BEREA — They sat side-by-side a day after the Browns’ season came to an end with a loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers. For general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, it was more than just a visual the two were looking for, either.
As Berry spoke in the wake of a second consecutive losing season under Stefanski, he made it clear that the two of them are connected when it comes to the Browns’ on-field success or failure .
“First of all, I think we have a really strong head coach,” Berry said in a press conference Monday. “I think he proved his very first year he is smart, he is good with our guys and he is creative. The reality of it is we are all looking to make the necessary changes and modifications to make sure that we can reach our goals and have a really productive 2023. That takes all of us.
“The head coach, he is out in front, he is the leader of the organization and he bears a lot of burden and responsibility, and he gets really all of the blame when it is not necessarily all him. Our job is to make sure we support the head coach and put him in the right environment to be successful, and it takes all of us. It takes all of us. We know we have a good one in Kev.”
The first year the two were together, there was no reason to doubt any of that. The Browns, despite layers of restrictions due to COVID, manufactured the best season since the franchise’s 1999 rebirth by going 11-5 and reaching the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
It seemed like it was the start of a magical football renaissance in Northeast Ohio. Except that the last two seasons have been a return to the losing ways that pre-date either Berry or Stefanski.
The Browns followed up last season’s 8-9 run with a 7-10 finish this season. Within that 7-10 season were a handful of plays that could’ve easily left them among the teams still playing in this weekend’s wild card round of the playoffs.
Instead, there was Berry and Stefanski, having to discuss what went wrong and what’s being done to fix them.
“I say this every year — every season is unique,” Berry said. “We work in a super-competitive sport, a super-competitive industry. It is hard and competitive to get to the playoffs. To think just because you go one year you can snap your fingers and go back, it takes a lot of effort.
“We are back in base camp right here in January as we prepare for 2023. We are under no illusions in terms of the work that it takes every year to try and scale the mountain and get back. Kevin may know the statistic better than I do, but how many new playoff teams per year? It is a fair amount of turnover. Basically, look, it is hard. It is hard, and we do not underestimate that by any means.”
That doesn’t mean Berry and Stefanski haven’t looked internally to find ways to potentially change the trajectory. A year ago, that was the decision to go after, and eventually acquire, quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans.
The Browns sacrificed a large amount of draft capital, specifically, three first-round picks last year, this year and next year, plus a third-round pick this year and fourth-round picks last year and next year. The Texans traded last year’s first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles, who used it to draft defensive tackle Jordan Davis, while this year’s pick will end up being No. 12.
Watson, meanwhile, missed the first 11 games due to an NFL suspension for the more than two dozen allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault during massage appointments while still with Houston. With Jacoby Brissett starting in his place, the Browns went 4-7.
”I think two things can be true,” Berry said. “I think, No. 1, the circumstances regarding the trade for Deshaun in terms of managing it for Kevin and the staff, that is certainly a challenge this year. At the same time, I think both of us would tell you that we wouldn’t use that as an excuse for this year. We obviously got really good quarterback play from Jacoby. We felt like we had enough good players and enough opportunities to ultimately win games this year to end at a different point in the season. I also certainly don’t want to minimize the unique dynamics in terms of managing the team on a week-to-week basis for Kevin and his assistants.”
Changing some of Stefanski’s assistants is among the ways they’re trying to change the trajectory this offseason. That started with the firing of defensive coordinator Joe Woods hours after the Browns closed out the season in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
It may not be the final one, either. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer wasn’t exactly given an firm vote of confidence when Stefanski was asked directly if he would be retained for his fifth season with the Browns.
“Like I said earlier with all of the coaches,” Stefanski said, “I have not had a chance to sit down with every coach. Those are all things that we are working through.”
A year from now, the dynamic may be very different for Berry and Stefanski. This upcoming season will be their fourth year together, which makes them the longest-tenured general manager and coach combination since Jimmy and Dee Haslam bought the Browns in 2012.
Stefanski, meanwhile, is only the third coach since the team’s rebirth in 1999 to get a fourth year, joining Butch Davis (2001-04) and Romeo Crennel (2005-08). Berry is only the second general manager to make it four years, along with Phil Savage (2005-08).
Both know, in order to get through that fourth year and make it to a fifth, they can’t be spending the day after the regular-season finale doing a postmortem. Instead, they need to be getting ready for the postseason.
“Anytime this time of year we are sitting here in the postseason instead of getting prepared for an upcoming game is obviously a disappointing place to be,” Berry said. “We didn’t get it done this year. We were just too inconsistent throughout the season, and there are plenty of areas to work on and improve as we get into the upcoming months.
“We are going to spend the next couple of weeks really assessing everything roster and football operations-wise from A to Z really with the goal of getting us to obviously where we are [playing] meaningful football this point in the year.”
Contact Chris at email@example.com.
On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Andrew Berry says Browns looking to ‘make the necessary changes’