Just hours removed from the National Football League’s dreaded Black Monday, a day where nearly 20 percent of the league turned over their front office and coaching staff, the Cleveland Browns were hard at work trying to hammer out the next staff to lead the franchise into the upcoming season.
After the departures of General Manager Ray Farmer and Head Coach Mike Pettine, the next two dominoes to fall were Executive Chief of Staff, Bill Kuharich, and Vice President of Player Personnel, Morocco Brown. Both men were key players in the questionable personnel decisions that helped lead the Cleveland Browns to their worst record (3-13) since the 2000 season.
Whether you may or may not agree with Owner Jimmy Haslam’s decision to clean house, certainly every fan can agree that the result of the season was unacceptable. Due to the failure of the 2015 season, the search for the ninth coach of the Browns expansion era is officially underway, but that hasn’t stopped Haslam from overhauling the front office in the meantime.
Sashi Brown will take over Football Operations, presiding directly over both the general manager and head coach, working in unison with them and essentially playing the mediator role when decisions are at an impasse. He will bring a unique twist into that relationship, however, due to his advanced knowledge of analytics.
“If you look at the Cleveland Browns and this is prior to our arrival and during the time period we’ve been involved with the team, we have not been good at talent acquisition and if you look at the teams that are successful, they’re very good at talent acquisition,” Haslam said. “That’s something that we have to get right and we think this set-up with somebody with a background in systems, processes, analytics and very strategic married up with a football person, if you will, who is very good at talent evaluation will hopefully put us in a position to win a lot more games than we have in the past.”
Haslam will look to “marry him with a football person” at general manager, meaning the Browns are essentially in the market for a Director of Player Personnel looking for a slightly bigger role. The GM will focus on talent scouting almost solely, then bring his evaluations to the table with the head coach and Brown, and they will come to a consensus in some capacity on the player. The types of candidates Haslam and Brown will be looking for are likely executives that came up through the scouting community and looking for the next big challenge. Candidates like the Packers Eliot Wolf and the Patriots Nick Caserio.
The head coach, however, becomes a little more tricky. He will need to be both football savvy and analytical, he will need to be tough enough for the AFC North, but he will also have to use brains to outsmart them. The big names are out there in the form of the likes of Jon Gruden and Tom Coughlin, but the only logical answer isn’t a household name. The next coach of the Cleveland Browns needs to be New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator, Matt Patricia.
Let me stop you before you play the “Patriots coordinators are bad head coaches” card.
The past involving Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini is well-documented, but what else is well-documented is that Bill Belichick expressly told Mangini he was not ready to be a head coach when he left. Crennel received Belichick’s blessing and he in turn, is responsible for the best record (10-6) in Browns’ expansion history in 2007, so dial it back a notch and stay with me.
A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Patricia holds an Aeronautical Engineering degree, meaning yes, he could probably work for NASA someday. In fact, he gave up a lucrative job in his field to grind it out as an unpaid intern in a small collegiate school, doing side-jobs as a coach’s assistant just to get on the sidelines. It takes a strong person to pursue their dreams when an employer if offering you substantial money, but Patricia’s passion for football was too much for him, and he rolled the dice and bet on himself.
“To be at RPI, to be an engineering student at that level with that math background, he’s just working on a different level than most humans,” his former mentor, coach E.J. Mills said. “He certainly doesn’t look that part, but it doesn’t take long to figure out this is a smart guy who has a little bit more going on in his head than most.”
A former center on his collegiate football team, he understands football from both sides of the field. For 12 seasons, he has worked for the Patriots organization in just about every capacity a coach can. There is something to be said for a coach of Belichick’s caliber keeping you around that long, especially entrusting him to wear so many hats in the organization, switching him to the opposite side of the ball (offensive line to linebackers) just to promote him and keep him on the staff.
In short, Patricia is the perfect combination to bring Sashi Brown and the eventual Browns GM together. He’s an old school football grinder on the field, and an intelligent, tech-savvy engineer off the field. As his former pupil, Pro Bowler Matt Light said, “He’d be very well-suited to be a head coach one day. The coaching world in the NFL is a little bit of the good old boy world. He is definitely one of those who could break into it and probably do some pretty incredible things if he was so inclined.”
It seems that Patricia is inclined, and the interest is mutual for the Browns. An interview has been set up during the Patriots BYE week of the NFL playoffs. If the Browns front office is as smart as they appear and claim to be, they won’t let Patricia walk back out the door afterwards in anything but orange and brown.