There’s plenty of credit to go around for the turnaround of the Cleveland Browns, who with four games left in the regular season sit at 9-3 and can virtually lock in a playoff berth with a home win against the Ravens on Monday night.
Defensive end Myles Garrett has continued the dominant start to his career and will likely earn votes for Defensive Player of the Year. A retooled offensive line has cleared running lanes for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, a pair of dynamic backs who are both on pace for 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And Kevin Stefanski, in his first season as head coach, has implemented an offensive scheme that has limited mistakes for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is coming off one of the best games of his career in a 41-35 win over the Tennessee Titans.
But just as deserving of praise is Andrew Berry, the team’s first-time executive vice president and general manager who wields control over all roster decisions. Berry, a former Bel Air football standout, has the franchise on the verge of its first playoff berth since 2002.
It’s a career arc even Berry didn’t envision a little over a decade ago.
“I really kind of stumbled into it,” Berry said Friday in a phone interview.
Berry, 33, moved around with his family when he was young since his dad, Drew, worked as a news director in TV markets. The family settled in Bel Air in 1997. His mother, Brenda Fowler-Berry, is a chemical engineer, but Berry described her as a “Renaissance woman,” who did everything from working in pharmaceuticals to real estate.
Despite Berry’s proximity to the Ravens during his adolescent years, it’s the only connection to the franchise he now competes against. His father, a Texas native, came from a family of ardent Cowboys fans.
“We were really Cowboys fans from the womb,” Berry said.
Berry’s parents first registered him for tackle football in middle school and it didn’t take long for him to become one of the top players. At Bel Air High School, Berry, a quarterback, was named an All-Metro second-team selection as a junior, playing alongside his fraternal twin Adam, who was also an all-county selection as a wide receiver (Berry recalled winning the high school quarterback skills competition that the Ravens host at M&T Bank Stadium).
Andrew and Adam headed to the Ivy League to further their education and playing careers — Andrew going to Harvard, and Adam going to Princeton.
Tim Murphy, head coach at Harvard, said Berry’s “film was exciting” at quarterback. But he was a “skinny kid” with a much quicker path to the field at a different position. Berry made the switch to cornerback and, like in high school, quickly excelled. Over four years, he was named first-team All-Ivy League three times. Murphy called Berry “arguably the best corner in Harvard football history.”
And Berry accomplished another feat that Murphy hasn’t seen in his over 25 years at Harvard: Berry graduated in four years with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in computer science.
“The kid didn’t sleep,” Murphy said.
At the conclusion of an impressive college and academic career, Berry had options. He was invited to rookie minicamp with Washington in 2009 but a back injury while training ended any opportunity for a tryout before it began. “I really wasn’t much of a prospect,” he said.
Weeks later, Berry received a call from then-Indianapolis Colts director of player personnel Tom Telesco, who had watched a Havard game during Berry’s senior year and ultimately eyed him — for an entry-level front-office position.
“The back injury probably was a blessing in disguise,” Berry said.
Berry interviewed for an assistant scout position and once he received the offer, he had a decision to make. He had previously completed an internship with Fortune 500 company Goldman Sachs and had accepted a full-time offer as an analyst.
“I was a little concerned quite frankly, because Andrew may have been the top recruit in the country in terms of Wall Street. … He would have been the top draft pick, could name his job, any job in the country in finance coming out of Wall Street,” Murphy said.
But Berry’s heart was still in football and while his playing career was over, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay around the sport. He joined the Colts as a scouting assistant and worked his way to pro scouting coordinator. In his early years in Indianapolis, Berry took in knowledge from then-general manager Bill Polian. When Polian was recovering from hip surgery, Berry drove him to and from the team facility. Berry still keeps a “big, thick yellow folder” in his home with copious notes from the endless talks they had on team-building.
Berry left Indianapolis in 2016 to join the Browns as vice president of player personnel. He was in Cleveland for the next three years, including the disastrous 1-31 stretch that included an 0-16 season in 2017. In 2019, he took a job with the Philadelphia Eagles as vice president of football operations.
After one season, he returned to Cleveland as the youngest-ever and just the second active Black GM in the NFL.
In less than one calendar year on the job, Berry’s work in Cleveland should garner consideration for him as NFL Executive of the Year. With full control over the 53-man roster, Berry signed players such as offensive tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper, signed Hunt to an extension and drafted tackle Jedrick Willis in the first round, all key cogs in Stefanksi’s zone-running scheme. And prudent signings on defense have helped round out a talented unit, led by Garrett.
As the evaluation process in the NFL turns more to analytics, the ability to tap into his finance and computer science education, as well as his scouting roots, has been helpful, allowing him to “speak multiple languages.”
“I think [he] does a great job, both in the personnel world and turning the roster over and always looking for great players,” Stefanksi said. “And also, [he] does a great job of running the personnel department. [He] really is a people person, so he does a great job.”
With the franchise securing its first winning season since 2007, a talented core of young stars and fresh leadership at the helm, Cleveland’s days as a leaguewide laughingstock could be coming to an end. Berry wasn’t the final decision maker during his first stint with the Browns, but he took an important lesson from that dysfunctional time into his new role: the value of “alignment,” a top-to-bottom understanding of how the whole organization should function, from the front office to the football field.
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“That’s something that I think is in a really good spot right now, with me, Kevin and [chief strategy officer] Paul DePodesta and the rest of our football operations group,” Berry said. “I think that’s probably the biggest lesson, the biggest change from the first time.”