Cleveland Browns Sale Could Put a Damper on Rebuilding Phase
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
So why are we skeptical?
Perhaps this is a comment on our post-Watergate/mid-recession society.
Or perhaps it’s a function of one owner who skipped town and the son of another owner who is more enamored of his English soccer team than the source of the inheritance he is rapidly pouring into said soccer team.
Forbes' “Thought of the Day” for Saturday August 4 was:
There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it.
With all due respect to the 19th century philosopher—horse-hockey! (And how telling that this sentiment was quoted in the universal money-making Bible.)
Ethics check: There is no worse lie than a lie.
In June, Browns president Mike Holmgren was on the record to multiple media members:
No, the Browns are not for sale. I talk to Randy [Lerner] all the time, and I assume he'd tell me. We have a very open, honest relationship. No, there's no truth to that.
And yet Mr. Haslam told the assembled reporters on Friday, August 3:
“They called us in May and said it looks like a team may become available.”
On July 27, an Associated Press article referenced on espn.com wrote:
Holmgren said that Lerner's interests have changed during the years and that the owner had told him a while back that, while he loved the team, he would consider selling if and when a reliable buyer came along.
“All the stars aligned in the last few months.” Holmgren said.
Of course, I could be confused, but don’t the phrases “a while back” and “the last few months” imply that Mr. Mike knew about the sale possibility before his June disclaimer?
Jimmy Haslam could be the second coming of Richard Nixon in the truth-telling department for all we know. However, he at least talks about truth in ownership: "I think you’ll find that we are open and transparent."
Time will tell.
On the other hand, the jury is in on Lerner and Holmgren.
So, what might this regime change mean for a team trying desperately to complete a rebuild?
*unless otherwise noted, all statements attributed to Mr. Haslam are from his press conference on Friday, August 3 (transcript available on Cleveland.com).
Joe Banner Versus Mike Holmgren
New Sheriff? Tzar? King?
Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE
Mike Holmgren has publicly pursued god-like control in his football career.
Then, he stayed out of football until he found just the right situation for him to take another stab at running the show.
That situation was with the Cleveland Browns and their lackluster and largely absentee owner, Randy Lerner.
If anyone doubted Holmgren’s status as “The Man” in Cleveland, they only had to look at the team president’s presence at owners' meetings—in lieu of Lerner.
Jimmy Haslam may be the new owner in name only until final league approval, but he doesn’t strike one as a man who will allow an employee to represent him at a meeting of his NFL peers.
No matter how high-ranking that employee may be.
Being the Cleveland Browns president is probably the closest that Holmgren will come to being an owner. One wonders if he has the "Bill Parcells" paragraph in his contract that allows him to walk away with his full paycheck in the event of an ownership change.
Might be time to exercise that clause, Mike.
Of course, it’s possible that Banner will choose to remain an owner alone and not take on the mantle of day-to-day presidential duties. Right.
The widely-reported and persistent rumor that Banner left Philly after coming out on the losing end of a power struggle with Andy Reid tends to foreshadow his installation as head football god-of-all-trades for the Browns.
While Haslam praised Holmgren at his “meet the Cleveland media” press conference, csnbaltimore.com’s Ray Frager quoted the owner singing a slightly different tune.
Mike may not want to work with me. He's a legend. He's been around. …I'm not taking anything for granted. He may want to walk in here and say, 'I don't really want to work with you.' I don't want to be presumptuous that way.
How can that statement be anything other than a first paving stone on the road to ousting Mr. Mike?
If the NFL moves the owners’ vote on Haslam’s purchase forward to late August or early September (as reported by Jason La Canfora), Mike needs to start packing.
If the meeting remains in October, Holmgren could hang onto the throne through 2012, since new ownership may not want to shake everything up that late into the season.
Then he'll have to decide just how helpful he wants to be to Haslam, Banner and Co. Hmmmm.
The moral of this story is that if you want to be king, you’d better not finish last in your division every year of your reign.
Tom Heckert Deja Vu
The good ole days.
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
CBSSports.com's Clark Judge tweeted on August 2:
2 league sources confirmed Banner in Cle as team prez. Said Holmgren, Heckert probably gone. Said 1: "They're going to blow whole place up."
While a front-office clean sweep wouldn’t be shocking (and certainly not unprecedented), the nepotistic ties between the Eagles and the recent Browns administration are convoluted and deep.
Joe Banner grew up with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie. This may have had some impact upon his position as team president for about a million years.
That long tenure and salary are undoubtedly how he is now able to (reportedly) purchase a minority stake in the Browns.
Browns general manager Tom Heckert worked for Banner in Philadelphia from 2001-2009. In 2006, he was given the title of general manager, but was generally considered to be an adviser rather than a decision maker.
