Full transcript: Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown press conference - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Full transcript: Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown press conference

Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown (Source: WOIO) Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown (Source: WOIO)
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

Opening Statement:

DePodesta: “We’ve had Sashi (Brown) batting leadoff for the last couple weeks so I guess I’ll go [first]. I think I’ll just start by saying I’m thrilled to be here, really am. I’m certainly excited about the challenge that football brings but I think most importantly just excited to be back here in Cleveland. I had the chance to be here with the Indians back in the mid-90s and it was a really special time in my career. I think both professionally and personally. The chance, not only to try something different and take on a unique challenge in the NFL was appealing but what was really appealing to me was the chance to come back here to Cleveland and to do it here for an iconic franchise and for a group of fans that for my 20 years were second to none. I’m really excited to be here.”?

Brown: “I echo the same sentiment. Really humbled and honored to have the opportunity to lead this franchise. Appreciate (Owner) Dee (Haslam) and (Owner) Jimmy’s (Haslam) trust in me and looking forward to returning championship ball club and organization to the city of Cleveland and certainly the Dawg Pound, number one fans in the NFL as Paul said.”

On what makes him qualified to have control of the 53-man roster:

Brown: “This is my 12th season in the league, been in and around a lot of strategic decisions in terms of how to build rosters. I think one of my strengths also is to be able to bring people together and form a consensus, take information and make good strategic decisions. We’ll make a series of those and in time we will see the results translate on the field.”

On an example of how analytics translates to football:

DePodesta: “I’ve had to ask myself that a couple of times in the last few weeks. I think about analytics, I think, much more broadly than other do. To me, it’s not really about numbers or algorithms, for me it’s really just about a mindset and the mindset is about trying to use information to make better decisions, especially in the face of uncertainty which is what  all of these professionals sports are really about. This is something that’s been around in football forever. When we time players in the 40-yard dash or we test them in other things at the combine to help us make a better decision in the draft, that’s analytics. When you’re deciding what play to call on third and 9 based on what the other defense does, what your capabilities are, you’re using analytics to make that decision. I don’t think it’s going to be something that’s truly novel but we’re certainly going to be seeking out, not only information but better information to help us make better decisions in all phases, whether it’s with personnel, whether its player development, the draft, etc.”

Brown: “Just to piggy back on that, I think collectively in terms of across the organization we want to turn over and create every competitive advantage we can. Jimmy talks about turning over every rock. Certainly we want every piece of information we can as we make our decisions moving forward whether its personnel or as Paul said, in other areas of the organization. We view it as very additive to what we do, it won’t be dictating our personnel decisions but hopefully informing them.”

On if the team made use of the analytics staff already in the building:

Brown: “We do have some talented, very smart, young folks with analytics backgrounds and we’ve got a pretty robust department in place relative to other NFL teams, probably not relative to baseball. Paul can speak to that a little bit more. I think where you’re heading is probably Paul’s role a little bit and why bring him in. Paul impressed us when we met with him in his ability to articulate and execute on setting visions for championship ball clubs. He’s done that, his track record speaks for itself and I’m sure you guys know it. We felt like where we’re heading in our vision, which is to return the Browns to a championship organization, truly organization across a number of disciplines and departments that he’s going to be tremendous value for us to have and will be a great teammate. Over the course of the first two weeks, three weeks that he’s been here he’s certainly proven that he’s capable to do that and will provide us great value moving forward. His role is, we don’t see Paul in terms of being limited to analytics. We see his ability to build championship ball clubs, put strategies and processes in place and build a Browns system that can drive us towards winning and ultimately championships is his real strength.”

On how they used the information provided by the analytics staff in place before hiring DePodesta:

Brown: “Some of it’s been put in place. A lot of the stuff is obviously proprietary so can’t roll too much of it out but, yeah we have absolutely learned a lot internally and we do plan to integrate it as we move forward.”

On if his approach to creating a successful analytics system changes based on the sport:

DePodesta: “Specifically to my role here and answering your question is that I’m not really here to be an analytics guys. I think my role, as Sashi said, is really about the organization as a whole. When you look at great organizations, whether they’re sports franchises or anything else, they do something that separates them from the competition. Usually that ‘something’ is a process or a set of systems that differentiates them. For Apple that might be their design function. For Amazon it might be how easy they make shopping. For UCLA under John Wooden it was the process that started on the first practice of every day when he told them how to put on their socks and lace up their shoes, right? It’s a little different everywhere. My job is really to help us create and implement those processes that we think are going to give us a sustainable advantage over time. Has my approach changed? Or will it change from sport to sport? In that sense, no, because that what I’ve always done is try to create those systems or those processes that create a sustainable advantage. Are there nuances to this game and this sport that I’m going to have to learn? Absolutely.”

