The year was 1995. Netscape Navigator was the most-used Internet browser. “Toy Story” was the top grossing movie. “Friends” had just started its 10-season run as a sitcom mainstay. Foo Fighters released their first of many epic albums.
In the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns entered the fall of ’95 as an AFC contender and exited it in the most nightmarish way possible … with the stunning announcement that the team would move to Baltimore. While Baltimore inherited a franchise that would eventually deliver a Lombardi Trophy, Cleveland fans are left to ponder “what if …” Coach Bill Belichick had amassed a talented staff, many of whom were no-names in the mid-90s, but became the backbone of many teams’ front offices and coaching staffs in the years to come. This is a then-and-now look at those future coaches and general managers who worked under Belichick in Cleveland.
“A Football Life: Cleveland ’95” debuts on NFL Network tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
Then: Belichick — after a highly successful tenure as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants under Bill Parcells — became head coach of the Browns in 1991. Coincidentally, his first win as Browns coach came against the New England Patriots and his first playoff win also came against the Patriots in the 1994 postseason. After it was announced that the franchise would move to Baltimore, Belichick was fired.
Now: Belichick is arguably the best coach in the game and could go down as one of the greatest in the history of the NFL. Belichick — who is in his 13th season as Patriots coach — has led New England to five Super Bowls, winning three, and has only had one losing season (his first in 2000) with the team.
Then: Newsome — a Hall of Fame tight end and still the Browns’ all-time leading receiver — became Cleveland’s director of pro personnel in 1994.
Now: When the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996, owner Art Modell invited Newsome to remain with the team and was promoted to vice president of player personnel. In his first draft with the team, Newsome was instrumental in selecting two likely future Hall of Famers — offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis — in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft. In 2002, Newsome was promoted to general manager, becoming the league’s first African-American GM.
Then: Pioli began his NFL career as a scouting assistant for the Browns in 1992, and then served as a pro personnel assistant with the team from 1993 through 1995. When the franchise moved to Baltimore, Pioli was promoted to pro personnel coordinator.
Now: After a successful nine-year tenure in New England as vice president of player personnel, Pioli was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 to be general manager. In 2010, the Chiefs won the AFC West and hosted their first home playoff game since 2003.
Now: Tannenbaum has been with the New York Jets since 1997, starting as director of player contract negotiations and eventually working his way up to the general manager post in 2006. The Jets reached the AFC Championship Game in two consecutive seasons (2009-2010) during his tenure.
Then: Schwartz worked in the Browns’ player personnel department as a pro and college scout from 1993-1995. When the franchise moved to Baltimore, Schwartz transitioned to coaching, becoming a defensive assistant coach.
Now: When Schwartz became head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2009 he inherited a team that went 0-16 the year before. In his third season, Schwartz had the Lions in the playoffs after an 11-year postseason drought.
Then: Ferentz worked as Belichick’s offensive line coach from 1993-1995. He remained with the franchise after the move to Baltimore, continuing to serve as offensive line coach through the 1998 season.
Now: Ferentz started coaching Iowa in 1999, replacing Hawkeye legend Hayden Fry. In his time in Iowa City, Ferentz has won two Big Ten titles and earned the conference’s coach of the year award three times.
Then: After working in the World League of American Football — later to be renamed NFL Europe and then NFL Europa — as a scout in 1992, Dimitroff joined the Browns’ grounds crew (Dmitroff’s father was a scout for the team at the time). While in Cleveland, Dimitroff formed a bond with Scott Pioli, then a pro personnel assistant for the team.
Now: After serving as a scout with the Browns from 1998-2001 and Patriots in 2002, Dimitroff became the Patriots’ director of college scouting in 2003. Five years later, Dimitroff’s rapid rise up the football ranks hit its zenith when the Atlanta Falcons hired him to be general manager in 2008. The Falcons have reached the postseason three times under Dimitroff’s watch.
Then: Saban spent four seasons (1991-1994) as Belchick’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland. In his final season with the Browns, Saban’s unit allowed the fewest points in the league (204), the sixth-fewest points ever surrendered in an NFL season at the time. Among the notables on that 1994 Browns defensive unit were former Giants linebackers Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks, safety Eric Turner, defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry, defensive end Rob Burnett (who would go on to win a Super Bowl with the 2001 Ravens) and defensive end Anthony Pleasant (who would was a member of two of Belichick’s Super Bowl-winning teams in New England).
Now: Saban is a three-time national championship-winning college coach. Saban won the national championship in 2003 as coach of LSU, and again in 2009 and 2011 as coach of Alabama. In between those two highly successful college stops was a less-than-successful two-year tenure as coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Now: Mangini remained with the franchise after the shift to Baltimore, serving as a defensive assistant. He rejoined Belichick with the Jets in 1997 and became one of his most trusted assistants until being named head coach of the Jets in 2006 (at 35 years old, he was the youngest head coach in the NFL). In his first season, Mangini led the Jets to the playoffs. Two years later, la ate-season collapse cost Mangini his job, but he was quickly hired by the Browns. After two consecutive 5-11 seasons, Mangini was let go by the Browns and now serves as an analyst for ESPN.
Now: Savage remained with the Ravens following the move and eventually returned to Cleveland as general manager, serving that role from 2005-2008. Savage oversaw the first-round selections of receiver Braylon Edwards in 2005, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley in 2006, and offensive tackle Joe Thomas and quarterback Brady Quinn in 2007. Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons.
Now: Kokinis rose from scout to director of pro personnel with the Ravens from 1996-2008. In 2009, Kokinis was named the Browns’ general manager. Midway through the 2009 season with the Browns mired in a miserable 1-7 start, the team announced that Kokinis was “no longer actively involved” with the Browns. Kokinis returned to the Ravens as a senior personnel assistant under general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Then: Lombardi joined the Browns in 1987 and was promoted to director of player personnel in 1992, advising Belichick on all football matters. Some of the notable players drafted in Lombardi’s time in Cleveland are defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry, running back Eric Metcalf, defensive ends Anthony Pleasant and Rob Burnett, safety Eric Turner and receiver Michael Jackson.
Now: After working as senior personnel executive of the Oakland Raiders from 1999-2007. Lombardi transitioned into the media and now serves as an analyst for NFL Network and NFL.com.
Jim Reineking is an editor for NFL.com and can followed on Twitter @JimReineking.