Thirty years after signing on as an unpaid intern with former Browns coach Bill Belichick, Jim Schwartz returned to Berea as Kevin Stefanski's defensive coordinator. (TheLandOnDemand)
Jim Schwartz brings a much-needed sense of history to a Browns organization gone tone-deaf
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Second thoughts on Browns hire of Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator ...
1. I never thought Jim Schwartz’s link to Browns history was a reason to hire him as defensive coordinator. His record as a coordinator with Tennessee, Buffalo and Philadelphia made him the best candidate to succeed Joe Woods among five identified by head coach Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski sorely needs an experienced coach to hold the highly-paid and defensive players accountable for their underachieving play. The culture problem on that side of the ball is real. I think Schwartz can fix it. That’s why he was the best choice among candidates Brian Flores, Jarod Mayo (who dropped out), Sean Desai and Dennard Wilson. But when Schwartz’s introductory press conference turned into a stroll down Nostalgia Lane, it reminded me how disconnected the Browns are with their fans. The recent banishment of franchise icon Bernie Kosar from a team broadcasting role for a flimsy league violation of ambiguous and hypercritical sports gambling rules is just the latest example of the Browns’ terminal tone-deafness. In 30 minutes, Schwartz connected with fans with stories from the 1990s about Bill Belichick and Nick Saban and Dino Lucarelli, perhaps the franchise’s most-beloved non-football employee. His name adorns the club’s media room and the annual Good Guy Award voted by the local media. Schwartz broke into the NFL with a degree in economics from Georgetown University as a 27-year-old gopher for Belichick. He never coached with the Browns and worked only three years with the old franchise, but there is no doubt in my mind that he has more knowledge and appreciation of the history of the franchise than anyone in the building.
2. Schwartz, 56, is a skillful communicator and is smart enough to tug the heartstrings of the long-suffering fan base. He told stories of Lucarelli setting him up as a unpaid intern with a couch from Hall of Famer Dante Lavelli’s furniture store, of how Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick introduced him to son Bill and begat his NFL career, of how he confiscated a massive notebook of season game notes left behind by former Browns defensive coordinator Saban when he departed to coach at Michigan State and used it as a template for his early years as a coach, how he received a Ph. D. in football-ology in three years as a scout for Belichick, and retold the horror story of unwittingly wolfing down a turkey sandwich that Belichick was hankering for and fearing it would lead to his dismissal. (It didn’t.) Schwartz’s final remarks were directed to Browns fans. “I do want to say what an honor it is to be back in Northern Ohio here,” he said. “When the team left and went to Baltimore, I went with them. We all knew that it wasn’t the last Cleveland was going to see football. It wasn’t goodbye. It was just so long until we see you again. To be back amongst the passionate fans in the Midwest, you want to coach where fans are passionate … I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to the fans here to get this right and to reward them because I will forget most plays of the Super Bowl that I was [in] with the Eagles. I forget just about every play in that game, but what I won’t forget is that parade afterwards. It is indelible in my mind. In my mind, there is only one place that would outdo that parade in Philadelphia, and we are here right now. I am really excited about getting to work, and it is an honor to have Dino look over this proceeding, too.”
3. With Stefanski standing off to the right of the dais, Schwartz was quick on his feet answering a question about filling out “his” defensive coaching staff. (All of Stefanski’s defensive assistants are still on the job.) “It is not my staff. It is Kevin’s staff,” Schwartz said. “He has hired me to be the defensive coordinator. That is all I can really say there.” Schwartz then told an astonishing story. He said when he was hired as Eagles defensive coordinator in 2016, he was the last coach added to Doug Pederson’s staff. All other defensive assistants were in place. “I had never worked with any of the coaches before. We got up to speed pretty quickly and flipped that defense pretty quickly and won the Super Bowl the next year,” he said. The point was that in 27 years as an NFL coach with five organizations, Schwartz can pretty much adapt to anything. Stefanski has not said whether any of Woods’ defensive assistants would be replaced.
4. One of Schwartz’s main tasks will be to establish discipline and accountability on a unit lacking both last season. He said, “Establishing trust is job No. 1. That is probably the biggest thing.” Schwartz said he learned how to deal with players from long-time NFL defensive coach Gunther Cunningham, who taught him to hold his best players to be the most accountable. “The secret sauce is getting guys playing together and that accountability that goes into it,” Schwartz said. “I will say this, if I am doing a good job, we will hold our best players the most accountable. If you start from that position, then everything else is gravy. If you do not hold your best players most accountable, then you can have some bad vibes and different things can go on because they know like, ‘Hey, you are coaching that guy and you said that to him because he is an undrafted free agent as opposed to a first-round draft pick, a high-priced free agent or a veteran player.’ If I am doing a good job here, we will coach the undrafted free agent the same way we do the veteran player who has been to multiple Pro Bowls. When other players see you do that, I think it gives them confidence.”
5. Schwartz disclosed that he battled a thyroid problem for 18 months after leaving the Eagles as defensive coordinator in 2020. He said he was unable to sleep for more than two hours for a year and also needed eye surgeries because of the ailment. “It is well-controlled [now],” Schwartz said.
6. Schwartz was ahead of his time in the use of analytics as defensive coordinator with Tennessee in the early 2000s. I asked him to comment on the evolution of analytics in the NFL and whether he felt coaches are inundated with too much information nowadays. “I don’t know that there is ever too much information,” he said. “Any decision you want to make, more information is better. I do think this, the balancing act there is separating signal from noise. It is gleaning what is important, what helps make decisions and what helps put the players in position and not slow anybody down with that stuff. What is the saying? Paralysis by analysis. I think that’s a real thing. I think you can get a little too bogged up in that, but I’m a big fan of information and all of the information.”