For the Browns, Trying Everything May Finally Lead to Something
Kitchens’s brief tenure unfolded like the sequence in a campus comedy where the lads of Alpha Kappa Chugga lock the dean in his closet and declare every week to be Greek Week. Having finished the 2018 season with a 5-2 hot streak and after earning a little too much preseason hype, the Browns played as though they expected to reach the playoffs through sheer talent and rebellious swagger.
They went 6-10 instead, as Kitchens committed basic strategic blunders, Beckham and Myles Garrett got into on-field altercations with opponents and Mayfield regressed at quarterback while publicly feuding with the local and national media. Few teams have ever allowed so little success to go so completely to their heads.
Kitchens and Dorsey were fired at the end of the 2019 season, with DePodesta reappearing from a trap door beneath the stage to introduce yet another cast of characters, led by General Manager Andrew Berry and Coach Kevin Stefanski.
Superficially, the latest leadership change looks like the result of another boardroom coup, with DePodesta ousting Dorsey’s royalists and inserting inexperienced, analytics-friendly functionaries with scanty résumés in their place. But the newcomers appear more committed to winning games than engaging in thought experiments: They acquired veteran talent in their first off-season instead of using last year’s “Animal House” shenanigans as justification for another “Moneyball”-themed roster purge. Analytics now operate under the hood for the Browns instead of flapping like a flag mounted from the car’s antenna.
It’s tempting to interpret the Browns’ current success as a triumph for DePodesta’s initial vision, though it would also be rather sad to interpret four early-season wins after four years of upheaval as any sort of “triumph.” More accurately, the Browns have finally built a quality roster despite themselves, with some key pieces arriving during the first “Moneyball” dynasty (Garrett, wide receiver Jarvis Landry), many during the Dorsey rebellion (Mayfield, Beckham, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) and a few during the current Grand Reformation (offensive lineman Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper).
The 2020 Browns are enjoying success because they are a talented team that executes fundamentally sound game plans each week instead of prematurely boasting of their pending greatness or adhering to a franchise-building paradigm that sounds suspiciously like a multilevel marketing scheme. It’s a simple formula that won’t inspire any intellectual movements or feature films. But it’s working, at least for now.