When Hall of Fame General Manager Ron Wolf accepted an invitation from the Browns and spent the final day of April's draft in the war room at team headquarters, he experienced nostalgia.

"I just wanted to see how they did it, and it's like we did it, like we did it in Green Bay," Wolf told the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. "It's very similar."

It turns out Browns General Manager John Dorsey had been paying close attention all those years he worked for the Packers with Wolf in charge.

"Yes, I guess," Wolf said with a laugh. "He's his own man. So he'll make his adjustments and do what he has to do to get it done. I think you've got to admire him for that."

It would be an understatement to say Dorsey is admired by Browns fans.

The architect of the franchise's no-huddle, hurry-up turnaround has developed a bona fide cult following. His affectionate use of the term "buddy boy" is part of the Cleveland sports scene's lexicon. Reproductions of the sweatshirts he wears almost daily with "Cleveland Browns" emblazoned on the front in orange letters are sold at the FirstEnergy Stadium team shop. Those tops combined with khaki pants, eyeglasses and baseball caps featuring "Brownie the Elf" are the ingredients of popular Halloween costumes in Northeast Ohio.

Dorsey's celebrity status has skyrocketed because the Browns became one of the most buzzworthy teams in the NFL after just a year and a half on his watch.

"Listen, we didn't think it was going to turn this quickly," said Browns executive vice president JW Johnson, the son-in-law of owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.

None of it surprises Wolf, one of Dorsey's most influential mentors and the father of Browns assistant GM Eliot Wolf.

Drafted in 1984 by the Packers in the fourth round out of the University of Connecticut, Dorsey appeared in 76 games in five NFL seasons, primarily as a backup linebacker who made a living on special teams. Two years after a knee injury ended his playing career in 1989, Dorsey was hired as a scout by Tom Braatz, the Packers' executive vice president of football operations at the time. Wolf replaced Braatz late in the 1991 season but kept Dorsey because the Leonardtown, Md., native's desire to learn impressed the new boss right off the bat.

"There's a process you go through [when a new GM decides whether to retain scouts]," Wolf said. "It's how well they adapt to what you're trying to get done, and John was very enthusiastic, always interested in finding out why we were doing things a certain way or a different way and always had good ideas. You like that enthusiasm. He just grew and got better.

"You gave him something to do, and he got it done. He got the information you wanted, that the team needed. His respect for the game and the people who play the game help him immensely in what he's doing. He can rely on making a lot of comparisons from guys he played with, played against, and I think that's invaluable. I mean, he played at a really tough position to play -- linebacker. So those guys are a little different, and I think John is that way. He's very thorough and very competitive."    

When the Haslams hired Dorsey on Dec. 7, 2017, the Browns had four games left in what would become the second 0-16 season in NFL history. They had gone 1-15 the previous season after Dorsey's predecessor, Sashi Brown, ripped the roster down to the studs and implemented an extreme youth movement. Brown, whose contract gave him final authority on all player personnel decisions for nearly two years as executive vice president of football operations, had been fired the same day Dorsey took control as GM.

The changing of the guard from Brown to Dorsey represented a dramatic shift from analytics-based decision making to traditional scouting. Dorsey certainly uses analytics in his evaluations, just not to the unprecedented degree Brown did.

The difference in philosophies manifested itself in Dorsey's aggressive roster makeover. When the Browns entered the 2018 season, 31 of their 53 players had been acquired by Dorsey in his first offseason on the job. By the time they opened training camp on July 25, only 13 players had predated Dorsey in Cleveland. Nine of them, including six draft picks, had been acquired by Brown and four, including three draft choices, by Ray Farmer, the GM from 2014-15.

"How rare is that?" Wolf said of the turnover. "I think it's rare."

Dorsey shook up the player personnel department, too. The changes were headlined by the January 2018 hires of Eliot Wolf and vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith as his right-hand men. Eliot Wolf had spent 14 seasons working for the Packers, Highsmith 19 seasons.

"You've got to have people you can bounce things off of, and I think that helps him to have people who have been in a situation where it's been successful and you know what you have to do to make it successful," Ron Wolf said. "So you operate that way. You have a common verbiage or a language that goes with it. It helps to have people who have been through it with you."

With an influx of talent facilitated by Dorsey and his crew, the Browns improved to 7-8-1 last season coming off a combined record of 1-31 the previous two years.

"What he's done is amazing, the turnaround, the roster, the players he's been able to establish, the guys he's brought into the front office," Johnson said. "I think John's been doing a great job. We're always going to be hard on him to keep doing well, so we're not going to rest on our laurels. We're going to keep working hard and keep pushing him to keep building this team and reawake the sleeping giant."

The Browns obviously need a head coach who can capitalize on the talent Dorsey assembles. On Oct. 29, they fired coach Hue Jackson, who posted a historically poor record of 3-36-1 in 2 1/2 seasons at the helm, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Jackson and Haley had entered a power struggle too toxic for either one of them to survive. The Browns promoted Gregg Williams from defensive coordinator to interim coach and running backs/associate head coach Freddie Kitchens to offensive coordinator the same day. The team went 5-3 in the second half of the season with then-rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield flourishing under Kitchens.

