Cleveland Browns Following Scott Pioli's Playbook

During the 2012 NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs were doing a pretty good impression of the late 2000s Cleveland Browns.

Head coach Romeo Crennel?


Starting QB Brady Quinn?


RB Peyton Hillis?


Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll?


A terrible football team?

Check. Check. Check.

The 2012 season ended for the Chiefs the same way the 2008 season ended for the Browns; with everyone getting fired.

Why the 2012 Chiefs tried to follow the same playbook that led to doom in Cleveland (well, more doom in Cleveland) we may never know.

The one person that was not in Cleveland during the late 2000s that was responsible for creating the Chiefs’ version of the Browns, was GM Scott Pioli.

The NFL is a small world. Pioli worked in Cleveland when Bill Belichick was the head coach back in the 90s. After a stint with the Ravens (formerly the Browns) Pioli landed in New England and became Belichick’s right hand man. The Patriots created a dynasty under Belichick and the people that were a part of the organization during that time have been getting jobs because of it ever since. Guys like Pioli, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Brian Daboll, Thomas Dimitroff, Eric Mangini and countless others.

The Browns have been big fans of copying the Patriots, despite the fact that their attempts to do so have failed over and over again. Both Crennel and Mangini have been hired and fired as head coaches of the franchise. Daboll was the offensive coordinator there before heading to Miami and eventually Kansas City.

You would think that the Browns organization would have learned to stop hiring ex-Patriots but you’d be wrong.

As the team rebuilds yet again, the new ownership decided to hire Belichick disciple and former NFL Network analyst, Mike Lombardi, to be their new GM and VP of Player Personel.

Belichick disciples tend to have a history of secrecy and a petty management style and it appears Lombardi is no different.

When Mangini was with the Browns, he was known for strict and unnecessary rules.

Take this article from ESPN from September of 2009:

During training camp, where he blared music during practices to sharpen his team’s focus and made players run laps when they made a mistake, it was learned that he had threatened to fine players for offenses like failing to park in their assigned spots and other conduct he felt was “detrimental” to the team.

There was also his drawn-out quarterback competition between Quinn and Anderson, which concluded with Mangini keeping the winner a secret until an hour before kickoff of the season opener.

Mangini didn’t make many friends in New York, where he was dubbed “Mangenius” after taking the Jets to a playoff bid in his first season.

Last week, former NFL quarterback and CBS analyst Boomer Esiason criticized Mangini’s secretive ways.

“Eric Mangini can take the fun out of a 10-year-old’s birthday party with Big Bird there,” Esiason said. “That’s how miserable this guy is becoming.”

Yahoo!Sports reported that Mangini recently fined an unidentified Browns player $1,701 for failing to pay for a $3 bottle of water he drank in his hotel room during a preseason road trip.

Mangini did not confirm or deny the bottled-water fine, but said he imposes guidelines for his team to follow “because we have a very diverse group of people, and the rules are set up to make sure we can operate effectively as possible.”

Fines over water bottles?

Sound familiar?

Scott Pioli faced some of the same criticism during his time in Kansas City. A piece by Kent Babb, then of the Kansas City Star, called “Arrowhead Anxiety” highlighted some of the peculiar and in some cases, borderline abusive behavior being reported by employees about the Chiefs’ front office. In fact, one incident mentioned was Pioli becoming angry at two employees for parking in the wrong place when they were in working in the middle of the night.

After a while, a saying was adopted by top administrators for behavior that didn’t fit the new standards: “That’s so 2-and-14,” they would say, referring to the Chiefs’ win-loss record in 2008. This pertained to matters large and small: Stephanie Melton, who worked 11 years on the team’s operations staff, recalled Pioli’s reaction after she and a coworker, after working past midnight on a weekend, had parked a courier van in the unmarked space usually occupied by Pioli’s car. The women had forgotten to move it, and Pioli was livid the next morning. Melton said she was made to feel for several days that she’d be fired.

Pioli was also known for bringing an almost comical secrecy to the organization. Babb’s article outlined several of Pioli’s policies, such as forcing business employees who had offices facing the practice field to lower their window shades during practices. Pioli was so paranoid that people that worked for him might let information slip, that he sent security guards around to make sure the shades were down.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then it sounds like the 2013 Cleveland Browns were so flattered by the 2012 Chiefs’ late 2000s Browns impression, that they’re returning the compliment by trying to turn themselves into the 2009-2012 Chiefs.

Lombardi seems to be following Pioli’s playbook in Cleveland. Take this fantastic piece from Chuck Klosterman of Grantland. Klosterman was to be given access to the Browns in the days leading up to and during, the 2013 NFL Draft. What Klosterman ended up getting, however, was a lot of “off the record comments” from the new regime in Cleveland.