On if analytics will be used to help create game plans:

Brown: “It depends on if the play works (laughter).”

DePodesta: “No, I think I was really referring to what coaches have done for years already and for decades in terms of trying to figure out how to game plan against a particular team. To the extent that we can be a resource for the coaching staff, we certainly will be but we won’t be dictating anything like that.”

On the decision to get more involved in the football side of the organization:

Brown: “I think for us, when we step back and looked at where we needed to take our operation, obviously we’ve had a tremendous amount of success with (President) Alec (Scheiner) at the helm on the business side here and we needed some more focus and I think leadership on the football side. I think being an ‘organization, team first’ guy I think that’s really what drove it and I’m confident we will be excelling here on the football side shortly.”

On Owner Jimmy Haslam trusting him to make the big transition to his current position:

Brown: “First, not to be combative, it’s not a huge huge leap. Actually over the last couple of years, I’ve taken on and spent the majority of my time on the football side and involved in the high level kind of strategic decisions and determinations that we’ve made here. My role, as you probably are aware as I’m sure (Vice President, Communications) Peter (John-Baptiste) has informed everyone, has largely been on salary cap, management, contract negotiation, roster strategy, draft day, trades, things like that. So, not an entirely huge jump, particularly because we’re going to supplement and bring in a vice president of player personnel. It’s really just ultimately at the end of the day having control of some decisions and leading the department overall. I feel like it’s a natural transition to me. Actually, it probably makes me a little less scatter brained during the day so that I can focus on one area of the organization and dig a little bit deeper there.”

On if they like the challenge that people are questioning what they are doing and proving people wrong:

DePodesta: “It’s something I’m accustomed to (laughter). No that doesn’t provide any extra incentive for me and look, quite frankly, I understand the skepticism. I’m hugely passionate about football. I played football in college, I really wanted to work in football. My first job was actually in the CFL. All of those things qualify me in absolutely no way whatsoever to work for an NFL team so, I get it. I think not only I but we, we’re going to have to go out and prove that we can belong and that we add value at the end of the day. I think what we’re trying to create is similar to what we would create on the field. On the field you want to be able to do everything. You want to be able to pass, you want to be able to run, you want to be able to tackle, all of these different things. We want to create an organization that, off the field, can do everything too, so we really want to try to build in complementary skill sets. Like Sashi mentioned, we definitely want a personnel guy to be with us. Hue (Jackson), obviously, is going to be a huge influence on a lot of the things we do but we’re not all clones of one another. All of us bring a little something different to the table and by creating a team that way hopefully at the end of the day we end up with a much more dynamic solution than we otherwise would have.”

On if he will split his time between Ohio and California:

DePodesta: “I’ve been commuting to New York the last five years from California. I think the original intent when I took the job was that I would probably move and then it ended up working out that I stayed out there and we realized that the commuting  actually worked pretty well. My guess is we’re going to continue to do that here at the beginning. In the summer my family will probably be out here with me but I’ll be here for the most part, almost as if I were living here.”

On the process of accepting the position with the Browns:

DePodesta: “I think Sashi can probably tell some of the story as well but what I understand is that Jimmy and Dee and Sashi, Alec and others had gone out in a quest to gain knowledge, sort of outside of football. I think they tried to do it within football but their competitors probably weren’t all that forthcoming with information. They visited with a handful of different executives from baseball teams, basketball teams, I think hockey and maybe some others, just trying to gain insights on what to do. So I met with them shortly after the World Series, after they had reached out to me and it just sort of snowballed from there. I don’t think it was their intent at the time and it certainly wasn’t mine that this is where we would end up but that’s how it was created.”

On if they were targeting DePodesta for the position:

Brown: “No, not at all and as Paul said we wanted to go out and try to, again, uncover every competitive advantage. There’s a tremendous amount of learning as an organization you can do by talking to others that are in similar situations and sometimes very distinct, something I plan on continuing to do in terms so learning from people in other professional sports and business general in terms of how to put together great organizations.”

On if there will be any changes to the sports science side of the organization based on the amount of soft tissue injuries players suffered throughout the 2015 season:

Brown: “We have hired a high performance director, Adam Beard. Adam was with us last year, he understands we were all frustrated by the soft tissue injuries last year. We will put in place significant resources to identify why those injuries occurred and put processes in place and systems in place to make sure that we address that and don’t have a repeat and that really is his job. Obviously with our strength and condition coaches and our trainers we have to have much better spring and summer with respect to soft injuries and giving our players the best possible medical care and, as they call it now, pre-habilitation that is available to them.”