After the season, Dorsey led a head coaching search. Kitchens, Williams and five other candidates received interviews from Dorsey, the Haslams, Johnson and the rest of the franchise's search committee. Kitchens prevailed, and as part of a seismic change to the organizational structure, he reports to Dorsey, who turned 59 on Aug. 30. Jackson and his predecessor, Mike Pettine, reported directly to the Haslams instead of Brown or Farmer.

"It's very important," Wolf said of the relationship between Dorsey and Kitchens, "because the buck stops there. They have to be on the same page because they're like hooked, they're together and you've got to work together."

***

Since the Haslams agreed to buy the Browns in 2012, they have fired four heads of football operations and four coaches. None of those previous regimes secured the golden ticket to sustained success in the NFL -- a franchise quarterback.

In consecutive drafts, Brown traded down in the first round, passing on quarterbacks Carson Wentz (No. 2 overall pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12 overall choice of the Houston Texans in 2017) in the process and gathering future selections.

Dorsey inherited a stockpile of picks and more than $100 million in salary-cap space from Brown. He has taken advantage of the assets he received and gotten good returns on the vast majority of roster moves he's executed.

Dorsey's first draft haul is highlighted by Mayfield (No. 1 overall), cornerback Denzel Ward (No. 4), running back Nick Chubb (second round, No. 35) and wide receiver Antonio Callaway (fourth round, No. 105). Dorsey has picked a rookie Pro Bowler in each of the past four years. A Nordonia High School and Ohio State University product, Ward made the Pro Bowl last season. As the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dorsey also chose the following players who made the Pro Bowl as rookies: cornerback Marcus Peters (18th overall in 2015), receiver Tyreek Hill (fifth round, 165th, in 2016) and running back Kareem Hunt (third round, 86th, in 2017).

Hill and Hunt underscore another aspect of the Dorsey experience. If a player with character concerns is talented enough, Dorsey is willing to forgive him for disturbing off-field behavior and extend an opportunity to play. He picked Hill, even though Hill had pleaded guilty in 2015 to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend-turned-fiancee. He brought Hunt to the Browns on Feb. 11, signing him to a one-year contract after he had been caught on a security video shoving and kicking a woman last year in downtown Cleveland.

For better or worse, Dorsey is the king of second chances. He's also a trade machine. By moving up three spots in April's second round to draft cornerback Greedy Williams 46th overall, Dorsey completed his 18th trade in his first 16 months with the Browns.

"We made a lot of trades [in Green Bay]," Wolf said. "He's copied that. [Seahawks GM and former Packers executive] John Schneider up in Seattle has certainly copied that. But the whole thing we preached all the time was that, 'If A is better than B, then let's go get A. Let's not keep B. Let's go get A.' So if you have somebody on your roster who is not carrying his weight, let's go get somebody. Let's replace him. He's done a pretty good job of fixing that roster, this roster here in Cleveland."

Dorsey rocked the NFL in March with his trade for superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It came on the heels of a smaller yet significant splash -- Dorsey reaching an agreement on another swap with the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon. Last year, with Dorsey adding a veteran player to every position group on offense and defense to upgrade the roster’s experience and leadership, he traded for receiver Jarvis Landry, free safety Damarious Randall and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, now with the Los Angeles Chargers.

"You spend an awful lot of your time as a scout in a dark room looking for players like Odell Beckham," Wolf said, "and when you have an opportunity to get them, then you have to weigh how important that one guy is, and he's obviously very important."

Wolf called Beckham a "game-changer" but isn't quite ready to compare Dorsey trading for Beckham to Wolf's 1993 free-agent signing of the late Reggie White. White is second on the NFL's all-time sack list with 198 in 232 career games. Fellow Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith is the all-time sack leader with 200 in 279 career games.

"When you think about defensive ends that have played the game of professional football, who is the best one ever? Well, Reggie White's name is in there," Wolf said. "I'm not sure Odell Beckham's name is in there when you think about the great receivers that have played the game of professional football -- yet."

No one -- not even Beckham -- is as important to Dorsey's legacy with the Browns as Mayfield.

Although Mayfield put an exclamation point on his remarkable career at the University of Oklahoma by winning the Heisman Trophy, Dorsey's decision to draft him at No. 1 took chutzpah.

At 6-foot-5/8, Mayfield lacks prototypical size and became just the seventh quarterback who's 6-1 or shorter chosen in the first round since 1970. Pre-draft maturity questions also surrounded Mayfield. He was arrested in 2017 after running from police while under the influence of alcohol and being tackled by an officer in Fayetteville, Ark. He later pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges: public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing.

