Cleveland Browns: Jimmy Haslam

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his company, Pilot Flying J, took another step toward putting a federal criminal fraud investigation behind them.

The practical result of a criminal enforcement agreement between Pilot Flying J and the U.S. Attorney’s Office released Monday is that the company will pay a $92 million fine, continue to cooperate with the investigation, and make amends for cheating customers in the past.

The fallout may well indicate that Haslam will not be prosecuted, though that is not guaranteed.

When a company accepts responsibility in some investigations, it happens in lieu of prosecuting its leaders. Haslam has insisted all along he was unaware of the scheme, and he was embarrassed and sickened when he learned about it.

The U.S. Attorney’s statement says the agreement does not preclude any individual from being prosecuted in the future. It's unclear whether that means there are further targets or if the government is reserving its right to prosecute should the company not meet its obligations.

The agreement, signed Friday, was reached to resolve "the company's criminal liability for its employees' fraudulent conduct.”

The federal investigation found that Pilot Flying J had cheated customers out of more than $56 million in a rebate fraud scheme. The agreement states that Pilot Flying J has repaid or will repay all money. Ten employees -- some of them high-level -- cooperated and were convicted. Other top-level employees left Pilot Flying J.

Haslam released a statement saying he will be happy to put the entire episode behind him.

The investigation cost a lot of money (including untold amounts of attorney fees) and caused considerable angst in Cleveland and the NFL.

But it did not cost Haslam his company, and may not cost him an indictment.

Forbes lists Haslam’s net worth at $1.6 billion.
The last of a series assessing the Cleveland Browns' roster as we head to training camp, with a position-by-position rundown comparing it to when the season ended and now.

Front office

Then: Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer.

Now: Ray Farmer, Morocco Brown, Bill Kuharich.

When owner Jimmy Haslam announced the promotion of Farmer and departure of Banner and Lombardi, he said it was done with Banner's blessing and to streamline the organization so it functioned more logically and smoothly. Business operations, led by president Alec Scheiner, would report to Haslam, and football would fall under the guidance of Farmer and also report to Haslam. Lo and behold, the Browns seem to have a much more streamlined and logical front office structure. Farmer brings a refreshing honesty and logic to his approach. He does not give the feeling that he is smarter than anyone, and his moves -- while much more traditional -- have made sense. He pulled off some masterful trades on draft night and wound up generating more excitement than anyone has seen in a long time with the selection of Johnny Manziel -- though it seems he may have his hands full in handling Manziel off the field. He brought in experienced and logical free agents and he was open in explaining moves like the release of D'Qwell Jackson. Nobody knows how things will play out, and Farmer would admit that. He's smart enough to know what he doesn't know, confident and secure enough to be honest in assessing things and open enough to not dodge a question. It's an easy out to dump on the previous regime and also not fair to Farmer, who stands on his merits for what he does. And what he does seems to be moving the Browns in a positive direction.

The positives: Haslam had the gumption to recognize what he had in Farmer and the guts to make a move that might have been perceived negatively. Farmer's presence has been stabilizing and positive.

The negatives: There's still a long way to go, and how things play out will depend on the position that has baffled the Browns since 1999. If Farmer hasn't or can't find a franchise quarterback, he might one day find himself with all the other GMs before him who tried.

Previously: Quarterback, running back/fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, secondary, coaching staff.
Dowell Loggains concluded his phone interview Thursday with Bo Mattingly of ESPN Arkansas by saying "No problem."

Have untruer words ever been spoken?

Because Browns quarterback coach Loggains basically blew to smithereens two of the important narratives the team has been trying to make sure people knew since they drafted Johnny Manziel. And Loggains did it while saying there was no "cone of secrecy" over the Browns' draft moves as far as he was concerned.

Consider the following set of quotes.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsThere seems to be ambiguity over what path the Browns want to take with Johnny Manziel, following quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains' comments to an Arkansas radio station.
General manager Ray Farmer on the draft's final day: "I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that Jimmy Haslam at no point demanded, requested or tried to influence the process in any way."

Loggains after receiving a text from Manziel urging the Browns to draft him so he and the team could "wreck this league" (a classic phrase in its own right): " ... when I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach. I'm like, 'This guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.' Soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, 'All right, pull the trigger, we're trading up to go get this guy.'"

According to a source inside the draft room who witnessed a lot of things coming together as the Browns tried to acquire the pick that would be Manziel, the text was sent and Haslam's statement was more inspirational and cheerleading than mandate.