On if there will be any changes to the strength and conditioning staff:

Brown: “We are hiring a new strength and conditioning staff. There may be a few coaches on the strength and conditioning staff from last year that stay in place.”

On head coach Hue Jackson’s comments that the team needs a quarterback:

Brown: “I don’t think Hue’s comments, and I don’t want to speak for him, were targeted at anybody on our roster necessarily but we do need, in Cleveland, I think as you all know the success of any NFL franchise goes with the ability of its quarterback and we need a guy that can be here for a period of years and drive continued success. Listen, excited about having (QB) Josh (McCown) in the building. (QB) Johnny (Manziel), obviously, is on the roster and we also had (QB) Austin (Davis) and added him last year and extended him, good young quarterback, great work ethic. Excited about the three guys here and potentially adding more until we get to the point that we know we have a franchise quarterback here in Cleveland.”

On what role they will have in making quarterback decisions:

Brown: “Paul can certainly speak for himself. My role, obviously, at the end of the day is to work with our personnel group and coaching staff and identify what we have, what we need and get to a place where we identify draft prospects, free agency, guys on our roster to get to the best possible decisions. I think that probably speaks for itself.”

DePodesta: “Yeah, I would say I think it’s our role to try to be as exhaustive as we possibly can in that search and maybe the solution is closer than we think or maybe it’s in free agency or maybe it’s in the draft. I think our duty is to explore every avenue and every possibility.”

On where they stand with WR Josh Gordon:

Brown: “Josh has to, as I think you all are aware, he applied for reinstatement. He’ll go through a protocol there and then if Josh is able to clear that and come back to the roster we would sit down with him and figure out where he is physically and mentally and move forward but prior to that, it would be premature for me to comment or determine how we might use him or think about him.”

On how receptive head coach candidates were to DePodesta’s untraditional background:

DePodesta: “I think they were all open. They wanted to be the head coach (laughter). This is something I’ve dealt with my entire career. I think there are actually a lot more similarities than differences between what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years and what I’m going to be doing going forward. Ultimately, these games are about people, they’re highly competitive guys. These are people that have been in the industry for a long time. When I was in Cleveland I was working with a lot of people who had been in the game longer than I’ve been alive. I needed to figure out how to learn as much as I possibly could from those people and also hopefully, in time, earn their respect. For me, during the course of the interviews over the last couple of weeks it was as much a learning process as anything else. I was trying to learn as much as I possibly could. When we did explain our roles and our backgrounds when it came around to me I usually started with ‘okay, you ready for this?’ (laughter) just because knowing its untraditional but I think I’m self-aware enough to know what I don’t know and right now that’s a lot, in this space. I really want to just try to soak up as much as I possibly can, hopefully that came across in the interviews.”

On what the study of the 2014 QB draft class entailed and why the team did not select the QB the study favored:

Brown: “I hope you can respect that we are not going to reveal the results of our studies. We do have some really talented young folks here in the building that do tremendous work in terms of providing us with objective data about what college prospects might pan to be and projections for draft eligible players. We’ll rely on those moving forward. I am not going to be able to go back and comment on decisions in the past.”

DePodesta: “I’ll say this just one quick thing about it. It is true in baseball and certainly true in football. There is an underlying, fundamental principle of these industries and that is uncertainty. We are doing everything we can to get our arms around that uncertainty. Sometimes it can be really hard. Even with the best process in place, the best ideas, and the best intentions – we are still going to be wrong. We are still going to have some picks that don’t work out. We are still going to try some things that don’t work out. That is the reality of it. This isn’t about having some system that is a crystal ball that tells us exactly what is going to happen, but hopefully we have processes in place, and not just with numbers, but processes in general that if we do them time and time again we will start being right more often than we are wrong or maybe just right more often when it matters. Maybe limiting the size of the mistakes that we make. The reality is that we are not going to be perfect. No matter the study or anything else. It is part of what makes these games fun, is the uncertainty. It is a drama without a script. That is just what we are trying to get our arms around. We are never going to get it completely under control.”

