Amid the disaster that has been the Cleveland Browns offseason, perhaps there is finally a ray of light. Pun intended. Owner Jimmy Haslam cleaned house on Tuesday by jettisoning general manager Michael Lombardi and announcing C.E.O. Joe Banner will be stepping down.
In their place, President Alec Scheiner will assume all aspects of the Browns’ business and Ray Farmer has been promoted to general manager to oversee football operations.
From the outside looking in, it seems like a continuation of the problems that have plagued the Browns since 1999. Cleveland has been a franchise that has seen far too much turnover and the trend has not slowed.
Since Haslam bought the Browns, they are on their third coach, third general manager and second president. While some of that was assumed staff from the previous ownership, the firings were still Haslam’s.
From the outside it would seem that the Browns were rushing to conclusions after a 4-12 season where they were building for 2014 anyway. Why would Haslam run everyone out of town when they were never focused on 2013?
With the most cap space in the NFL, the Browns made minimal moves and opted to trade out of the fourth and fifth rounds of the draft last season. They already lacked a second round pick and ended up drafting just two players who contributed.
From the outside it would seem that Haslam is an over-controlling owner who is putting the blame on everyone else for his franchise’s lame-duck season. The typical billionaire who refuses to admit fault in his own hires and decisions.
“I underestimated this: It’s a learning curve to be an NFL owner,” Haslam told the media on Tuesday. “If you want to look at me as a work-in-progress, that’s fair to say or to do. I will tell you this: These are the last of the major changes that we’re going to make in the organization, but we’ll continue to, if I can use the word, ‘tinker’ with the organization to continue to find was to improve it and make it better.”
That does not sound like an owner who is unwilling to accept the blame for his actions.
“I will accept responsibility for some of the changes that have been made,” Haslam told the media on Tuesday. “There is no primer for being an NFL owner. It is a learn-on-the-go, if you will, but I think what’s really important is for everybody in this room but really much more so for our fans to understand that this ownership group, our family and this owner is committed to bringing a winner to the Browns.”
Haslam identified a major issue in his organization and acted. This is a course correction.
Despite outside perceptions, people around Cleveland are ecstatic over the moves made. Haslam got rid of two unproven front-office guys who acted as if their word was better than gold.
He then divided their responsibilities between two of the brightest and most liked young talents in NFL management. Scheiner, who worked under Jerry Jones in Dallas, is considered one of the most connected and innovative minds in the NFL.
He spearheaded the Browns' increased effort to communicate with fans and find out exactly what needs to be improved. He was the catalyst for a revamped game day experience in 2013. That aspect will only get better.
He was the leader of the movement for stadium renovations that will take place over the next two seasons. These will finally bring FirstEnergy Stadium up to NFL standards.
Those close to the team laugh at the notion that promoting Farmer is any type of step backwards. He has already been working with the team for 11 months and was the lone representative for the Browns most of Senior Bowl week.
Whether he had the title or not, Farmer was doing a lot of the duties that a general manager would assume.
Farmer’s track record is also much better than Lombardi’s. The 1990s Browns and Oakland Raiders were not a great resume for Lombardi.
Farmer was involved in the scouting and drafting of nine different Pro Bowl players between 2006 and 2012 in Kansas City. Included in that list is wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, linebacker Tamba Hali, running back Jamaal Charles and safety Eric Berry.
People in Cleveland are happy to have the duo that allowed the Browns to once again be an embarrassment by leaking the firing of head coach Rob Chudzinski to the media before the players were notified. Getting rid of a coach after one season is not a fireable offense, but the way they handled it was.
Those who watch the team most know that the NFL paired Jimmy Haslam with Joe Banner and the two never really seemed to mesh.
Banner was a castoff from Philadelphia who wanted to prove he could make football decisions. Haslam always just wanted proven winners who had a track record of success.
Finally, the Browns have a normal power hierarchy. The general manager will make decisions based on his evaluations, the coach will have input in those and will have final say over who plays on Sundays and the owner makes sure everyone does their job.
What a wild concept.
There are no more secret general managers who never have to answer to the media for their actions. There will be no more pseudo owners running the team.
Jimmy Haslam has finally taken full control of his franchise. If that looks bad from the outside, then people have not been paying very close attention to the Browns for the last 15 years.