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Cleveland Browns wanted Sean McDermott as head coach until owner intervened

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Once Jimmy Haslam got involved, he overruled committee and hired Hue Jackson...Bills fans say “thank you!”

In a fascinating story detailing the recent dysfunction behind the Cleveland Browns, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham describes how owner Jimmy Haslam has presided over five coaching changes in six years, including the recent firing of Hue Jackson, who started his tenure losing 31 of his first 32 games with the Browns.

The story goes to great lengths to paint Haslam as a controlling owner, someone who meddled in every facet of the team, from draft-day selections and free agent signings to player usage during games.

Haslam’s desire to take control over every decision had a positive effect on the Buffalo Bills and their fans.

In January of 2016, the Browns were seeking a new head coach after firing former Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine following a 10-22 record in two seasons.

One year later, Buffalo was also in the market for a head coach after terminating Rex Ryan’s contract following a disappointing two-year stint where Ryan’s Bills went 15-16. Ryan’s tenure was ultimately doomed due to too many penalties and a defense that never lived up to its potential.

While they weren’t in search of a new head coach at the same time, the Bills and Browns eventually both expressed interest in the same up-and-coming coordinator—Sean McDermott—who built up a stellar resume as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.

Cleveland had a chance to hire McDermott, but thanks to Haslam, the Browns went in a different direction, and Buffalo wound up with The Process.

The Wickersham story describes the interview process Cleveland employed when seeking out its next coach—“many executives later described the meetings to associates as among the most inspiring and memorable of their Browns careers,” Wickersham wrote—and following a few rounds of interviews among the committee tasked with hiring a new coach, the results were nearly unanimous: four of the five committee members voted for McDermott.

The one member who didn’t want McDermott? Haslam, who had become infatuated with Jackson, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders who was serving as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals at the time of the interviews.

As the story goes, while McDermott had “crushed his interview and was known to be open to new ideas,” Haslam opted for Jackson because he “was a respected play-caller and teacher, especially with quarterbacks. ... He could could relate better to players.”

Paul DePodesta, formerly of the New York Mets who had been hired by Haslam as Cleveland’s chief strategy officer, brought with him a strong background in analytics. After hearing of Haslam’s support for Jackson, DePodesta penned an email to Haslam, urging him to reconsider and hire McDermott, going as far as stating that “hiring Jackson would be a bad call.”

After responding to his concerns—“I hear you,” Haslam reassured DePodesta—according to the ESPN article, the Browns’ owner then flew to Cincinnati and hired Jackson as the Browns’ 19th coach on Jan. 13, 2016.

Nearly one year later, on Jan. 11, 2017, McDermott was hired to be Buffalo’s 20th head coach.

Jackson was fired by Cleveland on Oct. after amassing a 3-36 record in parts of three seasons, including an 0-16 mark in 2017.

McDermott guided the Bills to a playoff appearance and a 9-7 record in 2017, snapping a 17-year playoff drought, and has gone 15-17 in two seasons in Western New York.

Cleveland’s gaffe benefited Buffalo greatly, as the Browns recently promoted Freddie Kitchens to become the franchise’s 11th coach since the 1999 season, while Buffalo appears set at head coach moving forward with McDermott.