Editor’s Note: Wednesday, October 3 at 8pm/ET, season 2 of our documentary series continues with “Cleveland ’95: A Football Life.” This film goes behind the curtain of the first generation Browns during their final season in Cleveland.
Greg Frith is one of the film’s producers, who in the following TCIPF exclusive, shares some of his thoughts on capturing the Browns’ unforgettable story.
It’s amazing when you look at the all star cast Bill Belichick assembled in Cleveland in the early 90s. The common perception is Belichick was a failure with the Browns, but one look at the men who grew up in the business with him as a role model there will tell you otherwise: Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff, Jim Schwartz, Eric Mangini, Mike Tannenbaum, and Phil Savage. All totaled, nine future NFL head coaches and GMs were in Cleveland between 1991 and 1995.
We arrived at the Maryland summer home of Jim Schwartz in mid July, days before he was returning to Michigan to start Lions training camp. We pulled up the half mile long driveway and found a relaxed NFL head coach watering the flowers in his garden. Coach Schwartz welcomed us into his house, served us drinks, and spent the next 90 minutes reliving stories of his first NFL experience. There was the apartment he shared with fellow “slappies” at the end of the airport runway; the menial tasks he performed like picking up cigarettes for secretaries; and the famous “turkey sandwich story”, where the new-on-the-job Schwartz ate the last of the food that a hungry Belichick had come in search of. Behind all the stories of a young man struggling to find his way in the big leagues, I could feel the immense respect and gratitude he felt towards the man who helped him grow into an eventual head coach in the league. This sentiment was echoed by everyone I interviewed during the production of this film.
I flew from Maryland to Alabama, where I was scheduled to interview perhaps the greatest college coach of this generation. As we set up in the athletic center on the campus of the University of Alabama, I asked Associate athletic director Jeff Purinton if Coach Nick Saban was excited to sit down with us and talk about the Cleveland days. He said, “Coach doesn’t get excited about too much.” I asked, “Well, is he not NOT excited?” He replied, “Put it this way. I had a stack of interview requests on my desk. And yours was the one he said he would do today.” When the normally monotone Saban arrived, I was shocked as he smiled through stories of how he learned more in his time in Cleveland than he learned at any other stop in his career.
This was the tone Belichick set in Cleveland. The staff worked their tails off for little pay and few wins, but along the way earned their bachelors and masters in the NFL. They learned from the league’s best teacher, survived the most bizarre season any NFL team has ever experienced, and now, almost two decades later, they have seen that hard work pay off.