.

Some were concepts that Bill Belichick had used for years, such as rarely trading up in the draft, especially in the first round.

The general rule is trade down, pile up the picks. Do research on the following year's draft.

That's why Banner made several trades in the 2013 draft to gain 10 total selections (including two first-rounders) in 2014. Banner was fired by that draft, and his replacement (former general manager Ray Farmer) used only six of those picks. Banner correctly believed that the 2014 draft would be far superior than the 2013 draft.

When Banner hired Alex Scheiner as team president, one of Scheiner's jobs was to assemble an analytics department. Scheiner also did that when he was with the Dallas Cowboys.

In 2013, the Browns hired Ken Kovash as "Director of Football Research." He had been the "senior analytics manager" of the Dallas Cowboys from 2010-2012. So he was imported by Scheiner.

In the spring of 2014, the Browns hired Kevin Meers, called a "football research analyst." He had been an intern in the analytics department in Dallas in 2012 and with the Browns in 2013.

One of the clashes between Scheiner and the football side of the operation was about analytics. Coach Mike Pettine and Farmer were mildly interested, but used very little of it. After Banner was fired, the analytics department lost its chief advocate.

I'd love to know what the analytics department revealed about the 2014 and 2015 drafts vs. what the Browns actually did in those drafts.

I've written about the 2014 quarterback study that rated the top three quarterbacks in the draft that season in this order:
1.Teddy Twatwater
2.Derek Carr
3.Blake Bortles

Johnny Manziel was red-flagged and not in the first round.

New chief strategy officer DePodesta will study the work of the two analysts now on the staff. He may bring in some other people. He certainly will implement some of his methods.

Sashi Brown also is a big believer in analytics.

It's obvious that Haslam became a believer in analytics after watching what happened the last few years.

One person told me that the Browns actually had a fair amount of work done in this area, it just was not used much. All of that is about to change.


Since Haslam bought the team, he's dealt with division in the football operation.

Banner's greatest mistake was hiring Mike Lombardi as general manager. Banner did it against the advice of so many people. Haslam was aware of Lombardi's dubious reputation, and he should have insisted that Banner move in a different direction.

But Lombardi came to town. After several months, Banner and Lombardi were at odds. Several members of Rob Chudzinski's coaching staff didn't trust the front office, especially Lombardi.

First, the coaching staff was fired. Three weeks later, Banner and Lombardi were fired.

That's when Haslam put Pettine and Farmer together.

Lurking in the background was Scheiner and the analytics department. They lost influence with the departure of Banner.

Obviously, Farmer and Pettine began to split over the drafting and signing of players. Farmer's texting an assistant coach during games in 2014 also was a problem for the coaching staff.

Meanwhile, Farmer and Pettine were suspicious of Scheiner and some of the accent on analytics.


1. Analytics would say that if you play the big money free agent game, you see players such as Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. They were coming to the end of their rookie contracts. The best age was 25-28 range, when they are in their prime. They were signed by Banner.

2. Analytics would be against giving multi-year contracts to players such as Donte Whitner, Tramon Williams and Karlo Dansby, who have reached 30-year-old level. They were signed by Farmer.

3. Quarterbacks are different, because they can play longer and even average NFL starting quarterbacks are so hard to find. So bringing in a 35-year-old Josh McCown as a veteran presence would be acceptable.

4. You can bring in a veteran of any age on a deal that's only guaranteed for a year (or just a bonus) if you think he can help. That's because it costs little to cut him.

In many ways, it was New School vs. Old School football.

With the promotion of Brown and the hiring of Podesta, it's all New School Football.

Analytics isn't all numbers. They do put value on attitude and background checks. It's part of the reason Manziel was rated so low in the Banner 2014 draft report.

In addition to a coach, the Browns will hire "a talent evaluator." They keep using that phrase with me, rather than a general manager. The talent evaluator must be a guy who buys into the basics of analytics and is also be able to work with the head coach.


In 2013, the Browns offered the coaching job to Marrone.

Instead, he went to Buffalo. Marrone was 6-10 and 9-7 in two years with the Bills. When there was an ownership change, he used a clause to opt out after the 2014 season.

Marrone obviously believed he'd receive another chance to be a head coach. The 9-7 season was the best for the Bills since 2004. But he had no offers. He wasn't even hired as a coordinator. He landed in Jacksonville as an offensive line coach.

In Buffalo, Marrone was very strict. He also was sensitive to media criticism. The players hardly adored him. But he somehow was 9-7 with E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton at quarterback.

I talked to one executive who interviewed and researched Marrone. "A good man, but very strong-willed," said the executive. "He's an old-school coach."

I find it hard to believe he'd blend with the new Browns. Nor would I want them to hire a coach whose philosophy was so different than that of the front office.


Cincinnati's offensive coordinator who will interview with the Browns. Jackson was 8-8 for Oakland in 2011 and fired after one season.

Of the two, I prefer Jackson. If he can go 8-8 in Oakland, he knows what it's like to coach in the losing atmosphere of Cleveland. Dennis Allen replaced Jackson and was fired after an 8-28 record in 2 1/4 seasons.

Jackson's Raiders started the 2011 season at 7-4, then lost 4-of-5 to end at 8-8. He had a large say in trades for Aaron Curry and Carson Palmer, both worked out poorly for Oakland.

I also hear that the 50-year-old Jackson leans in the Old School direction. But he is far more of a people person than Marrone, and may be more open to the analytic approach.


1. Chip Kelly loves analytics but he also loves to be charge. It's hard to imagine the former Eagles coach fitting into the Browns new structure. Kelly has said that he's content to just be a coach. He said this after being fired. But the Browns better proceed with caution if they decide to interview him.

2. The Browns are to interview Jerome Henderson, the defensive backs coach in Dallas. He had the same job with the Browns from 2009-11. Henderson was in Dallas with Scheiner in 2012, and that may have helped him secure an interview. He also drew raves from Browns cornerback Joe Haden.

3. Matt Patricia sounds like a coach made for the new Browns front office. The Patriots defensive coordinator has an aeronautical engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has brought a lot of technology to the Patriots. But is the 41-year-old ready to be head coach? Not sure, but his story is interesting. The Browns have asked permission to talk to him.

4. The Browns plan to talk to Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Hard to judge him. It's much like Patricia. Both guys stepped into great situations with strong head coaches who really know defense. Bill Belichick's fingerprints are all over everything in New England. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis is a strong defensive head coach. His former assistant, Mike Zimmer (now head coach at Minnesota) really helped shape the Bengals defense.

5. Lovie Smith is now available. I'd chat with him, just to pick his brain. The same with Tom Coughlin.

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