By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
(First of two parts.)
The Morning Kickoff …
Housecleaning complete: Ray Farmer hasn’t just put his imprint on the Browns’ player personnel department. He has rebuilt it from the top down and the ground up. And he did it in the relatively short timeframe of four months since he was promoted to general manager on February 11.
The final touches were announced by the general manager on Monday and included six additions and three promotions of existing staff.
In all, Farmer made eight new hires to his Browns’ staff. Here’s the thing: Seven of them have direct or indirect ties to Farmer.
Follow these seven degrees of separation in Farmer’s appointments:
* Bill Kuharich, executive chief of staff: In 2006, Kuharich was Kansas City Chiefs vice president of player personnel when he named Farmer Chiefs director of pro personnel.
* Ron Hill, senior player personnel associate: In 2002, Hill was Atlanta Falcons vice president of player personnel and gave Farmer his first job as an NFL area scout. Hill was hired by Kuharich for a personnel job with the Chiefs in 2006 but left shortly thereafter for a position in the NFL office.
* Charles Bailey, senior player personnel associate: In 1999, Kuharich was president and general manager of the New Orleans Saints and made Bailey the team’s assistant general manager.
* Mike Hagen, senior player personnel associate: In 2002, Hagen was supervisor of college scouting for the Falcons when Farmer was a Falcons scout. In 2006, he was a scout with the Chiefs when Farmer was director of pro personnel.
* Bobby DePaul, senior player personnel associate: In 1997, he transitioned to personnel with the Philadelphia Eagles when Farmer was a player with the Eagles. A long-time pro personnel director of the Chicago Bears and advance scout with the Eagles, he never worked with Kuharich but the two have been acquaintances for 20 years, Kuharich said.
* James Kirkland, senior player personnel associate: He broke in as a scouting intern with the Falcons when Farmer was a scout with them. Kirkland was a Browns scout in 2004 and was promoted to assistant director of pro personnel under Phil Savage in 2007.
* Scott Aligo, player personnel associate: From 2005 to 2009, he was a player personnel assistant with the Chiefs while Kuharich and Farmer held executive positions with the team.
Is this the NFL “old boy’s network” hiring practice at work? No doubt. But don’t despair, says former Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson.
A sounding board: Kuharich, 61, is the link to most of Farmer’s staff. His imperial title – executive chief of staff – points to the influence Kuharich will have on the future of the Browns. Kuharich essentially has been Farmer’s mentor as a personnel executive.
Peterson hired Kuharich to prominent positions in two football organizations – the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League and then the Chiefs. He also hired Farmer with the Chiefs and further recommended Farmer to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross as his No. 1 choice for Dolphins GM.
Before the Dolphins could offer the job to Farmer, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam promoted Farmer to GM and fired CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi.
“In that process with the Dolphins, Ray told me Bill was going to be his guy,” Peterson told me. “They have a great relationship. It’s a great pair.
“Ray is getting a tremendously experienced NFL executive that knows and understands and can evaluate personnel exceedingly well.
“Bill is very detailed, thorough, and he is truly a team guy. Even though he’s done it all – president, GM, Senior VP, pro personnel, etc. – I wouldn’t say he’s ego-less but his ego isn’t the most important thing. Ray is very smart and very fortunate to get this guy. He’ll be a great sounding board. I wish I had somebody like that when I started.”
Kuharich helped build the best team in the short-lived USFL from 1983-85 (three championship appearances in three years, and two wins). From there, he learned under Jim Finks, one of the great NFL executives, with the New Orleans Saints, and then went on as chief executive with the Chiefs, supplying a lot of talent for eventual successor Scott Pioli.
When Farmer took over for Banner/Lombardi, he called Kuharich, who had been out of the NFL for five years, to help him through the draft as a consultant. Kuharich was a central figure in the Browns’ draft room this year. Shortly after the draft, Farmer appointed him a full-time role.
“Ray had his vision as how he wanted to set up his department. He wanted a good mix of experienced guys and guys that are starting to learn the business, and we do have a good mix in the room now,” Kuharich said.
“He described my role as administrative and evaluation. I’ll help him certainly in the unrestricted free agents and the college evaluation process but I’ll also help him on the league side, the things that will come across his desk as a general manager that I’ve experienced.”
The old boy’s network: Kuharich said to me, “I know what you’re getting at. I hear it. I tried never to operate that way. If I would have taken that approach, I would have never hired Ray Farmer (in KC).
“(You want to hire people who are) competent and have skills and something to bring to the room, and I think he’s done that. I wouldn’t want to work for somebody just because I needed a job. If Ray said to me, ‘You helped me so I’m gonna help you,’ I wouldn’t have come. I didn’t need to work that to get back in the NFL.
“I wanted to come so that I could help him. I made that point clear to Ray: ‘Don’t bring me in just because I don’t have a job. If you think I can help you in whatever aspect there is … I’ve sat in that chair … if you want me to come for those reasons, let’s go, I’m on board.’”
Peterson chuckled at the mention of the “old boy’s network,” yet acknowledged its existence.
“Specific to Ray and Bill’s relationship, I would have no concern,” he said. “Frankly, I expressed that to Jimmy Haslam when he hired Ray. Ray will hire good people and will surround himself with good people. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. At the end of the season, what’s your record? Did those players you acquire help you or just replace people?
“I’m a huge advocate and terribly biased … I’m a Ray Farmer guy and respect him greatly. If I were an owner, he’d probably be the first person I’d hire as general manager and would trust him that he’d bring in great people. The business is not nuclear physics. It’s evaluating people. And they’re great people, very astute.”
(Next: Bill Kuharich’s rise and fall and rise as an NFL executive includes a few footnotes in Browns history.)
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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