He became a lightning rod when he planted an Oklahoma flag on the field after a victory at Ohio State and grabbed his crotch while directing expletives toward his opponents from the sideline at Kansas. No walk-on had ever been the top pick in the common draft era, which began in 1967. Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

Dorsey took the risks into account but concluded Mayfield's intense competitive nature, leadership qualities, intelligence, accuracy, pocket awareness and footwork would allow him to blossom into the franchise quarterback the Browns had sought for 25 years. Mayfield looks the part of a coveted long-term solution at the game's most vital position after going 6-7 as a starter last season and finishing as the runner-up in voting for the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre explained he believes Dorsey's willingness to boldly select Mayfield first overall has roots in Wolf gambling on Favre, whom the Atlanta Falcons drafted 33rd overall in 1991. Despite Favre warming the bench and often showing up late to work while wrestling with well-documented alcohol issues as a rookie, Wolf trusted his evaluation and traded a first-round pick for the University of Southern Mississippi product in 1992.

Dealing for Favre and signing White cemented Wolf's legacy and proved to be catalysts for the Packers ending the 1996 season with a 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

"John is a friend of mine," Favre told the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. "I've known John a long time. But you have to look no further than who his mentor was and what his mentor did, and that's Ron Wolf. Ron Wolf stuck his neck out for a guy that no one had heard of. At least people knew who Baker was. No one knew who I was.

"For Ron Wolf to give up a first-round pick for a guy who was drafted in the second round and who did not play his first year in Atlanta, if you really think about it -- now it doesn't seem that crazy -- but at the time, to say that he was putting his neck and his job on the line is an understatement. But he went off of instincts and what he felt was important and that I was a winner, maybe not the flashiest. So John had seen it been done and done correctly, and I think that that probably had a great deal to do with that pick."

***

When Wolf reflected on Dorsey picking Mayfield, another transaction entered his mind. During Dorsey's fifth and final draft as GM of the Chiefs in April 2017, they traded up from No. 27 overall to No. 10, where they picked quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player. The Chiefs sent picks in the first and third rounds in 2017 and a choice in the opening round in 2018 to the Buffalo Bills for the right to leapfrog the Browns (at No. 12) and other teams on their way to Mahomes at No. 10. With Mahomes starting his first full season, the Chiefs went 12-4 last year and lost 37-31 in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the AFC Championship.

"How about the guts to make that deal and get Mahomes?" Wolf said. "I mean, which is bigger? They traded a bunch of choices to get that guy, and look at the year he had."
Last year, Chiefs coach Andy Reid credited Brett Veach, Dorsey's successor in Kansas City, with pushing for Mahomes.

"Brett Veach wore out Dorsey and I about this guy," Reid said on a conference call with the Browns beat writers. "Every five minutes, he was talking about this guy. We both looked at him and go, 'You know what? This guy is pretty good.' We put on the tape of Patrick, and that tells you the truth right there. We brought him in here and got to know him, and there was nothing not to like, so we took him."

Similarly to how Reid points to Veach for his conviction about Mahomes, Wolf tips his hat to Dorsey for recommending Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. The Packers signed Warner as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1994 but cut him. He resurrected his NFL career five years later with the St. Louis Rams.

"It was Kurt's fault that he didn't make the team, not John Dorsey's. It really was," Wolf said. "A great credit to Kurt Warner that he became a Hall of Fame player.

"Can you imagine if he had made our team? Just think about this: If he had made our team, no one would have ever heard of him because Brett Favre was the quarterback."

After Dorsey ascended the Packers' ranks from college scout (1991-96), director of college scouting (1997-98, 2000-11) and director of football operations (2012), with a one-year stint (1999) as the director of pro personnel for the Seahawks mixed into his resume, the Chiefs hired him as their GM in 2013, two years after Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV with Dorsey, Eliot Wolf and Highsmith aboard.

Dorsey and Reid inherited a 2-14 team but went 11-5 in their first season together, then 9-7, 11-5 and 12-4. The Chiefs compiled a record of 43-21 and qualified for the playoffs three times in Dorsey's four seasons as their GM. Then, in a shocking twist, they fired him in June 2017.

"For some reason, he gets bounced," Ron Wolf said. "That's one of those things that makes you wonder."

It made everyone wonder -- why?

"I don't know the answer to those things," Wolf replied.

Dorsey has said he doesn't even know the answer.

The Chiefs gave Reid a contract extension the same day they fired Dorsey, so ownership obviously chose the coach over the GM.

The Kansas City Star reported Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt's decision to fire Dorsey stemmed partly from concerns about the GM's internal communication and management styles. An example cited in the report was Dorsey firing two members of the front office earlier the same offseason without offering much explanation.

Dorsey also received criticism for his salary-cap management.

After the Chiefs showed Dorsey the door, he spent the next several months studying college and NFL players on video in his basement, exercising and attending Catholic Mass. The daily routine ended when the Browns gave him control of their roster three-quarters through the 2017 season. No matter what exactly led to Dorsey’s departure from Kansas City, no one has disputed his ability to evaluate and acquire talent.

"You can't learn that," Wolf said. "You either can do it or you can't do it. We developed a system with the Packers that more or less told us who could evaluate and who couldn't evaluate. It's a skill one possesses, and John has that skill."