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Career advancement, friendship steered Morocco Brown from Redskins to Browns

Separated by two years and about 25 miles, Morocco Brown and Ray Farmer remember one another merely as respected rivals — Brown, a North Carolina State linebacker, twice led the Wolfpack in tackles; Farmer, a Duke safety, twice made All-ACC first team.

They met anew as fledgling NFL scouts, revisiting their ACC roots and sharing ideas, contacts and ambitions. Soon they were friends, talking, texting, emailing.

And today they're co-workers.

Farmer, the Cleveland Browns' freshly minted general manager, last week hired Brown as his top lieutenant, granting Brown the title, vice president of player personnel, that the Washington Redskins would not.

A Hampton native and Kecoughtan High graduate, Brown served as Washington's director of pro personnel for six years. He worked the seven previous seasons as the Chicago Bears' assistant director of pro personnel.

"I was in a situation where my contract was up with Washington," Brown said during a phone interview from Cleveland's draft room, "and after the draft (last week), everyone was a free agent. (The Redskins) couldn't block me. We'd had some contract discussions dating back to January but just couldn't get anything done. (The Browns) offered what the Redskins didn't."

Brown was part of a conference championship in Chicago and division title in Washington, and he interned with the Indianapolis Colts during the Manning Era. So he knows plenty about winning and knows Cleveland has much to learn.

The Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002, have never reached a Super Bowl and last won an NFL championship in 1964. They've employed more head coaches in the last five years (four) than the Pittsburgh Steelers have in the last 45 (three), and owner Jimmy Haslam gave the bum's rush to his 2013 general manager and coach, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski, after one season.

You need Dramamine to survive that kind of turbulence.

But Farmer, 39, is among the NFL's most respected young executives.

He was an Atlanta Falcons scout and the Kansas City Chiefs' director of pro personnel before going to Cleveland as an assistant to Lombardi.

"We broke into the NFL around the same time," Brown said, "and we met at Browns-Bengals preseason game. You develop relationships with people, and over the course of time you wind up talking on the phone about players and personnel. …

"We both were cut from the same cloth that way. We just continued to talk. Over time it was like iron sharpening iron, so to speak. You come across a few people that see things on the same scale you see it, and you respect that person. So I think that's where the bond formed."

Farmer finished his college career in 1995, Brown in 1997, and Brown is quick to remind his boss that he was 4-0 against Duke.

"But my freshman year (1994), they had a really good team (8-4)," Brown said, "and he was the best thing they had."

Two weeks ago, Brown watched from Washington as Farmer orchestrated five draft trades, three in the first round alone, that netted Cleveland future picks, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Towson running back Terrance West (ask William and Mary how good he is), and, drum roll please, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Accustomed to the circus in Washington surrounding owner Dan Snyder, quarterback Robert Griffin III and since-deposed coach Mike Shanahan, Brown realizes Manziel likely translates to similar drama. But although Washington wasn't shopping for a quarterback in the draft, Brown is plenty familiar with Johnny Football.

In fact, Brown compares Manziel to a similarly undersized quarterback he faced in high school, one who earned some notice in professional basketball.

"Whenever you're watching players, you're looking for guys who are difference-makers," said Brown, who has interviewed for general manager gigs with Arizona and Tampa Bay. "And that's the one thing (Manziel) was. He was on kind of a different level than anyone else, and not just for one year, but the whole time he was in college. …

"You keep seeing the production, and you keep seeing this guy elevate the play of everyone around him. It may not necessarily be the way everyone has done it in the past, but that doesn't mean that he can't do it and doesn't deserve to be given a chance. It's hard to find somebody like that, who can just take a game over and win a game in two or three plays.

"We saw that with (Allen) Iverson. He shouldn't be able to, it makes no sense, but he winds up producing at a high level."

With six Pro Bowl players last season, the Browns were not bereft of talent. But in a division with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore, Cleveland lost its last seven games to finish 4-12, its sixth consecutive year with only four or five victories.

Despite the gloom, Brown emerged from his new office Thursday and encountered two random fans carrying signs that said, "We Believe."

It's up to Brown, Farmer and rookie head coach Mike Pettine, a former University of Virginia safety and, most recently, the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator, to help convert that blind faith into reality. Respected in his own right and almost certainly a future general manager, Brown will have more input on draft picks than he did in Washington, while continuing to evaluate potential free-agent or trade acquisitions.

"My title now reflects what I do more than it did in Washington," he said.

Still, Brown wasn't eager to leave Washington, will miss having his Hampton family within driving distance and anticipates mixed emotions when Cleveland plays a preseason game there this summer. But career advancement, a salary bump and chance to work with a friend were too enticing.

"All three good reasons," Brown said, "to be a Brown in more ways than one."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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