Cleveland Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam Continues to Pull Team into the Abyss

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 11, 2014

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There was a time when the Cleveland Browns were a model franchise. No, it's true. It really is.

In the 1940s, Paul Brown, who was to football what Thomas Edison was to electricity, led the Browns to an undefeated season decades before the Miami Dolphins did the same. They dominated the 1950s, with three NFL Championships between 1950-1955. They were innovative, talented and progressive. There were legends like Otto Graham and Bobby Mitchell. Jim Brown remains the best football player of all time. They created brilliance and stories that will be told and retold for generations to come.

Now, the Browns are a punchline. Paul Brown would throw up in his mouth if he watched this monstrosity. They are run by a buffoon, Jimmy Steinbrenner—er, Jimmy Haslam. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had three coaches since 1969; the Browns have had three coaches since Haslam purchased the club (Oct. 2012). That is indeed Steinbrenn-ian.

As initially pointed out by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, if you combine Haslem's job as top executive of his Pilot Flying J business with his current ownership of the Browns, Haslam has hired and fired four key people from both businesses in the last 18 months. He dismissed his head coach Rob Chudzinski after less than a calendar year, GM Mike Lombardi after almost the same amount of time and CEO Joe Banner.

Jimmy Haslam, right, with Michael Lombardi (center) and Joe Banner at Lombardi's hiring in January 2013.
Jimmy Haslam, right, with Michael Lombardi (center) and Joe Banner at Lombardi's hiring in January 2013.Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Lombardi and Banner were terrible hires, particularly Lombardi. Lombardi used his media ties—who are now in the media defending him—and smooth-talking skills to get the job in the first place, but Lombardi is and was terrible (and this was a first guess). So, in a way, maybe dumping Lombardi was a good thing. Ray Farmer, the new general manager, is talented, but what we're seeing is, and what we may see for some time, Browns 'gonna Brown.

The problem is Haslam has done nothing to endear trust. It's been the opposite. They are the anti-Seahawks. If Haslam was the owner of the Seattle franchise when Pete Carroll struggled early on, Carroll would have been axed and the front office sent overboard. The Seahawks would have never made the Super Bowl if Haslam was in charge.

If Haslam were running the Giants, we would have never seen Tom Coughlin beating Bill Belichick twice in the Super Bowl. Browns 'gonna Brown.

The people Haslam has fired: Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert, Pat Shurmur, Banner, Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski.

"I underestimated this," said Haslam on NFL ownership, during his news conference Tuesday.

Yes, we see that.

Did Haslam get the Browns using a Groupon?

Browns fans flame me whenever I criticize the childish, backward antics of Haslam and the team (see message board below). It's misdirected rage. Don't blame me. Blame your sorry-ass team. No modern club in history has ever done what Haslam has. None. The result is predictable.

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 8: Cleveland Browns fans watch the final minutes of the game against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at First Energy Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Dolphins defeated the Browns 23-10. (Photo by Jas
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Point to the Cleveland Pro Bowlers and the roster and the promise and the usual Browns false prophecies. Without leadership at the top and stability in the blood, the Browns are doomed.

And we won't even get into the fact that it remains entirely possible that Haslam could be indicted.

Haslam was asked about the team's dysfunction. "That's a perception that you all have sent out there," he said.

Haslam actually said that with a straight face. He didn't chuckle. He didn't smirk. He blamed the media?

It's our fault the Browns have been terrible? The media's fault the team hasn't made the playoffs since 2002? The Browns haven't won their division since the late 1980s and have won five or less games in six consecutive seasons, but it's the media's fault?

"The people I talk to around the country think this is an outstanding opportunity," said Haslam.

Very few people Haslam would ask might say: Yeah, Jimmy, you're terrible and your management style is terrible.

Look at the AFC North division. The Browns are getting left in the dust. The Bengals won 11 games. The Ravens and Steelers had off years and still beat the Browns by four games. Cleveland lost seven consecutive games to end the year. 

There was a time when the Cleveland Browns were a model franchise. No, it's true. It really is.

Just no longer.