On if he has gotten any kind of assurances from Jimmy Haslam that they will get time to develop their strategies:

DePodesta: “I know the acronym in terms of what the NFL stands for. We are fully aware of that. It is a mindset. It is one thing I really wanted to be sure of before making this leap. I agree with you. I don’t know how long it will take. I can’t sit here and say we are going to have this thing figured out. I am confident that 12 months from now, if we sit down next January, we will be a lot better than we are today and a lot further along. Hopefully 12 months after that we will be able to say the same thing, but I don’t know where the tipping point is where it will really kick in and really make a big difference. I think Jimmy and Dee really want to do this right. It was one of the things that made a big impression on me when I was meeting with them that they were genuine, they were earnest. They really want to get this right. They don’t want to keep changing things because they know ultimately that doesn’t lead to success. I think there is going to be that mindset here. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later, but I don’t know how long exactly that will be.”

On if the team will analyze teams that have gone from having losing records to winning records in the span of one season and try to understand how the team was able to accomplish that:

DePodesta: “Absolutely, I think it is a great example. One of the learnings that we had in baseball was very rarely is progress linear. At least on a surface level. For instance, let’s say in football terms a team has won four games. Very rarely do they win four and then eight and then 12. It is usually four, seven, five, 12. Where you didn’t necessarily see it coming, but there was this fundamental change of state that occurred or this tipping point that made them a completely different team than they were previous to that. Our job is to find what the indicators are that will lead to that fundamental change of state. We have already done some work on that, but that is certainly something we are going to continue to do. What are the underlying fundamentals here that make a team take that leap? That is certainly where we want to be.”

Brown: “I think one of the first steps in pursuing that kind of change, the state that Paul talked about, is going out and finding a head coach that could change the tone here. Set a tone and change the culture so that our players were going out with a little more confidence on Sunday and expecting to win. In Hue (Jackson) we feel like we found that. We absolutely will look at this and study and do study this quite a bit. The pieces will get in place. As Paul said, this is going to be a process. Hiring Hue was a big first step and we have plenty more steps to go.”

On the big picture, overarching mission statement on how to build a roster:

Brown: “I have already alluded to the fact that we believe we need to establish a quarterback here. It doesn’t mean we have to find him off the roster, necessarily. We need to go out and find impact players at impact positions. We will sit down with Hue and the coaching staff when they get here and come up with the shared vision with Paul, make sure that everyone understands and clearly communicate with the personnel staff and coaching where we are heading and move from there. I think if you ask all those guys, Joe (Banner) and Ray (Farmer) they would also say they do want a quarterback. Joe would also say it is important to have the offensive line. There is different ways to build it. We will explore all paths and choose the one that gives us the best opportunity to builds toward an organization that really sustains success. Not only do we get to those 12 wins that Paul referenced, and hopefully more than that, but when we get there we are in position to stay there for a long period of time.”

On what makes Brown and DePodesta any different from previous leadership that the team has employed:

Brown: I think you raise a good question. The proof is going to be in the pudding for us. We know that at the end of the day. Like Paul said, we can’t guarantee success. What I can guarantee you is that we are competitive as hell, we are going to turn over every stone, keep biases out of our decision and make as informed decisions as possible every single time we can. We have some talented people in the building and we will be adding some more. We will be working collaboratively together and I think one the strengths that I have is to be able to filter through all that information and get to the right decision at the end of the day with the support of the entire organization.”

DePodesta: “I think along those lines, one of the things that is really important is Sashi referenced that shared vision. I can’t overstate the importance of that. When you have this shared vision it really can help dictate a lot of your decisions. While some of the decisions, especially in the draft, may not work out, the decisions make sense. At least align with that shared vision. I think those are a lot easier to live with because you say, ‘Okay, this didn’t work out, but it is in line with what we are about.’ If we start making decisions that are not aligned with that shared vision then that is a real problem. I think that is where you can two, three or four years where things just don’t work out where you are throwing darts with each decision. As opposed to trying to make – this is just one decision in a group of many that are all aligning towards the same thing.”

On what the organization can do to address all of the off the field reports about Johnny Manziel and what is the plan going to be going forward or are their hands tied:

Brown: “I think you probably hit the nail on the head here a little bit in how much can we do. I think for Johnny he is an individual and he is a man and he is going to have to obviously own a lot of this in terms of his future career. I am not going to comment on the off the field stuff now or go into some of the internal conversations that we have had with him. It is important that he comes back and I think he understands perfectly the circumstance that he is and where he is in his career. As we move forward our expectation, as we talked about upstairs, is that he comes back ready to go and is focused on being a great teammate.”