When Tom decided to join the Browns, NFL regulations required that he officially be given final authority over the roster in order for him to make a lateral career move from one GM job to another.
Yeah, that’s dandy on paper, but nobody ever even pretended that Heckert didn’t have to defer to Mike Holmgren.
So, why would Heckert leave Philly? Was there a conflict with Andy Reid—or was it with Joe Banner?
Did Heckert think that officially having final roster approval would further his career?
Did he see a power vacuum with Lerner as an absentee landlord whose property manager was busy enough to allow Heckert to expand his GM responsibilities?
Did he not fully enjoy the experience of working for Joe Banner?
Whatever it was, he will now be in a similar position. The difference is that in Cleveland, Heckert doesn’t have a powerhouse head coach vying for a piece of the power pie.
So, if he and Banner get along personally, Heckert might still have a job come October. Sure he will.
Unlike replacing Holmgren or head coach Pat Shurmur, firing a GM during the season really doesn’t have much effect after the trade deadline.
High-Profile Coaches on Notice
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
Andy Reid must be a monumentally strong personality to win an internal power-match with the owner’s childhood buddy. It probably shouldn’t, therefore, come as any shock that he has practically single-handedly initiated a coaching pipeline to former boss Mike Holmgren.
Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress are both Reid disciples. Dick Jauron was a senior assistant with Philly in 2010. Ray Rhodes was the Eagles head coach, and Cleveland quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple also came from Philadelphia.
Unless one of these gentlemen has personally annoyed Banner, they will probably stay at least through this year.
Chris Beake, Seattle
Dwaine Board, Seattle
Nolan Cromwell, Seattle and Green Bay
Bill Davis, Seattle and Green Bay
Tim Hauck, Green Bay
Kent Johnson, Green Bay
Mike Wilson: played with the 49ers under Bill Walsh
They might want to keep renting for a while.
Decision-Making and Play-Calling
Comin' at ya.
Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE
Coaches don’t game plan or call plays in a bubble separated from their personal lives and careers.
Unless Haslam is insane, there won’t be catastrophic coaching changes this season. After all, Mr. Haslam has just served his NFL-owner internship under the Rooneys in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have had three coaches in modern memory.
Nevertheless, the entire staff is on notice and on the clock. Most, if not all, of them will be gone in January unless the Browns turn the corner in decisive fashion.
Their focus just went from team development to “win now.” Linebacker Scott Fujita summed it up for Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole in a characteristically colorful fashion:
"The coaches become lab rats just like the players."
Cole made an excellent point when he wondered whether Shurmur will be temped to overuse Trent Richardson. He made a legitimate comparison to 2003, when Dave Wannstedt fed Ricky Williams the ball 392 times in an effort to save his own job.
Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it?
One positive aspect of a hands-on owner may be some reluctance to run a player into the ground for the sake of the short-term. Richardson, after all, represents a considerable family investment for the Haslams.
However, within games, who is to say whether Shurmur and Childress may wax conservative or throw caution to the winds?
While neither man bears any resemblance whatsoever to a riverboat gambler, having one’s career on the line might lead to either cold feet or wild risk-taking.
The development of four rookie offensive starters is no longer uppermost on coaches’ minds, especially now that injuries and suspensions are stretching the defense thin.
Yeah, he's fast.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Ironically, Brandon Weeden’s much-discussed chronological seniority just became a team strength.
On an offense starting four rookies (at least), having a quarterback who is no stranger to the politics of professional sports or the egos of professional ownership may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to the new Browns.
Weeden is a grown man with a firm grasp on what he can and cannot control. That example will serve his teammates well.
Ah, but what about Weeden’s propensity towards the “go for broke" bomb?
Just take your shots. Take shots down the field. Try to make those throws that are difficult throws…I'm an aggressive thrower…and if you're an aggressive player – look at Brett Favre – there's gonna be mistakes every once in a while, but there's also gonna be some big plays.
—Brandon Weeden (via The Plain Dealer on July 29th)
It may be en vogue to trash Brett Favre these days, but this is exactly the kind of attitude Cleveland needs out of its (assumed) franchise QB. And if No. 3 is even half as entertaining as No. 4, Jimmy Haslam has struck gold.
Meanwhile, team leadership needs to make sure that rusher extraordinaire Trent Richardson doesn’t try to carry the entire roster on his admittedly sturdy shoulders.
A teenaged father, Richardson accepted grown-up responsibility early in life. Frankly, the chances of this astoundingly talented rusher being a bust are slim, but he could easily try to do too much.
On the other hand, every wide receiver fighting for a roster spot can’t do enough. Joshua Gordon and Travis Benjamin represent investments of both money and draft picks.
Assuming that they both see the field in 2012, these young WRs must not just perform—they must excel in order to have jobs in 2013.
