Leadership and a few good coaches: The Browns need just one

It’s no newsflash that Freddie Kitchens was fired after one NFL season as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Urban Meyer is available, but will Dee and Jimmy Haslam consider the former Ohio State head coach as an answer for the Browns job? Or will Meyer get a nod by the Cowboys or Giants?

What the 2020’s brings anew to a few NFL franchises searching for the next Messiah to lead their organization to the promise land may be answered before this column is even published. It’s only a matter of time before the public learns whether Meyer or other former collegiate coaches get a nod at an illustrious milestone that carries more risk than a stockbroker’s uncontainable spending in an economic downturn.

Paul Brown made the successful jump from college (Ohio State) to the pros (Cleveland Browns) in the early 40s and a handful of success stories have followed over the decades. Current NFL head coach Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks) successfully jumped to the pros after a productive college stint at USC. Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills), Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys), and Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers) are three other success stories from the 80s and 90s who’s segway into the NFL included successful head coaching positions at the collegiate level. Added to the historic list are Bobby Ross (San Diego Chargers) and Barry Switzer (Dallas Cowboys). Ross won a national championship with the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech and Switzer won multiple championships at the helm of the University of Oklahoma before taking their respective NFL team to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, there are plenty of coaches who’s jump to the pros wasn’t as successful such as Butch Davis’ one year with the Cleveland Browns after building the University of Miami to a powerhouse in the early 2000’s. Lou Holtz even jumped to the NFL for a New York minute in the late 70s. Holtz resigned as the Jets head coach with one game remaining and only three victories before returning to the college ranks where he eventually led Notre Dame to a national championship. Sandwiched between a national championship at LSU and several with the University of Alabama, Nick Saban experienced a less than stellar two seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in the mid-2000s.

Identifying and hiring a candidate that will become a successful professional football coach shouldn’t be a gamble, but the realities of the revolving door for unsuccessful coaches demonstrates how volatile the NFL is as a pressure cooker industry where one can rise as quickly and easily as they can fall. There are a countless number of factors that impact wins and losses, most notably being personnel. While it’s no secret that talent alone doesn’t secure a victory, as a general rule, the most successful teams do possess the best talent (resources). Equally important to success, however, is a collective and unwavering belief in the systems guiding performance to achieving goals. Therein is where the head coach enters the equation as the leader of the organization with the ability to empower a shared vision.

John Maxwell, an expert in the realm of leadership, once asked and answered, “Do you know the difference between leaders, followers, and losers? Leaders stretch with challenges. Followers struggle with challenges. Losers shrink from challenges.” Time will truly tell if Freddie Kitchens develops into a successful leader or succumbs to a label as a perennial loser. He was certainly no more than a follower this past season. He struggled in the face of challenge and earned the designation as a follower along with the scores of other NFL coaches who tried but failed to guide a team to a successful season.

Maxwell also once said, “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.” Again, Kitchens had the talent this past season, but he didn’t fully empower his players to the extent of sharing the same unwavering belief in the systems he thought were necessary to win more games. The rash of penalties by the Browns this past season (a.k.a., Myles Garrett’s inexcusable helmet bashing tirade in the Steeler’s game) is evidence enough of a rogue system where individual player decisions had greater influence than Kitchen’s efforts to empower a shared vision of the processes and systems that should have lead to greater team success.

Who the Haslam’s hire to lead the Browns in 2020 shouldn’t be a crapshoot as it has been since taking ownership in 2012. They failed yet again in the duty to hire a coach to successfully lead a fairly talented squad. Despite the talent level, the players failed to be fully committed to Kitchen’s systems. Again, the most successful teams embody two important ingredients: the best talent (resources) and a shared belief in the systems and processes necessary for achieving goals.

A predictive hiring system embodies a model that defines and interprets relevant historical data considered best in forecasting the future. It is seemingly a simplistic approach to defining the qualities in a coach that would lead the organization to success, and finding the candidate best embodying those characteristics. The Browns had the opportunity to put the system to good use before the 2016 season (and again this past year) after securing Paul DePodesta who is known arguably as the best sport analytic mind in the country. DePodesta, an analytics guru portrayed in the blockbuster movie Moneyball, was hired in 2016 and currently reports directly to the Haslams as their Chief Strategy Officer. The Haslams, however, chose twice to go against the recommendation of DePodesta and the Brown’s coveted analytics team in the hiring of head coach Hue Jackson in 2016 (3-36-1) and Freddie Kitchens this past season. Published reports indicated that the Browns’ analytics team supported the hiring of Minnesota Viking’s current offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski over Kitchens and Sean McDermott (current Buffalo Bills head coach) over Jackson.

Perhaps data analytics will beat out human instinct in the hiring of the Brown’s next coach. Somehow, the Haslams need to do a better job at identifying potential leaders and selecting a head coach that will prove to be a success story. Andrew Carnegie, once the wealthiest man in America, is known for hiring 43 employees who eventually became successful millionaires under his tutelage. When asked how he came to hire so many successful individuals, Carnegie expressed his intentional hiring process that mined strictly for gold and pushed away the dirt. Hopefully Dee and Jimmy Haslam can push away the dirt and focus on mining for pure gold as they embark on their search for the Browns next head coach.

Here’s to the NFL playoffs occupying a few more weekends and a national collegiate championship about to interrupt another perfectly good workweek. Perhaps another column will address why the final college playoff game and the NFL Super Bowl should move to a Saturday where they belong! Stay tuned next month for more interesting sport stories from around the world, across the country, and right here in Tiffin, Ohio.