It wouldn’t be an offseason for the Cleveland Browns without having to hire a new offensive staff, as the Browns front office was once again tasked with finding stability on the offensive side of the ball. After accepting the resignation of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, general manager Ray Farmer decided to part ways with other members of his first offensive staff as well—including quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
If Browns fans are feeling a sort of déjà vu when it comes to replacing their offensive staff, well, it is okay—because the team has not had the same offensive coordinator heading into two consecutive seasons since 2009-2010, when one Brian Daboll held the offensive reins. Yes that’s correct, since the two-year reign of Eric Mangini as head coach came to an end the Browns are now moving on to offensive coordinator No. 5.
Starting with head coach/offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in 2011, followed by Brad Childress in 2012, then Norv Turner in 2013 and Kyle Shanahan in 2014, the Browns offensive coordinator position may actually be more dysfunctional than the quarterback position—one long ridiculed by fans and the national media. With that in mind after further examination, it should not come as a surprise to many that recent hirings instill very little confidence at first glance.
With the lack of stability and an owner ready to blow things up at the end of every season, it is no wonder the Browns could not attract more-tenured offensive coaches to fill their vacancies. Which, to the surprise of nobody, is likely why the team went the young, inexperienced route at a number of their positions.
Team Tabs DeFilippo as Offensive Coordinator
Starting with the hiring of offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, the organization seemingly waived a white flag of sorts while other teams hired coaches with legitimate play-calling experience. At 36-years old and a native of Youngstown, DeFilippo has never as much as sniffed real play-calling duties at any level—never rising above the ranks of quarterbacks coach at the college or NFL level.
Now, this isn’t to say DeFilippo will not be a homerun of a hire when it is all said and done. There are some in NFL circles that have spoken very highly of him, evening comparing him to a hot name on the Browns head coaching list last season. Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach, Greg Knapp, stated this recently saying, “Don’t let his age fool you. He’s like Adam Gase. He’s got great knowledge and a great future ahead of him.”
While those are nice words, Gase had the luxury of working with Peyton Manning during his two seasons as an offensive coordinator. Not to mention he spent a considerable amount of time as a free agent this offseason until John Fox was hired by the Chicago Bears as head coach. So if Gase is such a bright mind and DeFilippo is supposed to be the next Gase, why did it take so long for both to find homes this offseason?
Taking a deeper look at the hiring of DeFilippo as offensive coordinator, it is easy to understand why the Browns made the move. As a relative unknown as a play-caller, his body of work with quarterbacks has some recent positives. After striking out at a young age with JaMarcus Russell and Mark Sanchez (in his defense he was given just two years with Russell and one with Sanchez), he proved his worth in stint No. 2 with the Raiders from 2012-2014.
In 2012 he had veteran Carson Palmer at the helm, who completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. After the team moved Palmer, DeFilippo was expected to find a needle in a haystack with the likes of Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin. For the Buckeye fans out there who remember the awful throwing motion of Pryor, he actually resembled a semi-decent passer by the end of the season—completing 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,798 yards, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
As the 2014 season rolled around, the Raiders finally decided to improve their quarterback situation twice—first acquiring Matt Schaub, then drafting one of the top QBs in the 2014 class, Derek Carr. While many expected Schaub to take the job and run with it, Carr actually won the battle thanks to the work he put in with his quarterbacks coach. Carr finished the year with 3,270 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
While many—including this writer—blasted the hiring and the resume of DeFilippo at first, it is difficult to really overlook the rabbit he pulled out of a hat in Oakland during the last three seasons. With the quarterback situation in a constant state of flux here in Cleveland, it will be intriguing to see if his momentum can carry over with the likes of Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, possibly Brian Hoyer or even yet another quarterback from the sparse class of 2015.
