Prior to hiring Kyle Shanahan as the Browns’ offensive coordinator last season, head coach Mike Pettine had an opportunity to get reacquainted with a coach he worked with on the New York Jets staff back in 2009. While that candidate was impressive, ultimately it was Shanahan who got the job.
So when Shanahan asked out of his contract after the season, reportedly because of a disagreement with the front office as to the direction of the offense (read: Shanahan didn’t enjoy having Johnny Manziel shoved down his throat), Pettine revisited that candidate from the previous year. And that’s how John DeFilippo ended up as the Browns’ sixth offensive coordinator in the past six years.
The Browns’ sixth offensive coordinator in as many seasons, the 36-year-old DeFilippo is an up-and-comer in the same vein as Adam Gase, albeit with a slightly lower profile. He’s spent the past three seasons as the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach, and his work developing Derek Carr last season is what really brightened his star in the NFL coaching community.
DeFilippo started his coaching career in the college ranks, with stops at Columbia, Fordham, and Notre Dame before catching on with Tom Coughlin in New York. From there he served a first stint as the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2007 and 2008 before returning to New York—this time with the Jets, where his knowledge and work ethic caught the eye of then-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Then, after two seasons calling plays at San Jose State, DeFilippo returned to the Raiders—again as quarterbacks coach—before his reunion with Pettine in Cleveland.
“The things John brings to the table are exactly what we were looking for,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said in the press conference introducing DeFilippo to the media. “He’s the total package. He’s very bright. He has great energy, great passion. Works extremely well with other people. You could see that when I brought him in and had a chance to meet with not just the offensive staff, but he spent some time with the defensive staff. That was a big part of it, making sure we weren’t bringing in just a playbook; we were bringing in a good person.”
Pettine and the Browns were reportedly looking for an offensive coordinator who would build on the success the current squad had running the football last season, and despite his background as a quarterbacks guy DeFilippo has indicated that will be the case.
“I can promise you this: whatever the Cleveland Browns do well and what they did well last year, we’re going to continue to do,” DeFilippo said at the press conference. “This isn’t going to be ‘my offense.’ This is going to be the Cleveland Browns’ offense. It’s going to be very flexible. We’re not going to just scrap something just because I’m here. I don’t have that type of ego. If something’s good that our players do well and they know, we’re going to keep doing it.”
In his introductory presser, the first two Browns players DeFilippo singled out were offensive linemen Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, and he referenced the success of the line and the running game as well.
“For guys that don’t weigh 350 pounds, they change the line of scrimmage,” DeFilippo said at the presser. “The backs run downhill. Those are the things that stand out to you on tape. They did a great job in some of the play-action stuff last year to be able to get some of the receivers open behind guys. Those are the things we’re going to continue to explore.”
DeFilippo added that the Browns will retain the zone blocking scheme Shanahan implemented last season.
“I’ve been in the zone blocking scheme, it’s a fabulous scheme,” DeFilippo said at the presser. “My first year back in Oakland, Greg Knapp was our offensive coordinator, he came from Houston. It was the exact same scheme as the Browns ran last year, so I’m very familiar with the zone blocking scheme.”
Of course, as a quarterbacks guy DeFilippo’s primary challenge will be to work with Johnny Manziel… or maybe Marcus Mariota if the Browns trade up to acquire the Heisman winner in the upcoming draft.
One similarity between Manziel and Mariota is that both were most effective in college when running—or at least threatening to run—the football, and that’s something DeFilippo has experience with from coaching up Terrelle Pryor in Oakland.
“It exposed me to some of the zone-read run game,” DeFilippo said at his press conference. “I had not been exposed to that very much before, and when you have a guy of that skill set, you want to expose those skills that he has. We didn’t have all the answers in Oakland when we decided to start Terrell, but I pulled some of the things out that I did in college. We researched some other teams, the concepts they use with running quarterbacks, and we went that direction. You can’t just have a playbook and say, ‘Here’s the playbook.’ That’s not the case. You’ve got to expose your best players’ skill sets.”
Should the Browns bail on Johnny Football and find a way to acquire Mariota, they may have a built-in advantage. Mariota is currently being trained by Kevin O’Connell, who has reportedly agreed to fill the Browns’ quarterbacks coach vacancy at some point in the future. Were he currently employed by the Browns he couldn’t be working with any draft-eligible players, so the team is exploiting a loophole—much to the chagrin of other NFL clubs.
Despite Shanahan’s successes last season, the bar hasn’t been set particularly high: the Browns finished 23rd in total yards, 20th in passing and 17th in rushing. And if DeFilippo is able to make it into a second season on the job he’ll be the first Browns’ offensive coordinator since Brian Daboll to hold the gig for more than one season. It’s an ignominious stretch that includes Pat Shurmur (who wore both the head coach and OC hats in 2011), Brad Childress, and Norv Turner in addition to Daboll and Shanahan.”
DeFilippo hopes to reverse that trend, saying at his introductory presser, “I hope this is the last [coordinator] change for these guys for a long time.”
Squeezing quality play out of the quarterback position will go a long way towards fulfilling that goal.