Randy Lerner finally revealed his true colors.
The Browns owner and credit card tycoon, worth a reported $1.5 billion, apparently operates by a rogue business philosophy: The customer is never right.
How else can you explain what he said this week?
Lerner provided us with perhaps the best glimpse ever of his ivory-tower view of the world in a bizarre give-and-take—I hesitate to use the word interview—published in Thursday's Cleveland Plain Dealer.
He was given the opportunity to respond, via email, to a written list of questions submitted by Browns beat writer Tony Grossi. It allowed Lerner to craft carefully worded responses while offering little insight and even less satisfaction for Browns fans. It also prevented follow-up questions from being asked. The owner was able to say only what he wanted, exactly the way he wanted to say it.
I'm surprised and disappointed that the Plain Dealer agreed to the format. The final piece comes across like an in-house Q&A for a team magazine. Lerner basically says that our eyes are deceiving us and things aren't what they seem. In effect, the organization is stable, the players are happy, and the team is in good hands.
I'm not making this up.
You can read the article here if you want. But allow me to summarize a few choice tidbits, so that you, too, can experience the mindless euphoria that comes with suspending all reason and giving in to personal flights of fantasy.
To a question about whether there were any early signs that this season would spin out of control, Lerner wrote that the dismal won-lost record of the past four years, combined with awful draft picks, "were the early signs that it would be a very challenging season for our new staff."
But the question didn't ask about past sins. It specifically referred to what has happened this year. It sought accountability. Lerner skirted the issue.
Regarding his apparent haste in hiring Mangini last winter when no other team was even considering him, Lerner wrote that he was looking for someone with "previous coaching experience and a comprehensive plan" and that Mangini is "at an age and phase of his career to continue to evolve his style and approach."
How can you have a comprehensive plan when your style and approach are evolving? What impressed Lerner in the interview? Was it Mangini's philosophy? Or was it what Mangini said his philosophy was going to be someday? The mind reels.
For comic relief, Lerner claimed at one point—and I assume his PR staff chuckled when they wrote this one—that fullback Jamal Lewis believes in the organization.
Forgive me, but is this the same Jamal Lewis who said recently that the Browns have no identity? I must be confused.
Last week, after the Browns lost to Chicago, Lerner announced that hiring a strong, credible leader to oversee football operations was now a priority. When asked by Grossi why he just didn't do that in January, Lerner wrote that he "expected the GM to evolve into that role."
Wait a minute. George Kokinis, brought in at Mangini's urging, needed to "evolve" into a strong, credible leader? If so, why didn't Lerner hire one who was, shall we say, a little more fully developed?
And what's with all this evolving, anyway? Mangini's evolving, Kokinis is evolving...maybe we should draft a few salamanders and hope they can play quarterback in a million years or so.
After claiming he isn't involved in personnel decisions, Lerner wrote that Brady Quinn's reduced playing time has nothing "at all" to do with Quinn's incentive-laden contract. Interesting answer, coming from someone who isn't involved in such things.
Lerner went on to write that the team is built on "core values" established by Mangini, and then penned this gem: "I think that the type of players we have on the team are increasingly reflective of those core values."
God help us. What Lerner intends as a compliment, the rest of us read as an indictment. Does he expect us to admire the values that have led to the current mess? And who in their right mind would cheer for players who do?
ESPN's Herman Edwards said Thursday that the Browns are in the worst shape of any organization in the NFL. In direct contrast to Lerner's prepared answers, Edwards said it's obvious the players aren’t buying into Mangini’s system.
Who do you believe?
Finally, when asked if he could foresee a scenario under which Mangini would not be the coach in 2010, Lerner wrote, "No." And Browns fans everywhere began drinking heavily.
Which leads me back to my original premise. Apparently, for Lerner, the customer is never right.
You want a new direction? Forget it. Pay your money, and take what we give you. You want answers? You're not going to get them. You want accountability? That's the billion-dollar question, and Lerner's the one holding the billion.
You see, you, the customer, are never right—because the company is. It's a philosophy that worked in Lerner's high-interest, outrageous-fee credit card business (think some of your fees and penalties aren't lining his pockets right now?) and, by gum, it's gonna work for the Cleveland Browns.
Earlier this week I held out slim hope that Lerner would act quickly and decisively to clean up the big Brown mess he's created in Cleveland. He met with two season ticket holders who are trying to organize an in-stadium boycott of the opening kickoff on Nov. 16. He sounded like he felt their pain, and ours, and planned to do something about it.
That all blew up in our faces when the Plain Dealer published Lerner's epistle on Thursday. It was shocking and disheartening to read.
There's little more to say than that.
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