No team does months of work, study and assessment and then blows up a draft board based on a draft-night text. To think that happens is preposterous. But Loggains presented his version with absolute certainty, with nary a hint of doubt in his voice.

Then there are these two quotes.

From Haslam, to the lunch crowd at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday: "We were frank [with Manziel] on Friday ... you're the backup quarterback."

From Loggains on the radio, while admitting Manziel has to work on fundamentals: "I think we can throw him out there right now and I think he's going to be one of the most exciting players in the NFL."

The Browns believe the two statements are not incongruous, that anyone enters as a backup, even an exciting player. But there still is quite a disparity.

On the one hand, the Browns have an owner and a GM and a head coach insisting that the owner did not force the selection and the celebrated pick has to earn his way (doesn't the latter notion seem more and more laughable as each day passes?).

Then they have a quarterback coach, a guy well down on the organization and coaching hierarchy, evidently going on an Arkansas (?) radio station on his own and bringing to light a completely different narrative.

This from a team that refused to talk with the local media about whether Nate Burleson had broken his arm in the offseason and promised it would not talk about player injuries at all. A team that asks the local media to "request" an assistant coach 24 hours in advance and relay the topic of the story so the assistant coach can be prepared.

Then it has one of its own coaches on the air in Arkansas spilling the entire bucket.

While the Browns try to put a lid on a pressure cooker and keep things contained on the Manziel mania before training camp, one of their own turned the heat up so high under the cooker it blew the lid right through the ceiling. Evidently the best way to get a story out is to go to a state and radio station far, far away.

You want to credit Loggains for telling the truth. If our kids don't tell the truth, well we tend to get angry. The same standard should apply for adults.

Loggains did say other things that were consistent with what had been said. He said Manziel was always at the top of the team's quarterback board; earlier in the week coach Mike Pettine said the team considered Manziel at No. 4, but no other quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe narrative on Johnny Manziel has become a bit clouded, but Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is certainly entitled to influence decisions. Cleveland fans will only care if their new quarterback is misguided.
Loggains said the Browns tried to trade with Tennessee and Dallas but backed out. Farmer had admitted discussions with Tennessee.

There also was the usual pablum about Manziel "grinding in the meeting rooms" and how Manziel has been "a great teammate." For all of four days.

Loggains even added this about Manziel going through the draft process: "I think he's learned how to say no."

Tack that statement on the next picture from a party at a private New York club and the next TMZ shot at Manziel leaving some club or event in the wee hours. He's allowed to have fun and it's fine, but let's not pretend he's become a saint because he got drafted.

It will be good when all this finally translates to the field. Because then Manziel will either play well or he won't.

But in just a few days since he was drafted the Manziel story has spun like the Tasmanian Devil. Remember what the devil looked like when it stopped? Grunting and panting and just standing there? That's the perception people now have of the Browns. Spinning and stopping. Spinning and stopping.

If Haslam wanted Manziel and liked Manziel -- something else Loggains admitted -- then so be it. The guy paid a billion dollars for his team, and he's entitled to like a guy. He's even entitled to urge his drafting. He's the owner.

The city won't care and the fans won't care if Manziel walks in acting like the starter, nor will they care if Haslam influenced the pick. Browns fans are happy to have him, and they want him to act like he's the guy.

They'll only care if he's mishandled, or if he is lousy on the field.

As for the Browns, it's kind of amazing many thought the storyline in "Draft Day" was preposterous. Maybe it's time for a high-level meeting in a deserted water park.

That was quick.

The Cleveland Browns didn’t need to think much at all about matching the offer sheet the Jacksonville Jaguars gave center Alex Mack.

They decided before the end of Friday to keep Mack with the Browns. Apparently, owner Jimmy Haslam meant it when he said the team had no intention of losing Mack. So the center will stay in Cleveland on a five-year deal, which he can void after two years, that will pay him $10 million, $8 million and $8 million the next three seasons -- all guaranteed.

Mack was either going to wake up rich in Cleveland or Jacksonville. As it turns out, he’s going to be rich with the team that drafted him.

He becomes the league’s highest-paid center, which the Browns accept. And they accept it because he’s been a good player for them for years, and because it continues a trend of keeping or adding players so the Browns can address the draft with the mindset of taking the best available player.

The Browns earned the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft by being a bad team in 2013.

They didn’t need to create more needs. They clearly believe they can swallow Mack’s cost and still extend the contracts of veterans like Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. As long as that’s true, there’s no reason not to keep a player if they like him. And the Browns clearly like Mack.

