BEREA— The first time that Paul DePodesta stepped foot in Cleveland, he was out to prove to those in the business of baseball that he belonged.
Nearly 20 years later, DePodesta has returned to the city where he started and is in much the same position in which he left.
“We’re going to have to go out and prove that we belong,” DePodesta said, “and prove that we can belong and that we add value at the end of the day.”
Just as was the case when he joined the Indians front office all those years ago, DePodesta has caught some glares as he’s entered his new position with the Browns.
There have been detractors and naysayers— those that believe that baseball analytics don’t belong in football and those that believe a “baseball” mind has no spot in a football league.
Having been here before— both in a physical and situational sense— DePodesta understands the stares and ill-will.
“I played football in college... My first job was actually in the CFL,” DePodesta said. “All those things qualify me in absolutely no way whatsoever to work for an NFL team, so I get it.”
While it’s obvious that DePodesta wants to prove his place in the NFL, it’s not as clear how— or why— he’s going to do it.
As for the how, it’s not all about numbers— those same numbers that those in baseball scoffed at then and those in football scoff at now.
“Paul for us really isn’t really about analytics. We have a talented analytics group already in place,” Browns executive VP of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, said. “Paul’s strength to us was the ability to think about, build, execute on putting together championship caliber organizations.
DePodesta clarified further his role and what he’ll strive to do to bring the Browns to the level that Brown mentioned.
“The mindset is about how do we use information to make better decisions at the end of the day,” DePodesta said. “We're trying to figure out what the opponent does on third and short or when we're trying to create a game plan that has a mismatch in the secondary, that's all utilizing information to try and create some sort of advantage by making a better decision.”
Sometimes, it is numbers that can help lead to a better decision, but often, it’s not.
To those who believe that the “numbers nerds” are now running the show, DePodesta ensured that football is far more about people than about computers or data.
“Analytics is not sitting behind a computer and pushing enter and having it produce an answer. This game is not a simulation,” DePodesta said. It's played be real people at the end of the day and because of that there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and for us it's about how do we use information and data to get our arms around that uncertainty.
“It's not always going to be about numbers of formulas, it's the mindset of how can we use information or is there better information out there that can help us make a better decision."
The way in which DePodesta wants to put together a championship organization in the NFL is about information— be it through numbers or people— but the question remains: "why would DePodesta leave his life as an MLB icon to start over again in football?"
That answer is twofold.
First, it was his initial love for football that he never forgot.
“I couldn't find a job in the NFL, I actually took an unpaid internship in the CFL. That was my first job out of school and started applying for graduate assistant coaching jobs in college football, thinking that that was really what I wanted my career path to be,” DePodesta said. “Every fall I feel it again and was hopeful that maybe someday I'd have the chance.”
Then, furthermore, it was his love for a city that sold him once and for all.
“The fact that it was the Browns -- and here -- made it special for me personally,” DePodesta said. “I was overwhelmed when I first got here back in the mid-90s and just the support that the city had for the team and just the idea that I could maybe be a small part of creating something that special again here in Cleveland -- that pushed me over the top.”
Whether or not DePodesta will change the fortunes of the Browns remains unknown, but should he do so, he’ll have Cleveland, once again, to thank for his success in a new, unchartered territory.
For all of your Browns news and updates from Berea, follow Hayden Grove on Twitter: @H_Grove.