By DraftBrowns Staff Writer, Ryan Alton
For years, it seems NFL teams have been trying to figure out the secret to the New England Patriots’ success under head coach Bill Belichick. And for years, the search for that success has been rendered as fruitful as looking for the Holy Grail. Crennel, Weis, Pioli, and McDaniels are all names that have been plucked from the Belichick tree only to fail to live up to the reputations that preceded them. In what is commonly referred to as a copycat league, it’s a wonder no owner has attempted to bankroll a project to clone Belichick himself.
By now, it should be no secret the ties that link the new Cleveland Browns to the Patriots, aka “the team of the 2000s” and three-time Super Bowl Champions. Of course, Browns fans know that Bill Belichick was the coach in Cleveland in the early 1990s, before Art Modell famously moved the team to Baltimore. They also probably know that current Browns General Manager Michael Lombardi was Belichick’s right-hand man, promoted in 1992 to Director of Player Personnel after joining the organization as Director of Pro Personnel in 1987.
Earlier in the off-season, I detailed the early relationship between Lombardi and Belichick and how they developed an idea for getting everyone in the organization on the ‘same page’ when it came to talent evaluation. After Modell moved the team, Belichick took this idea and implemented it into a program in New England, where he’s gone on to have great success during the time that the Browns have been back in the league as an expansion franchise.
After Cleveland, Lombardi moved around the league in various front office roles before most recently making connections on a national scale as a studio analyst for the NFL Network. But his relationship with Belichick never waned. Its been widely assumed, perhaps even proven, that Lombardi was the eyes and ears for Belichick while he was with the network, routinely providing intel to the Patriots coach from his various sources around the league. Its little coincidence that Lombardi’s son, Mick, got his start in the NFL with the Patriots as a scouting assistant and then in quality control before being hired by the 49ers this year as a special assistant to head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Now, the elder Lombardi has come full circle, leaving his job in TV to be the General Manager of the Browns under the new direction of owner Jimmy Haslam III and CEO Joe Banner. And the ripples caused by the splash he made with Belichick in his first stint in Cleveland are beginning to follow him.
After last April’s draft, the new Browns hierarchy chose not to renew the contracts of several scouts who had been with the team for several years. This was expected as is typically the case when a new regime wants to bring in people with whom they are familiar and have an understanding of the language being used in the highly important area of player personnel. It was only a matter of time before Lombardi, the GM, would assemble the scouting staff he wanted in Berea; a staff he knew would be well-versed in the Belichickian model of player evaluation that he helped create.
Joining the Browns as Senior Pro Scout is Frank Edgerly, who comes over from the Patriots. He spent the past three years (2010-12) as an area scout after working the 2009 season as a pro scout. According to this 2009 article by Managing Editor Scott Stump, at allshoremedia.net, a New Jersey based sports website, Lombardi was the piece that connected Edgerly, a former high school football coach, to Belichick and the pinnacle of football in the NFL.
His journey from high school to the NFL began when Edgerly worked behind the scenes on NBC’s “Football Night in America” show in 2007, a job he was able to secure an interview for thanks to an old friend and fellow 1990 RBC (Red Bank Catholic H.S. in New Jersey) graduate, Emmy-winning producer Matt Celli of NBC. Edgerly’s job was to break down film of certain teams during the week and track news about those specific teams to prepare a report that would help on-air talent dissect the games. He also would watch the games on Sunday in the NBC studio and make notes to help on-air talent analyze the games.
Through that position he became friends with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who is part of the “Football Night in America” broadcasting team. King recommended Edgerly to the NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi, a New Jersey resident and former personnel director for the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. In March of 2008, Edgerly went down to Ocean City in South Jersey to meet with Lombardi. Lombardi was sufficiently impressed enough to pass Edgerly’s information on to his friend, Belichick.
The week before this year’s (2009) NFL Draft on April 25-26th, Edgerly was contacted by the Patriots about a position. Shortly after the end of his stint coaching RBC’s undefeated freshmen baseball team this spring, Edgerly was flown up to Foxboro, Mass., on June 11th and offered a three-year contract.
“It was a no-brainer”, Edgerly said. “To go from high school to the best organization in football, that doesn’t happen, so I’m just so excited about getting the chance… this is what I’ve always wanted.”
Obviously, Edgerly made quite the impression from that initial meeting with Lombardi to be given the chance of a lifetime to work for the New England Patriots then to get where he is now, in Cleveland with a staff of his own to oversee.
Some members of the scouting staff that will work under Edgerly also have New England ties. College scout Brendan Donovan worked under Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and, prior to that, under former Patriots Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. (It’s been well publicized how close Belichick is to both Schiano and Weis.) Also joining the Browns is college scout Patrick Moore, who coached with the younger (Mick) Lombardi at Fordham University.
Like Tom Heckert, who brought scouts over from Philadelphia, prior to Lombardi, this is generally the way scouting departments are built in the NFL. You bring in guys you know, who speak your language so that when a player is being evaluated, at either the college or the pro level, everyone knows what the other is talking about. It eliminates the guess work and streamlines the process between coach, scout, and front office personnel.
Given the nature of Lombardi’s relationship with Belichick and their shared past, it should be no surprise that the Browns are beginning to take on a New England flavor. It’s not the first time a team, nor even the Browns, have tried to duplicate their recipe for success. Wouldn’t it be poetic, given all the bellyaching from fans and media upon his arrival, if Lombardi turns out to be the missing ingredient?