Browns Hope a Joker Can Fix Their WRs
Though all eyes were on the quarterbacks coach after DeFilippo was hired, the team instead hired Joker Phillips as their wide receivers coach first. For those of you looking for an NFL coaching resume for Phillips, he doesn’t have one—instead spending his entire coaching career after leaving the NFL following the 1987 season as a player.
Phillips’ most prominent and well-known roles during his career were offensive coordinator at Kentucky from 2005-2009, head coach of Kentucky from 2010-2012 and the wide receivers coach at Florida from 2012-2013. As a head coach, his team never had a winning record—but none of that would prevent his long-time friend, DeFilippo, from hiring him as his wide receivers coach.
Like DeFilippo, Phillips seemingly was on very few radars of anyone in the NFL—that we know of. With that said, his wide receiver corps here in Cleveland is young and likely only going to be younger—and those are the type of players he has experience with, so the transition should be easy.
Browns Hire Manziel’s Mentor of Sorts as QB Coach
Next up on the Browns offensive staff train was the long-awaited quarterbacks coach, aka the person who is expected to get Manziel to suddenly become an NFL quarterback. For that position, they hired the man who worked with Manziel prior to the 2014 NFL Draft—Kevin O’Connell.
Yes fans, O’Connell is the same quarterback who was taken surprisingly by the New England Patriots in the third-round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He spent just one season with the Patriots, and then bounced around the NFL with the Lions, Jets, Dolphins and Chargers before turning in his cleats for a clipboard and the coaching ranks.
A product of San Diego State, he said the following of Manziel prior to the draft last season. “…Johnny Manziel is able to do things on a football field that very few people can do, whether they’re mentally ahead of other players at the position or not…If he can find a way to match that with his football knowledge and growing as a veteran in the NFL – and it’s going to take him some time – but if he can find a way to do it, the sky is a the limit.”
For the fans attempting to run Manziel out of town after one season, O’Connell’s positive evaluation of the 2014 first-round pick isn’t going to help you. However, it will ultimately be DeFilippo and the front office who make that decision—and they have been very weary of committing to him just yet. Bottom line though, if O’Connell thinks he can get the most out of Manziel that is never a bad thing for your new QBs coach to have faith in a guy who left many hoping Brandon Weeden would walk back through that door—okay, maybe they didn’t go that far.
What in the World is a Senior Offensive Assistant?
After the O’Connell hiring was leaked by the media, another hiring was announced—Kurt Roper as the team’s Senior Offensive Assistant. Before many could utter “who is Kurt Roper,” I received a text message from a buddy, “what in the (bleep) is a Senior Offensive Assistant?”
Now, I cannot shed much light on what Roper’s role on the Browns offense will truly be—but he is probably that addition that I am most excited about of the entire group.
Another product of the collegiate ranks, including four years as a quarterback/defensive back for Rice, the Roper file is strong.
As a collegiate coach, Roper worked with both Mannings (Peyton as a graduate assistant at Tennessee and Eli as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach). Touted as a major contributor to the development of Eli at Ole Miss, these two QBs aren’t his only NFL connection. He was the running backs coach at Tennessee while Arian Foster was there as well.
While those are all nice accolades, his time as the Duke offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 2008-2013 is pretty impressive. A time of “resurgence” for a school known for their basketball program, Roper turned less-than stellar quarterback recruits into 3,000-yard passers. His job done with head coach David Cutcliffe is under-looked by many, as the team was 1-11 the season before he got there and 10-4 in his final season before leaving for Florida.
Tough Task Ahead
With their offensive staff firmly in place, the Browns new offensive team has a tough task ahead. No proven quarterback, a potential year ban for their top wide receiver (again) and question marks all over the place leave this group of newcomers with a difficult path. To say the deck is stacked against success early in their careers is an understatement of epic proportions.
Despite that fact, Farmer and the front office have assembled an offensive group that seems to be hungry and ready to make their mark on the NFL. Let’s just hope they can do the one thing only one group can claim since 1999—find a QB who can lead this team to the playoffs.