Thus far, both are showing promise. ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley caught Brad Childress in a moment of candor:
"[Gordon’s] one of those guys that you can tell to correct something, and he corrects it on the next snap."
Travis Benjamin is putting the lie to thoughts that he isn’t big enough to do anything but be a downfield speedster. The diminutive receiver has been making recent—and effective—appearances in the slot.
"I anticipated with his natural size that he might get banged around and be less efficient, but he has done a great job. I think he handles the traffic pretty well."
On the other side of the ball, it’s a good thing that rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson has been opening eyes all over Cleveland (as reported by The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Bower). With the injury to Chris Gocong, Johnson probably just became the starting SLB during Scott Fujita’s suspension.
And temporarily-first-string WLB Kaluka Maiava had better step lively, or the rookie will take over his starting spot once Fujita returns.
So far so good with Holmgren and Heckert’s 2012 draft picks. However, in the “every man for himself” climate of a regime change, one hopes that this year’s rookies aren’t expecting a lot of loyalty from coaches or management.
As for what the new owner expects, Mr. Haslam said on Friday:
“And to be honest, your first round draft pick has to not just make the team, not just start, he’s has to be All-Pro.”
But hey, no pressure.
Veteran Status Quo Shift
The more things change...
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
The urgency was already there for this team because we hadn't won a lot of games the past few years, now it's even more so…You wonder how it's going to play out in people's heads.
Scott Fujita (via Jason Cole at Yahoo! Sports)
Mr. Fujita’s feud with the NFL could be even more costly than he imagined.
Gocong’s injury has opened the door for four young linebackers to shine: James-Michael Johnson, Emmanuel Acho, Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort. Without front-office loyalty, Fujita may never get back into the lineup.
Likewise, TE Jordon Cameron and WR Mohamed Massaquoi are now on their own. Banner (and whoever) won’t be championing either player.
Holmgren has been public in pumping up Massaquoi’s battered image this offseason. Well, that’s done. Mike will have a few other things on his mind.
Cameron is seizing the opportunity presented by Evan Moore’s injury to try and keep a second-string TE job threatened not only by Moore and Alex Smith, but also by H-back Brad Smelley. Good time to step it up, there, Jordan.
Another unintended result of Mr. Haslam’s arrival in Cleveland is that Colt McCoy may actually be able to stay in town.
New ownership and the possible ouster of Mike Holmgren will have two quarterback consequences—one immediate and one perhaps delayed.
Holmgren and Shurmur, in what would be a somewhat uncharacteristic and certainly belated display of decency, were probably planning to give McCoy considerable preseason snaps.
This would have allowed No. 12 to audition for other teams. A trade would benefit both the player and the team.
Now, there might just be pressure to give Weeden almost every snap to hasten his learning curve since the team needs to win from Day 1.
The second fact of significance is the Seneca Wallace connection. Lest we forget, Wallace is Mr. Mike’s man—lock, stock and barrel. If Holmgren goes…
Let’s just say that Wallace had better be shoring up his retirement plan.
Dedication to Winning, or Meddling to Mediocrity?
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
No sooner had the ink dried on the sale than Jim Brown announced that he would be attending the Cleveland Browns alumni weekend event.
OK, not literally (Brown announced his decision before the sale was public knowledge), but do we really think this is a complete coincidence?
Most Browns fans are going to like Jimmy Haslam. He wasted no time whatsoever in declaring the checkbook open and the owners ready for business:
There’s no reason why this can’t be a winning franchise. Everything’s here right? … Every other piece is in place here, great fan base, you have the money you need, we just have to execute.
Haslam also stated during the introductory press conference that he intends to emulate the Rooney family’s management of the Steelers and that Robert Kraft had extended the hand of mentorship.
So, the Steelers and the Patriots. Hard to pick two better franchises upon which to model your new family business.
A note to every Browns employee from Holmgren to the ball boys—neither Pittsburgh nor New England has ever hesitated to cut people loose.
Whether it’s the Rooneys trading Santonio Holmes to the Jets as a warning to Ben Roethlisberger, or Bill Belichick and Kraft dumping Lawyer Milloy, Drew Bledsoe, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour, these guys don’t mess around.
If they even think you might not produce at the highest level and toe the company line, you’re history.
This should fly just fine in Cleveland after suffering through the first unproductive and painful years of a "five-year plan."
Browns fans are passionate. They made it clear to Mr. Haslam immediately where their priorities lie:
As soon as I got out of my car, the gentleman who grabbed my bags started telling me how serious Cleveland takes its football, how important it is to win, how much the Browns mean to them.
Jimmy Haslam owns truck stops. In the most practical sense, shower functionality has a more real effect on his customers than the win-loss record of a football franchise.
And yet one can’t really imagine a trucker freely giving Haslam tips on the value of a travel center to the community.
That’s why it’s football, folks.