On how the team can establish the culture they have envisioned with Manziel on the roster with the way he conducts himself off the field:

Brown: “Hue talked about this as well. I think you guys probably bombarded him with a few questions when he was here. In all seriousness, I think we set an expectation for our team and hold them accountable. Some of that is off the field, some of that is on the field. That is one thing I am confident Hue will do is set a set of expectations for our players every day, every practice, every rep of what we expect from them and hold them accountable to that. Organizationally we will certainly do that. I have no doubt Hue will be doing that on a daily basis.”

On how much influence Jackson and DePodesta will have on personnel decisions and who’s responsible for a player if he doesn’t work out:

DePodesta: “If it doesn’t work out, it is this guy right here (points to Brown).

Brown: “They have made that clear. We figured that out over the last couple of weeks. (Jackson and DePodesta) have been involved in the process so far. We have met with a handful of candidates. Actually a couple handful of candidates for our personnel guy. We hope to wrap that search up in the next week or two and make a hire and a decision there. That person will also be very involved in personnel decisions and driving our personnel function. In collaboration with me, Hue and Paul. Ultimately at the end of the day, Paul and Hue will both have significant influence over our decisions. I do ultimately have the decision making authority over the 53 (man roster). I think anybody who has worked with me understands I want to listen, I want to make sure everyone’s input is weighed as we make the decisions that will be Brown organization decisions. Not mine, not Paul’s, not Jimmy’s, not Hue’s, but Browns organization decisions moving forward.”

On if he makes the final, ultimate decision on a direction in which the team is going:

Brown: “Yes, that is my function. I think that is a role that I serve well and I enjoy actually making sure that everyone’s voice is heard, but we also get to the decisions that make sense as Paul referenced.”

On how much weight will analytics carry in the decision making process

DePodesta: “That is a good questions and I don’t know the answer to that yet because we haven’t been in these discussions. We also don’t know exactly what some of the analytics are going to tell us or how convincing it might be. For me, what really makes a difference, as you noted, everyone is doing this now, not just in sports, but everything. Every time you use your credit card or pull out your cell phone someone is keeping track of that data and doing something with it. For us it is about how you actually implement it. How can you have it be a part of your system so that it actually improves your process or improves you decision making. I think that is really the rub. How successful you are in terms of integrating into your overall process.”

On if there is any statistic, such as OBP (on base percentage) in baseball, that makes the value of a player more noticeable than other statistics in football:

DePodesta: That is a good question. I don’t think there is a silver bullet. There wasn’t in baseball either. In fact, I joked earlier Branch Rickey was talking about on base percentage in the 1940s. That even wasn’t necessarily a novel concept. It is how you integrate that information into your decision making process. Here with 22 positions on the field where you are asking them to do different things and you need different things out of those different spots there are going to be different challenges. I don’t think there is any one silver bullet out there. We are going to try to learn as much as we can about every single one of those positions and try to figure out what it is that is truly meaningful in terms of their performance. Sometimes this might not even be related to numbers. There may be other characteristics that are really important.”

On how he will sell OL Joe Thomas on the teams direction moving forward:

Brown: “I already met with Joe. He and I sat down at the end of the season, maybe that Tuesday or Wednesday after the Steelers game. Joe and I have had several conversations over the years. Good, young man. We enjoy him here obviously a lot. He is a great asset to our organization on the field and off. One of the few guys that stays here in Cleveland. Takes care of his little girls. I have seen him a number of times out in the community. Joe is like us, very competitive. His questions to us were largely focused on how are we going to win. I talked to him about what our plan was, what our strategy was and assured him that we are going to be doing everything to pursue winning here as an organization. You would have to ask Joe how satisfied he was with the questions, but he is a guy that is going to be a big piece of what we do moving forward. He has a tremendous amount of insight that we will gleam from.”

On if he was confident in what he heard back from Thomas:

Brown: “Yeah, yeah I was. This has been a process. It is not like Joe and I haven’t had conversations before.”

On if other NFL organizations have been able to block interviews for the personnel position because he has control over the 53-man roster and is he comfortable that he can work around that:

Brown: “Yes, we have already interviewed a number of very talented personnel folks. I was explaining a little bit earlier that this is an odd calendar period for the NFL. At the same time teams are going out to recruit personnel staff, it is also the most critical time for personnel groups at incumbent organizations. When we go to a team to ask (to interview) their director of college scouting four months before the draft, you can imagine what a team says. Under NFL rules if they don’t have control of the 53 they are not obligated to let them out. We anticipated and expected this, but it won’t keep us from getting a really talented Vice President of Player Personnel.”

On who will be in attendance at the Senior Bowl next week:

Brown: “Hue will be involved. Some of our scouts will be involved and myself as well.”

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