"Let me ask you a hypothetical question," Lerner recalls having said to Policy earlier this fall. "If we could get Lew Merletti into the organization, would you be interested?"
Lerner's question catches Policy off guard. "How could we get him?" Policy asks. "And how could we afford him?"
Lerner's response is a reminder why Policy, who usually got everything he needed to succeed while working for Eddie DeBartolo in San Francisco, considers this such a great place to work. "If you want him," Lerner says, "and he wants to come, we'll afford him."
The special agent in charge of protecting the President overseeing the Dawg Pound? Why would Merletti want the job heading security and stadium operations for the Browns? "That's what football does to people," Policy says with a shrug. Before taking the job, the 50-year-old Merletti has to tell Bill Clinton he's leaving. When he does, the President bows his head in disappointment. "Where are you going?" Clinton asks.
"I'm going to work for the Cleveland Browns, sir," Merletti says.
Clinton brightens. "You mean Carmen Policy, Al Lerner, those Cleveland Browns?" Merletti nods. "Oh," Clinton says, "you've got to do that."
JAN. 17, 1999: MINNEAPOLIS
The coaching search is not going well. Already the Browns have failed to entice Policy favorites Mike Holmgren and Steve Mariucci, and now it appears that club vice president Dwight Clark, a former colleague from the Niners and one of Policy's first important hires, has wasted a trip to Minnesota. "Dwight," Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick says imploringly across the barroom table, "isn't there any way we can get past this problem?" The Vikings had been knocked out of the playoffs six hours earlier, and Billick appeals to Clark to let him keep his appointment to interview with Modell for the Baltimore Ravens' head coaching position the next morning; Billick promises to be in Cleveland the day after that.
Clark shakes his head. "Can't happen, Brian," he says. "You have to understand the climate in Cleveland."
Of course, the last thing the new Browns want is to get in a public battle for a coach with Modell, and perhaps lose. Billick has emerged as Cleveland's top choice for the job, but if he doesn't get on Lerner's jet—the same one that flew to Baltimore on that fateful day in 1995—and return to Cleveland with Clark, he can kiss any chance for the Browns' job goodbye.