- Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jimmy Haslam’s remake (i.e. streamlining) of the Cleveland Browns front office was a major bombshell.
But according to league sources familiar with the way things went with the Browns in 2013, the decision was a culmination of Haslam, the Browns' owner, coming to grips with several factors, primarily that the structure CEO Joe Banner convinced him to build was not working.
Whether that was because of the personality of the people involved or because of the structure itself is a matter of opinion.
Haslam spoke highly of Banner even as he was announcing his departure.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Haslam said. He then called former general manager Mike Lombardi a great friend who has “great football acumen.” Haslam added that he and Banner had been discussing this streamlining for two weeks. It would be tough to find a higher road for the owner, which is admirable.
The sources said the change in the team’s structure with both coach Mike Pettine and new GM Ray Farmer reporting directly to Haslam is a fallout from the former system, which had everyone providing information to Banner.
The owner prefers more direct channels.
The sources also addressed several reports of what happened with the Browns last season:
• One source said Lombardi favored trading Josh Gordon. On the day Gordon was selected in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012, Lombardi -- then an analyst with NFL.com -- criticized the selection. Former coach Rob Chudzinski, aware his receiving corps would have been left with Greg Little and Davone Bess and who knows, worked hard to keep Gordon. Eventually, Banner did not like the offers he received. Gordon went on to lead the league in receiving yards. He averaged 97 yards per game before the trade deadline in late October, 133 after.
Lombardi would not comment on his position on Gordon, and declined comment on other matters related to the team and season. Chudzinski now works for the Indianapolis Colts, who make their assistants available only at certain times of the year. Now is not one of those times.
• Banner did not ask Chudzinski to cut Little and guard Shawn Lauvao. However, Banner’s personnel moves did leave Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner frustrated. Bess was brought in by Lombardi to be the dependable third-down guy. He was anything but. At one point the Browns had Bess starting ahead of Little, an indicator of the coaches’ frustration and “what are we supposed to do” thinking. There was ongoing frustration about the running back position. Farmer was asked Tuesday if Banner was a good judge of football talent, and he thought a moment before answering: “I could tell you that Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation.”
• The only time the team seriously discussed acquiring a back after the Trent Richardson trade was when the possibility of trading Gordon was discussed. When Richardson was traded, there was no other immediate plan to acquire a back.
• Banner tried to exert control over much -- from personnel to offensive system, which galled the former coaching staff given the experience of Turner.
• The coaching staff considered the draft a near waste. Barkevious Mingo at the sixth pick was a situational pass-rusher, and Leon McFadden was drafted two rounds earlier than the team’s scouts projected. The team also traded two picks in 2013 for picks in 2014. Those picks will benefit the new coaching staff at the expense of the old. “Ridiculous,” said one NFL coach.
• The mesh between the scouts held over from former GM Tom Heckert to Lombardi was difficult. No scouts were in the Browns' draft room during the ‘13 draft. Many transitions with a front office and scouts are tough; this one seemed tougher.
• The free agents and acquisitions were much touted, but league insiders point out that only Paul Kruger started with his former team. Quentin Groves, Desmond Bryant and Dion Lewis were backups. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well and earned the respect of everyone, but there were very few coaches in the league who saw him as a starter when the Browns acquired him.
• In the news conference after Chudzinski was fired, Banner called Groves, Bryant and Lewis “excellent additions.” Haslam sat to Banner’s left as he spoke. All six of the team’s Pro Bowlers, though, were brought in by either Heckert, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage.
• Haslam gained much of his insight on the team from Banner, who was the voice between Lombardi, the coaches and Haslam.
• There is a belief that Haslam’s eyes were opened to how his team was viewed around the league as the 25-day coaching search took place. In talking with people from other teams, Haslam learned firsthand of the reluctance of some coaches to work in the Browns' old structure, and of the difficulty in dealing with the Browns in terms of trades. Peter King wrote on SI.com that the first question Ken Whisenhunt asked when the Browns interviewed him this year was why he was not hired a year ago. Banner told Whisenhunt he did not believe Whisenhunt was putting together a championship staff. “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship staff?” Whisenhunt snapped.
• It may have meant something or nothing, but one of the last things Haslam said Tuesday was: “I think we got the best coach we could get.”
Piece everything together and it’s evident why Haslam preferred a more streamlined operation.
He wants people working together, reporting to him, with no filter between the voices.
The structure seems almost as clear as the reasons that prompted it.