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.