Take this passage, which if you didn’t know what team Klosterman was writing about, you could almost put money down that it was about the Pioli-led Chiefs.

In so many ways, this denial represents the grand irony of the Browns organization (and, I would assume, every other organization in the NFL). The Browns live in a state of perpetual war, endlessly convincing themselves that every scrap of information they possess is some kind of game-changing superweapon that will alter lives and transmogrify the culture. They behave like members of a corporate cult. Yet what do these cultists watch on the day of the draft? They watch ESPN. They log on to the Internet and scan ProFootballTalk. The comments they make about college prospects are roughly identical to whatever your smarter friends might glean from the Plain Dealer. I’ve never witnessed this level of institutional paranoia within a universe so devoid of actual secrets. I don’t even know what they don’t want me to know.

Check out the whole article. It is a fascinating read.

It will be interesting to see if the new Browns (or the old Chiefs, depending on how you want to look at it) benefit from their new Pioli-style football police state.

Something (history) tells me that they won’t.

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  • Ben Mitchum

    I’ll be interested in following this train wreck that will be the Cleveland Browns.

    I honestly feel bad for them in the fact this is a fanbase that has been through much of the same horrors and misfortunes the Chiefs fanbase have faced through the years. Now your going to not only have a crappy product but the fanbase is going to have to live through this crap while having a dark cloud of secracy and gloom hang over them. We know how this story goes and frankly I think the Browns fans have lived this story before as well.

    I’m sorry but Chudzinski just seems like the type of head coach is there because the front office know they can make him a puppet on the string. Big name coaches with prior success aren’t going to go there if the franchise is going to be run the way Pioli ran it. This is a Romeo Crennel type hire imo.

    • Patrick Allen

      I agree with pretty much everything you said. Chud was a safe hire.

  • Jim Harper

    It baffles me how many NFL teams seem to drink the same kool-aide and repeat the madness over and over again. The Patriot Way works because of Bellichick and there is only one.

    • Patrick Allen

      Helps when you have a great coach and a great QB. That is why the Pats win.

    • Merlin_Arrowhead_Addict

      Bellichick has a losing record without Tom Brady. If it wasn’t for hitting the lottery on Brady, would he still have a job? Would anyone care about the Patriot way?

  • mmmm

    with spygate, its possible pioli learned up close just how crippling it can be for that information to get out.
    that aspect really didn’t bother me. its hard to trust family, friends. how can you trust an entire staff working at arrowhead to not pass along what the chiefs are running in closed practices?

    if you know an NFL Coach, try asking them questions, specifics about the team. what they run, why their players avg certain numbers, they will avoid that question and have you on another topic immediately. why? this is pretty classified information. people make fun of this, but my gosh folks, some of the best businessmen in the world work 300 days a year away from home, and make what these players make in 1 game, in an entire year. and that is a small percentage of the workplace as is.

    this is a soon to be multi billion dollar business. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be very very careful. you can’t just sign some confidential aggrement and trust that. because if they see something and let it slip when its really really important, they can sink that advantage you thought you had on that 4th and 1 late in a game, costing you a lot more than you would gain by suing that employee.

    • Patrick Allen

      There is being careful and there is being crazy. You don’t need to tell everyone who you plan to draft but sending security to check the window shades is crazy.

  • tm1946

    The NFL style of football is fairly simple, many college go nuts trying to be different to other teams in their conference, in the NFL not so much.
    That said, with the right athletes or specific coaches, there can be quirks that will mystify other teams for a year or two so team should be secretive with those oddities. Also since it is mostly a “old boys” network, every one is familiar with what teams can do.
    Then you get nuts like Pioli and, apparently, Cleveland. Re-invent the wheel and tell everyone it is a secret. Kinda stupid.

  • drtold

    Romeo Crennel: “I don’t know why we lost.” I will never stop laughing about that.

    • Darkwolf1414

      Reporter: “Why did Jamaal only get 5 carries in the game.”

      Crennel: “I didn’t know that he got that few carries until you just told me. I don’t know.”

      Me, screaming at the screen: “Were you not watching the F@($!^& game!? It’s not my job to know and I know that he only got 5 carries!”

  • Merlin_Arrowhead_Addict

    It is interesting that the most successful ex-pat exec (Thomas Demetroff) does not buy into the uber-secrecy paranoia way of operating.

    • Patrick Allen

      Yep. Thomas took what he thought was useful from NE and went off to be his own GM. Working pretty well for him.

  • Charger Fan 17

    You’ve got to Believe in the Bolts!!!

    • chiefridgy

      Boo charger girls!