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Browns end 'internal discord' by extending contracts of Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, right, stands with general manager Andrew Berry during drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Berea, Ohio.
Ron Schwane
The Browns appear to have found alignment with Stefanski and Berry, who were brought in together in 2020. The team announced contract extensions for both on the same day.

The days of internal discord with the Browns appear to be over. That’s the term owner Jimmy Haslam used to describe the problems with the team in 2018. Our sports commentator Terry Pluto said the blame game within the Browns has ended with General Manager Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, who agreed to contract extensions last week.

The moves mark a bit of history for the team.

“They are only the second general manager-coach combination to get a contract extension at the same time in team history, as far as I can tell," Pluto said. "The moment Kevin Stefanski coaches his opening game of this upcoming season, he will have lasted longer than any other coach for the Browns since they came back in 1999."

Haslam’s “internal discord” comment came at an especially tumultuous time for the team, Pluto recalled.

“It came in 2018. They had a press conference; They were firing coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley," Pluto said. "And he almost whispered into the mic, he being owner Jimmy Haslam, ‘internal discord.’ Then he kind of liked it, so he went back with, you know, the messages. ‘We're not going to have any more internal discord.’ Well, they went through three coaches and two GM's and about 18 months is what they did."

When they were hired in 2020, Berry had never been a GM. Stefanski had never been a head coach. Pluto wondered how long they would last.

“The only thing you knew at that organization was (it was) great at firing people; In the middle of the season, before the season started, right after the season,” Pluto said.

Pluto said Stefanski and Berry got off to a fast start.

“I think it really helped Stefanski, who is a very organized business-like guy, he came after Freddie Kitchens, who was very disorganized and had problems," Pluto said. And (Stefanski) squeezed a really good year out of (quarterback) Baker Mayfield in 2020. They made the playoffs and even knocked off Pittsburgh in the first round. That I think helped them here, they had a good first year together."

Then, they had losing records the next two seasons.

“In the past, by about the point of the end of the ‘22 season, when the Browns, I believe, were 7-10, they probably would have fired people again," Pluto said. "They doubled down on Berry and Stefanski ... brought them back for this past year. They were 11-6 and made the playoffs. Even with Deshaun Watson only playing six games, actually only finished five of them. And so, I think that's cemented Stefanski as a coach who could deal with adversity and Andrew Berry was working around the roster, finding Joe Flacco and guys like that. So, the stability paid off,” Pluto said.

Pluto explained the center of the “internal discord.”

“The internal discord always was coaches blaming the general manager for not getting better players, the front office blaming the coaches for not doing a better job with the players they gave them," Pluto said. "People were leaking things to the media about this internal discord. It stopped in 2020. Now, there's no doubt there were times when Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Barry had disagreements on roster things or whatever, but they now remind me of the Guardians ... all the stability and you never hear of internal discord or anything over there,” Pluto said.

With contract extensions comes added pressure, according to Pluto.

“When they made the huge trade for Deshaun Watson, the idea was to get to the Super Bowl and even though Deshaun Watson's had injuries and has not come anywhere close to expectations, that hasn't changed," Pluto said. "Basically, the baseline or the minimal expectation is, make the playoffs and win a game or two."

Still, the extensions give Berry and Stefanski a little extra breathing room.

“By giving the extension, at the very least, even if this year Watson gets hurt again and they have problems, the odds are those two guys are not going to get fired," Pluto said. "They'll have another chance to rectify the problem together. What the Browns have proved is that constantly changing the coaches and the general manager doesn't do anything but breed more losing."

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