Strategic jiggery-pokery as the Cleveland Browns hire Paul DePodesta

depodesta
Photo: AP/file photo

The NFL’s Cleveland Browns just hired stats guru Paul DePodesta, a baseball guy, as “Chief Strategy Officer.” I’ve read the press release, and I still have no clue what that means.

You’ve probably heard of DePodesta. He was the analytics whiz in Moneyball, the one that Billy Beane embraced to turn around the Oakland A’s. (Jonah Hill played him in the movie.) What can he do for a football team? That’s a good question, since the Browns have no head coach right now.

To explain it to you (or not), here’s the Browns’ press release with my translation into plain English shown in brackets. I’ve highlighted meaningless jargon, superlative weasel words, and “secret code” phrases in bold italic. This may be the most superlative-laden press release I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something.

Paul DePodesta named Browns Chief Strategy Officer
DePodesta to add ‘critical dimension’ to Cleveland’s front office

The Cleveland Browns named Paul DePodesta the team’s Chief Strategy Officer, Owner Jimmy Haslam announced Tuesday. DePodesta will be responsible for assessing and implementing best practices and strategies that will provide the organization with the comprehensive resources needed to make optimal decisions. [We hope this guy will help us make decisions with analytics. To lure him away from baseball, we had to give him a C-level title.]

“We are fortunate to bring in Paul, an extremely talented, highly respected sports executive who will add a critical dimension to our front office,” said Haslam. “His approach and ambition to find the best pathways for organizational success transcend one specific sport and his experience as a high level sports executive make him a terrific addition to the Cleveland Browns. [“I’m so worried about how this looks that I’ve cranked up the superlatives to 11,” said Haslam. “Since superlatives are used so often in sports, I dipped into the verb bin and came up with ‘transcend.’ “]

“While we are excited about what Paul will provide our organization, we remain fully focused on the critical task of identifying the right head coach and a top talent evaluator who will provide the football expertise needed to be successful.” [“Hiring a head coach is so important that I’m not just focused on it, I’m fully focused. Don’t imagine that bringing in another C-level hire who has never worked in football has distracted me. And yeah, I know I used ‘critical’ in two sentences in a row, I meant to do that.”]

“Paul has invaluable experience in management and leadership with a number of highly successful sports teams,” said Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown. “His ability to create better processes and systems throughout organizations, his use of data as a tool to produce better outcomes, and his relentless focus on looking for innovative ways to create more success will be a strong asset as we look to be as comprehensive as possible in our decision making. [He’s an analytics guy. So not just an asset, but a strong asset.]

“Additionally, Paul will help members of our player development, high performance and analytics departments maximize their efforts. There are many areas that we have not fully capitalized on that will enhance the growth and performance of our players over time.” [We needed help.]

Cleveland and football have always held a special place in my heart,” said DePodesta. “It was 20 years ago this month, after pursing my first love of football and looking at every possible job in the NFL, that I got the biggest break I could imagine – a job offer from the American League Champion Cleveland Indians. As excited as I was then, I am even more excited now to return to Cleveland and to try to help the Browns. [No translation needed — this paragraph is 100% bullshit. And I’m not sure what’s going on with “pursing” — is that some way to hide extra salary payments from the government?]

“My focus is to bring whatever experience and perspective I can to collaborate with the team, with the intent of helping us make more informed and successful decisions. Admittedly, there will be an awful lot for me to learn, but I want nothing more than to help bring consistent, championship caliber football back to Cleveland and Browns fans and I look forward to starting right away.” [“I was bored with baseball. Now I have a new toy to play with — football stats!”]

Owning 20 years of MLB front office experience, DePodesta began his MLB career as an intern in player development in 1996 for the Cleveland Indians before becoming the Major League Advance Scout for the 1997-1998 seasons and later the Special Assistant to the GM. He then served as an Assistant General Manager, General Manager, Executive Vice President, and Vice President of Scouting and Player Development for the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and New York Mets. In each of those stints, DePodesta’s teams won division titles, culminating in a trip to the World Series this past October with the Mets. The Mets’ NL East title in 2015 made him the only executive in MLB to win division titles with five different organizations. [He’s got a great track record. Just not in football.]

DePodesta has been recognized by Fortune, who ranked him a top 10 innovator under 40. [And he was in a movie!]

A native of Alexandria, Va., DePodesta graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1995. He played football and baseball for the Crimson and was a varsity football letterwinner in 1994. [Don’t worry. Harvard doesn’t let its football players get hit in the head too much.]

Note to sports teams: trying to outdo other teams with your use of superlatives is a losing strategy. Try telling the truth straight. You’ll get lots more attention.

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