October 22, 2014

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Browns: Kokinis finally hired as general manager

BEREA — Coach Eric Mangini got a partner Sunday to help rebuild the Browns. He came highly recommended — by Mangini himself.
George Kokinis was hired as general manager, completing an organizational overhaul that began a month ago when owner Randy Lerner fired general manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel.
“He is a tireless worker that has spent his entire career evaluating talent and knows the type of player it takes to be successful in this league and in our division,” Lerner said in a statement.
Kokinis, director of pro personnel with the Baltimore Ravens, appeared on Lerner’s radar when Mangini recommended him during an interview Dec. 30. But the announcement of the hiring, assumed for weeks, came after an excruciating delay.
Kokinis spent part of last week in Browns headquarters working with Mangini and had a second interview with Lerner later in the week. Kokinis’ first interview was Jan. 11 and he became available when the Ravens’ playoff run ended
Jan. 18 with a loss to the Steelers in the AFC championship game.
While the league was waiting for Kokinis to officially take over, the Browns fired director of player personnel T.J. McCreight. He had worked with Kokinis in Baltimore, had been Savage’s top assistant and was acting as head of the personnel department while Lerner searched for a general manager. McCreight even interviewed for the GM job.
Kokinis, 41, and Mangini have been friends since starting in entry-level positions with the Browns under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990s. They shared an apartment with Scott Pioli, who was recently hired as Chiefs general manager, and Mangini twice tried to lure Kokinis to the Jets but it would’ve been a lateral move.
Kokinis began his NFL scouting career with the Browns in 1991 after serving an internship in the team’s operations department.  He spent five seasons with the Browns scouting department (1991-95), including two working alongside Mangini.
Kokinis moved to Baltimore with the franchise, spent the last six seasons as director of pro personnel and has never been a general manager.
“I would like to thank Randy Lerner for the extraordinary opportunity,” Kokinis said in the release. “Cleveland is a football town and I look forward to working alongside Eric Mangini and the rest of the organization.”
Lerner was committed to finding a GM-coach tandem that could work in harmony, especially after the relationship between Savage and Crennel deteriorated over the last year, hurting the Browns’ chances for success.
“I have tremendous respect for George,” Mangini said in his introductory news conference Jan. 8. “In the course of knowing him as a person, which he’s outstanding, is knowing him as a professional. He’s impressive. He’s got tremendous substance.”
Baltimore largely built its team through the draft – that’s why Savage was a popular hire in 2005 after being Ozzie Newsome’s second in command – but has added significant pieces through free agency and trade. Kokinis became assistant director of pro personnel in 2000 after four years as a college scout for the Ravens, so his recent expertise has been inside the NFL.
Running back Willis McGahee and quarterback Steve McNair were acquired by Baltimore in trades, and receiver Derrick Mason, defensive end Trevor Pryce, safety Jim Leonhard and cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Corey Ivy were free-agent signees. Kokinis led the effort to get them all, in addition to negotiating contracts with late-round draft picks.
“If George Kokinis were to go there, it would be tough, it would be a disappointment,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said recently. “But then again, it would be an opportunity for George. We’ve got a lot of respect for George.
“George does a great job. He’s had a huge impact on our team so far this year. Everybody knows that.”
In order for Kokinis to leave Baltimore, the Browns were required to give him final authority on personnel decisions. But Mangini, who plans on being the voice of the franchise, wants teamwork.
“What matters is the general manager and I work together every single day and create decisions that are based on consensus,” Mangini said. “That’s what’s most important. All the other stuff, in terms of how things are designated (in the contracts), it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter one bit.”
Kokinis will likely have to rely on current Browns scouts in draft preparation, since most of his time has been spent scouting the NFL, especially the AFC North. While he could be at a disadvantage for the draft in April – the Browns have the fifth pick – he is well-versed in Cleveland’s roster.
That will come in handy as the Kokinis-Mangini team decides which of its free agents to keep – safety Sean Jones, linebacker Andra Davis, running back Jason Wright are possibilities – and which potential free agents to target from other clubs.
Lerner also interviewed Pioli, former Jaguars vice president of player personnel James Harris and Giants director of pro personnel David Gettleman. Falcons president Rich McKay and Eagles GM Tom Heckert pulled out of the running after Mangini was hired.
Kokinis worked for Harris in Baltimore, then replaced him when he left for Jacksonville. There has been speculation that Kokinis could bring in Harris in some capacity in the front office.
Kokinis played football and baseball at Hobart College and earned a master’s degree in sports management at the University of Richmond. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three kids.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.