The Cleveland Browns' decision in January to hand the reins of the organization over to Paul DePodesta, formerly of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Oakland Athletics, and name him their chief strategy officer was one of the most surprising moves of the offseason. And, it turns out, NFL fans weren't the only ones confused by Cleveland hiring a baseball guy to run the show.
In an interview with Baseball America posted Monday, DePodesta talked at length about what the transition from baseball to football has been like and what he believes he can bring to the Browns. He also acknowledged that the NFL hasn't exactly welcomed him with open arms.
An example: while waiting in the line at the Indianapolis airport to head home from the NFL Combine, DePodesta found himself standing next to a bunch of league executives openly mocking him. They had no idea what he looked like.
"I was standing right in front of them in line and I could hear them in back of me and they were talking trash about me and the Cleveland Browns," DePodesta told Baseball America. "I said, ‘All right, this is like 17 years ago in Oakland all over again.' That's part of the fun."
DePodesta was referring to his stint with the A's when he and team general manager Billy Beane helped introduce analytics into the world of MLB (DePodesta was a key character in Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball).
DePodesta did acknowledge that not having the "20-year library of players" has made the transition difficult. But he also said he's seen more similarities between the NFL and MLB than he expected.
"I've been really surprised at just how many things transfer over," DePodesta said. "Fundamentally, all these organizations are really about people and about teams and about culture. And those things transfer over from one sport to another, for sure."
The Browns have remained relatively quiet thus far this offseason, DePodesta's first at the helm. They've lost four starters to free agency, including All-Pro center Alex Mack and leading receiver Travis Benjamin, and have yet to make a major signing. The team's most notable move has been the release of embattled quarterback Johnny Manziel.
But Cleveland does hold the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft and most mock drafts have them taking a quarterback, either California's Jared Goff or North Dakota State's Carson Wentz.
(Of course there is an assumption that, because they are the Browns, whoever they do select will end up struggling the way so many Browns quarterbacks have in the past.)
"As an organization though, and probably even more importantly, we have big challenges in front of us," DePodesta told Baseball America. "We have a super competitive league, we haven't been very successful on the field and we have a big mountain to climb, but I think we have the right team of people in place to do it."
The Browns are coming off a three-win season and haven't made the playoffs in 13 years. They fired head coach Mike Pettine in the offseason and replaced him with former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.