April 14, 2024

Sean McDermott And Missed Opportunities: Bills and Browns Is A Tale Of Two Organizations


As the Browns travel up to Detroit to face the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, it’s healthy but not refreshing to remember how both of these organizations have progressed since 2016, when they were in similar positions.

Doing so offers a great comparison of how the franchises are run and shines a light onto the Browns’ current problems and how they reek of the same dysfunction that plagued them years ago. Suffice it to say, changing around the defensive coordinator or the quarterback will not change a thing if owner Jimmy Haslam employs his standard approach.

Following the departure of Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer at the end of the 2015 season, Haslam had already assembled a team of young football minds, heavily steeped in analytics and modern methods of roster construction. Sashi Brown, who worked quietly within Berea for years was promoted to Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Paul DePodesta was brought in as Chief Creative Officer and the group set out to completely rebuild the Browns from scratch.

ESPN writer Seth Wickersham documented the experience in a 2019 in-depth piece titled “The Clash of the Cleveland Browns.” It is a well-done article with hard research and reporting to back up the central theme, which is that Jimmy Haslam can’t help himself from randomly intervening and fostering mistrust throughout the building. It’s something I wrote about months ago on this very site.

The search committee came to a consensus – almost. The Browns brass voted 4-1 to hire Sean McDermott, who at the time was the Panthers defensive coordinator. Haslam instead liked Hue Jackson, despite both Brown and DePodesta firmly warning Haslam against it just days before hiring him.

We don’t need to revisit the depths of the underworld that the Browns explored over the next two-and-a-half seasons under Jackson. Instead, just look at how the Bills have bootstrapped themselves since picking up the sword and hiring McDermott the next year. In his first season as head coach, 2017, Buffalo went 9-7, good enough to earn a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. This happened with Tyrod Taylor as McDermott’s starting quarterback.

Over the following four years, Buffalo made the playoffs in three seasons, winning three total postseason games and losing to Kansas City in the 2020 AFC Championship Game. They’re currently 6-3 and ready to compete for yet another playoff spot this season. The Browns are 3-6 as if to accentuate the night and day difference between the two organizations.

It’s not just Josh Allen pulling miracle plays out of his back pocket either. The Bills play with heart and purpose. They are tough, disciplined and focused. They didn’t spend an off-season thwarting questions of massages, allegations, lawsuits and morality from the press. Notorious divas like Stefon Diggs are blossoming there, whereas the Odell Beckham Jr. experiment never got off the ground. They are a team Buffalo is proud of, win or lose.

The takeaway?

The Bills had a cohesive plan and trusted their leadership to make the decisions they were hired to make. It led to the coach they wanted and ultimately the quarterback they wanted. Everybody was on the same page, in lockstep and trusted to do their jobs.

The Browns, on the other hand, are a constant mess of an organization. It has been nothing but arranged marriages and band-aid solutions since Haslam took over as owner. The McDermott missed opportunity is just one example. The Deshaun Watson acquisition was done under the same knee-jerk circumstances.

The only period when there was a clear plan in place was that brief couple of weeks after Pettine’s firing and Jackson’s hiring. Think about that when McDermott’s Bills square off against the Browns this week.

Now, it’s entirely possible and probable, that McDermott wouldn’t have panned out in Cleveland because Haslam would have found yet another way to make a mess of things. He would have ordered another quarterback to be drafted despite the front office wanting somebody else. Oh, wait, that already happened in 2014.

But it helps to see what a well-run organization looks like compared to a chaotic one. Particularly when their head coach was in your grasp years ago.


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