The word out of Cleveland is that the Cleveland Browns, who fired their GM and their head coach, are determined to get the right replacements in place heading into the 2009 NFL season. The man they're targeting is New England Patriots VP of Player Personnel Scott Pioli. According to reports on Monday, the Browns have already asked for permission to speak to the Patriots personnel guru.
Following early indications that Pioli would be pursued by a number of teams, the rumor surrounding Cleveland garnered more attention as word leaked out that Cleveland would not be retaining GM Phil Savage. Cleveland reportedly wanted former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who was near the top of their wish list to run things for the Browns. When Cowher told Browns owner Randy Lerner that he wasn't interested, the attention immediately shifted to Pioli.
With Cowher, the Browns would have reportedly needed to cede personnel decisions to the head coach. With Pioli, the team can use him in a GM capacity and allow Pioli to find the Browns next head coach.
Browns owner Randy Lerner confirmed that he has talked to the Patriots, asking permission to speak with Pioli.
"I've asked for permission with one or two non-coaching executives," Lerner said Monday, also confirming one of those candidates was Pioli. Lerner preferred not to name other names on the list at the time. "It would serve the Browns best not to disclose that information because it is a competitive situation."
The Patriots declined to address reports that the Browns are speaking with Pioli. When asked about the reports coming from Cleveland, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick opted out of the answer.
"I'm not going to talk about somebody else's job or somebody else's situation," Belichick said in his 2008 press conference finale on Monday. "We'll comply with the rules as they are, as we always do."
The reports referred to in the question are from the Cleveland papers citing a source which indicated that the Browns have already asked for permission to speak with Pioli.
One item in favor of the Pioli leaving is the situation regarding his position as potential GM vs his role currently as a Vice President of Player Personnel. Even if the Patriots wanted to prevent Pioli from leaving, league rules support the Browns request if the position being offered is a promotion from the one Pioli currently occupies. The Browns would merely need to make Pioli's job offer one which gives him control over personnel matters and he would be receiving a promotion, regardless of the title.
Pioli could also be leaving for greener pastures, literally. According to one source with knowledge of the situation, Pioli is currently earning less than $1 million per year in New England. The numbers being discussed for the Browns job would approach the $5 million range.
Pioli wouldn't take just any job for money. Should the Browns be willing to pony up the loot -- which billionaire owner Randy Lerner has plenty of -- additional concessions would also have to be given to Pioli. According to sources, Pioli wants full control over the entire football operations, something that the Browns might have trouble relinquishing. Considering how poorly the last two hires fared when granted that permission (Butch Davis and Phil Savage), the Browns might meet most, but not all of Pioli's demands.
Regardless of the details which remain to be worked out, the move of Pioli to Cleveland seems like a certainty. With friends in the area, and experience from his days as a member of Bill Belichick's staff while Belichick coached the Browns, Pioli has plenty of reasons to return to the shores of Lake Erie.
For the Browns, any improvement -- especially one in the front office -- makes sense. Romeo Crennel was over his head as a head coach in Cleveland. A defensive mind for most of his coaching career, Crennel knew defense, but did not have an organization in place which could provide him the support staff to run the operation as efficiently as the one he ran in New England. Savage, an assistant in the scouting department in Baltimore, knew talent, but struggled building the organization Crennel and the team needed. His absence from the facilities as he personally scouted talent for the Draft, only exacerbated the issue. Combined, the combination was lethal to both of their careers.
Expect Pioli to take the job in Cleveland if it's offered, and bring along Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as his new head coach. Pioli will almost certainly raid the Bill Belichick coaching tree to assemble the right combination of coaches, assistants and staff.
After nearly 10 years of ineptitude and a single postseason appearance, the time for change in Cleveland is now. Unfortunately for Patriots fans, it appears that they're going to see yet another piece of their foundation depart.