SBD/February 12, 2014/Franchises

Haslam Admits He Has Struggled As An NFL Owner After Latest Front-Office Shakeup

Haslam (l) said he and Banner (r) began discussing a re-organization weeks ago
Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam III, in "wiping out his second entire regime in just 16 months of ownership, acknowledged Tuesday that he stumbled out of the gate and had to return to the starting line," according to a front-page pice by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. Browns CEO Joe Banner will step down in the two months and GM Mike Lombardi left the team yesterday. Haslam: "I underestimated this. It's a learning curve to be an NFL owner. If you want to look at me as a work-in-progress, that’s fair to say or to do." He added, "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 [ways] to improve it and make it better." Cabot notes the "shocking shakeup in the front office came just six weeks after Haslam and Banner fired coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season." Haslam "took exception" to charges that the Browns "are dysfunctional." He said, "Let me say that I would disagree with that, OK? I think that’s a perception that you all have set out there" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/12).

DETAILS OF THE MOVE: Haslam promoted Assistant GM Ray Farmer to GM -- with "final say over the 53-man roster that Banner previously had -- and retained" President Alec Scheiner. The Browns also are "in the process" of hiring former Chiefs VP/Player Personnel Bill Kuharich as a consultant. Haslam "will not fill his CEO vacancy." For now, Farmer, Scheiner and coach Mike Pettine will "all report directly to Haslam, who will spend more time with the organization than he has to this point." Haslam said, "I felt like the previous setup was a little bit cumbersome. I think that the way that we’re organized now is much more streamlined. It will be much more efficient and much clearer in terms of who’s in charge of what." But Cabot notes Banner's "exodus was a shock to everyone, including apparently him." Haslam said that the two "began discussing a re-organization several weeks ago, and that they mutually agreed it was best for him to go." In a statement, Banner said, "It is bittersweet leaving the Browns organization." Banner "taught Haslam the business and accomplished a great deal in his 16 months." He "completely redesigned" the Browns' Berea-based HQs, helped secure $30M in public funds for stadium improvements, signed a $107M naming-rights deal with FirstEnergy, created a 10-year partnership with University Hospitals and "brought in some of the most widely-respected executives in the league," such as Scheiner and Exec VP & General Counsel Sashi Brown. But Banner's hiring of Lombardi "was always a big risk, considering he was so unpopular with the local media and fans" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/12).

NEXT IN LINE: In Akron, Nate Ulrich writes the "timing of the shakeup is extremely rare, given the NFL Scouting Combine will begin next week in Indianapolis, free agency will start March 11 and the draft will run May 8-10" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 2/12). The AP's Tom Withers wrote this is "yet another stunning development for a franchise that has undergone nearly constant change in the past 15 years" (AP, 2/11). In Philadelphia, Zach Berman writes it was "an abrupt ending to Banner's second act as a football executive" after 18 years with the Eagles (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/12). In Cleveland, Tom Reed notes in a "league-wide sampling of opinions the decision to promote Farmer is being greeted with mostly favorable reviews." The 39-year-old Farmer "becomes the NFL’s second-youngest GM" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/12). ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert wrote under the header, "NFL Diversity Hirings Increase." Farmer becomes the NFL's seventh African-American GM, which is "a record" for the league (ESPN.com, 2/11).

BLESSING IN DISGUISE? In Cleveland, Bill Livingston wrote Haslam yesterday "had the gall to lecture media members." Livingston: "So toxic were the reputations of Banner and Lombardi that their sacking might actually be addition by subtraction, at least to the fan base." This move is "just more upheaval from an owner who preaches stability" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11). The PLAIN DEALER's Reed writes the Browns "might have made the right move in jettisoning Banner and Lombardi, but the owner needs to stop blaming the media for fueling the perception the franchise is dysfunctional." The Browns' house "was in a state of disrepair before Haslam arrived, and all he’s done is lob dynamite sticks down the chimney" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/12). In Cleveland, Bud Shaw wrote "faith in Haslam’s ownership is close to being played out. ... And nobody thought that would be the case so soon" after former Owner Randy Lerner (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11). Also in Cleveland, Terry Pluto wrote most fans "are thrilled that Haslam has fired his top two football people -- regardless of when it happened" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11). In Columbus, Michael Arace asks, "Is Haslam of sound mind? He might be. He just might be." Banner was a "bean counter who was out of his league handling football operations." Lombardi was "never seen as a towering talent." Haslam "might have done the right thing here" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 2/12).

GRABBING THE REINS
: The PLAIN DEALER's Cabot notes the "writing was on the wall" for Lombardi's departure. He was "persona non grata with the team and not long for Cleveland." The Banner departure on the other hand "came as a complete shock." Haslam had "no idea what he was doing when he first purchased the Browns, and couldn't have gotten up and running without Banner." Haslam currently "has no CEO in the front office." Cabot speculates Haslam will "offer that job" to Broncos QB Peyton Manning some day (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/12). The PLAIN DEALER's Pluto wrote, "I don't buy the 'streamline' argument for a moment. Something else went wrong between Haslam and Banner" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11). In Akron, Marla Ridenour in a front-page piece writes dismissing Banner and Lombardi was "actually the first step on the road back to respectability." It is "hard to believe Haslam was so bold" in his decision. Haslam is "staking the Browns' future on two up-and-coming stars" in Farmer and Scheiner. The Browns "took a beating nationally, but Haslam's gutsy 'streamlining' was cheered locally." Haslam "grabbing the reins from Banner" was a "brilliant flash of clarity that could get the Browns back on track" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 2/12). In Philadelphia, Mike Sielski writes Banner's "fall in Cleveland was more intriguing than most, especially in light of how his tenures with the Eagles and Browns played out." He had "mentored Howie Roseman, who then supplanted him as Jeffrey Lurie's right hand, and he was close with Scheiner in Cleveland" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/12). PLAIN DEALER cartoonist Jerry King gave his take on the team by drawing a chalkboard full of scribbled X's, O's and arrows with the header "Cleveland Browns Front-Office Game Plan" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11).

TIME FOR OWNER TO OWN UP: ESPN.com's Pat McManamon wrote if Haslam's action yesterday was "streamlining, it would be down right frightening to see his overhaul." Banner and Lombardi "both were said to be shocked at the moves." But it is "pretty clear the NFL-arranged marriage between Haslam and Banner didn't work, and Haslam wanted to regain charge of his team" (ESPN.com, 2/11). THE MMQB's Peter King notes Haslam "became dubious about Banner's football acumen." Add in Banner's "brusque and sometimes confrontational style that rubbed many around the NFL the wrong way, and you've got a good reason why Haslam stunned the NFL with the late-morning announcement" (MMQB.SI.com, 2/12). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora wrote it is "all on Haslam, and this mess he has created -- an organization that he refuses to acknowledge looks as backward as anything we've seen in the NFL for quite some time -- is all his own making." The "sharp focus of criticism is solely on Haslam." People across the league "are stunned, again, at Haslam's total reversal" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/11). A PLAIN DEALER editorial stated, "Like a toddler who can't control his behavior, Haslam has been nurturing runaway dysfunction since he took over in Berea." The editorial: "We can only hope he will one day grow out of it." Haslam's decision to dismiss Banner and Lombardi "may well have been necessary to restore whatever shred of dignity the Browns have left" (CLEVELAND.com, 2/11).
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