The Path to Greatness
Awakening the Sleeping Giant
Since 1999, Browns fans have experienced anguish with few glimmers of hope. In 19 seasons, only two teams finished with winning records – only one ended with a playoff appearance. The common thread – poor leadership. As result, the common goal and collaborative vision have been replaced by drama and upheaval. Thankfully – those days are gone.
The roots of Dorsey:
John Dorsey, born in Leonardtown, MD, grew up a fan of former Colts linebacker “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis. It is no surprise Curtis appealed to Dorsey. Known as one of the grittiest (some would say meanest) linebackers of his day – Curtis was a grinder with legions of fans and was a stalwart for NFL Films. Similar to his favorite player – Dorsey played with a blue collar mentality earning All-American honors at then Division II Connecticut. Selected in the 4th round by the Green Bay Packers, he played five seasons before an injury cut his career short. In 1986, the now Browns GM played well in a 17-14 upset over Cleveland in Municipal Stadium. Green Bay’s HC in 86 was the recently deceased Forrest Gregg who coached the Browns from 1975-1977.
Following his playing career Dorsey joined the Packers in a scouting capacity in 1991. Green Bay, like the Browns, had a rich tradition but the days of glory were a distant memory. The Pack played in only three playoff games (1-2) since hoisting the trophy in 1967. The Green and Gold were truly a sleeping giant.
Enter Ron Wolf:
The 1991 Green Bay squad finished 4-12. Wolf and new HC Mike Holmgren had a monumental challenge. They started by assimilating a high level coaching staff and making the greatest trade in the history of the franchise. In hindsight, trading a first round pick to Atlanta for Brett Favre is a fleecing of epic proportion. However, at the time few knew much of Favre who was a second round pick in the 1991 draft. The gunslinger sit the pine for the Falcons in 91- known primarily as an unprepared player – essentially a punching bag for then HC Jerry Glanville. Yet Wolf put his reputation (and maybe his career) on the line for a QB who had a questionable worth ethic and had health issues which many thought would shorten his career. A young scout observed the trade – learning the principle of seeing a great player – then getting the great player with no regard for outside criticism. In Favre’s first year in Green Bay, he entered the field on September 20th – week three (sound familiar?) due to an injury to starter Don Majkowski. From there, the franchise started coming out of hibernation, just missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Green Bay finally had their QB. Expectations changed dramatically following the 92 campaign. Wolf continued his vigorous pursuit of a championship. No doubt Dorsey keenly observed what happened during that offseason. Wolf hooked the ultimate free agent prize in Reggie White which propelled the Packers into the playoffs in 1993. The blueprint would be archived for future use.
Dorsey’s path was not atypical. He climbed the personnel ladder while sharpening his skills under a tremendous mentor in Wolf. He left Wisconsin in 1999 to become Director of Player Personnel for the Seattle Seahawks. The gig only lasted one year – then he ventured back to Green Bay. His next move happened in 2013 when he accepted the General Manager position with Kansas City – where he would work with Andy Reid.
The year prior to Dorsey’s arrival, the Chiefs were a putrid 2-14 under former Cleveland HC Romeo Crennel. Learning from his mentor – Dorsey made an aggressive move to fix the QB position by trading a 2nd round pick to San Francisco for the much-maligned Alex Smith. The trade paid immediate dividends as KC improved to 11-5 with a playoff appearance. Dorsey showed his wares in the draft and free agency. No stone was left unturned which put the Chiefs in contention throughout his four year tenure. KC made the playoffs in three of the four years Dorsey was at the helm.
History Repeats Itself:
The 2016 Chiefs are an interesting case study no matter the industry. The team went 12-4, were 13th in the league in PPG, 7th in PPG allowed but suffered a tough 18-16 loss in the divisional round to Pittsburgh. Most executives would be content with a strategy of adding a piece here and there – sticking with the status quo. Remember Dorsey’s lesson under Ron Wolf – see a difference maker – get the difference maker, especially at the QB position. It is the 2017 NFL Draft – filled with rumors and QB gurus bashing each and every prospect – the norm. Many were nitpicking Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes with some speculation he may drop out of the first round. Those that grasp the value of the position knew that would not be the case regarding a quarterback with his type of ability. Dorsey, like Wolf in 1992, pulled off a stunning trade sending a 2017 1st round pick (27th overall), 2017 third round pick and 2018 first round pick to Buffalo to acquire the tenth overall pick. The selection of Mahomes sent shockwaves throughout the draft – ironically the Browns picked 12th and in theory could have selected Mahomes. Unfortunately for Dorsey he did not get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He was unceremoniously relieved of his duties in June of 2017.
Blind hog finds the acorn:
John Dorsey’s misfortune was certainly Jimmy Haslam’s good fortune. Given the inexplicable dysfunction within the Browns – the horrific analytics experiment, the record under Hue Jackson and even worse the reports of meddling ownership – Haslam was in a precarious position. The likelihood of hiring a true football guy – especially one with a track record – was remote. Then the stars aligned. Dorsey’s keen understanding of football history as a whole and especially the storied tradition of the Browns – in addition to the multitude of draft picks and cap space brought something to Cleveland which at that time was unthinkable – a skilled talent evaluator.
Dorsey became the GM of the Browns in December of 2017. Despite his track record many were skeptical that even someone of his level could overcome the stigma and reputation of the Browns – and candidly ownership. He quickly set the tone by stating they needed “real” football players. Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft – Dorsey changed the culture by overhauling nearly 50% of the roster following the winless 2017 season.
Turning the worm:
The selection of Baker Mayfield with the top pick garnered most of the headlines – rightfully so. Getting the QB changes everything, as Dorsey not only preaches but practices – no matter the cost. In addition to selecting Mayfield – the draft class along with trades for Jarvis Landry and Damarious Randall set the tone for not only the 2018 season but for the future of the franchise as well. In one offseason, even a novice could see brighter days were forthcoming on the shores of Lake Erie. However, one major issue still existed.
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump:
The Hue Jackson factor was still in play entering the 2018 campaign – thanks to Jimmy and Dee Haslam. His leadership, or lack thereof, was on full display during HBO’s Hard Knocks. As Henry Ford stated “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” That was far from the case with Jackson and Todd Haley involved. Following a 33-18 week eight loss at Pittsburgh – Dorsey fired both Haley and Jackson. The move was well received with fans but it had a greater impact than simply the removal of a HC. The transaction exemplified the paradigm shift – John Dorsey was now fully in charge.
If we advance, we not recede:
The 2018 Browns finished 7-8-1, 5-3 with Gregg Williams as HC and Freddie Kitchens as OC. The swift rise of Kitchens profile and the development of Mayfield has Browns fervor at an all-time high. However, the next step will be as difficult as any to date. As author Alvin Toffler stated – “The first rule of survival is clear: Nothing is more dangerous than yesterday’s success.” As Ron Wolf did in 1993 with the addition of Reggie White, Dorsey added a key piece with a front page trade for Odell Beckham Jr. – vigorously attacking the goal.
Freddie Kitchens did not say it as eloquently as Toffler, but his response of “whoopdee-hell” to last year’s success and the current roster certainly rings true. Dorsey will not rest on his laurels. He has repeatedly stated winning seven games is not an accomplishment. He grasps the path and has a deep understanding of how to build a championship level roster. The climb to the top is arduous – filled with missteps and travails. The difference for this iteration of the Browns can be summed up by famed management consultant Peter Drucker – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Gone are the days of instability – the good steward is in charge.
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” AFC North (Isoroku Yamamoto).