The Cleveland Browns made a bit of a head-scratching behind-the-scenes move Friday.
The team decided to part ways with Aaron Shea, the team’s Player Engagement Director. Shea was a Browns draft pick in 1999 and a productive player. He spent six years in the organization, the last three as Player Engagement Director (a job some teams call player development). His departure appears to be the fallout from the change in GM and coach.
A coach and GM often want their own guy. That’s fair, and Shea probably understands that. But when a team lets go of an employee who handled his job as adeptly and well as Shea it creates a need that didn’t exist.
The team is not commenting extensively on the decision.
“The Browns would like to thank Aaron for his years of service to the team,” a team spokesman said. “The organization is going to be moving in another direction with the player-engagement role.”
The Browns do lose something with this move. They lose continuity, an established way of doing things, and a way that worked. Shea did that good a job. As the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin issue developed in Miami, I started to think about why it happens with some teams and not others. So I started to ask trustworthy folks, with and not with the team, about the Browns. Folks who would know.
They all said the most overlooked person in the Miami situation was the player-engagement person. That person is in the locker room as much as anyone, they said, and he is the one who should notice what’s taking place and make sure the coach addresses it.
SI.Com’s Greg Bedard confirmed this in a recent story, when he wrote that many in the league wondered about the player development guy in Miami. As one player said: “That’s the guy we all go to when we have any problems. If they can’t help us [themselves], we know they’re going to get us the help we need with no repercussions.”
I asked a few of the Browns players about Shea. Starters, backups, rookies, veterans ... all said he did a tremendous job and, combined with the character of the team’s leadership, kept a lid on issues. Guys from Ahtyba Rubin to Joe Thomas to T.J. Ward all spoke glowingly of him.
Player development has morphed into a multi-task job. It entails things as varied as making sure players find housing to players being on time for meetings. He also monitors the locker room culture. With the Browns, rookies had to earn their way, but there wasn’t the usual hijinks of shaved heads and other over-the-top nonsense.
It was not a coincidence.
If the Browns wanted to make this move, there was nothing stopping them. They could. But as we often teach our kids, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
A team takes a hit when it gets rid of good people who do good jobs.