A week of talk and chatter simply went in a circle and wound up where it started, with Mack as the Browns starting center in 2014.
There’s a lot of floating pieces and parts to the report that the Cleveland Browns tried to trade for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

For the Browns, the picture is of a team that went to great lengths to hire a top-caliber head coach. It explains some of their guarded remarks when they said things as the search went on, like they knew a candidate or two was in the playoffs, and that the media really had no idea who was a candidate.

This could be why owner Jimmy Haslam, who initially declined to go beyond the Browns' statement that very cleverly did not deny the story, told USA Today on Sunday that, “There was an opportunity there and it didn’t materialize.”

That this became public doesn’t help Mike Pettine a lot, but he knew when he took the job he’d need an iron spine, given all that's happened in Cleveland the past few years. This forges it a little stronger.

And it also does not mean Pettine won’t be a good coach and isn’t liked in Berea. It's just that the way this leaked makes it tough.

For the 49ers, the image of even considering trading a coach who has been to three NFC championships has to be troubling -- to fans and players. Trade a winning coach? A guy who nearly won the Super Bowl?

This is why the 49ers are falling over themselves to deny it. First, owner Jed York tweeted the report was “not true.” Monday, the Sacramento Bee provided more from York, who said the Browns made an offer that was quickly rejected.

“We had no interest in entering those discussions,” York told Matt Barrows.

York said he initially denied the Pro Football Talk report because the entirety of the story was not true. That story reported a deal was close until Harbaugh backed out. York said he rebuffed the deal immediately.

The offer apparently came from then-CEO Joe Banner, who followed a conversation asking about Greg Roman and Jim Tomsula by asking about Harbaugh, the Bee reported.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter said a first-round draft pick was not part of the Browns' offer, which sounds absurd given Tampa Bay gave up two 1s and two 2s in the draft for Jon Gruden. Harbaugh is worth less?

If no first-round pick was offered, then the conversations were laughable. It’s tough to believe that the Browns would be serious about Harbaugh and not make a serious offer.

The bottom line: The Browns investigated something they thought was a possibility. The 49ers listened and said thanks but no thanks.

On to the draft.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- There truly is no end to the NFL maze of wildness that involves the Cleveland Browns and their coaching search.

The latest news that broke happened Friday, when’s Mike Florio reported that the Browns were going to trade for Jim Harbaugh to coach the team before it hired Mike Pettine.

Not that acquiring Harbaugh would have been a bad result, just that the Browns always seem to find ways to take their fans to different places.

Florio wrote that the Browns discussed sending several draft choices to the San Francisco 49ers for Harbaugh, who was born in Toledo and who has family still in Ohio. San Franciso owner Jed York tweeted the story was not true, but Florio vehemently stood by its accuracy.

Why the trade didn’t come to fruition is up for debate. Florio reported Harbaugh backed out, but 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland reported the Browns backed out because of the price. The Cleveland station also reported that Harbaugh expressed interest when the Browns called to ask about interviewing 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

The timeline is interesting:

On Jan. 15, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam released a letter to Browns fans asking them to be patient.

On Jan. 19, the 49ers played in the NFC Championship Game and lost, after which the Browns could have interviewed San Francisco assistants.

On Jan. 23, the Browns hired Mike Pettine. That day former CEO Joe Banner admitted there was another mystery candidate, but declined to identify him.

On Feb. 11, Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi were fired by Haslam, who cited a "cumbersome" front office arrangement. On that day, Haslam said of hiring Pettine: "I think we got the best head coach we could get."

Friday, the Browns released a statement that did little to deny the Harbaugh report. In fact, its non-denial spoke loudly.

"The team conducted an extensive coaching search, and explored several options," the statement read. "That search produced an outstanding head coach in Mike Pettine, and we're excited about his future with the club."

The last time a coach was traded was when Tampa Bay sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million to Oakland for Jon Gruden. Gruden won the Bucs a Super Bowl, but the Bucs set their franchise back years by trading the picks.

Harbaugh has taken the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game three years in a row, so the price would have been comparable. The Browns did a lot of work a year ago to amass extra draft picks; would they then have traded those picks for a coach who was finagling his way out of a team he led deep into the playoffs?

Harbaugh is very close to Lombardi. Harbaugh hired Lombardi’s son Mick in San Francisco and has a good relationship with the Browns former GM, now working in New England. His hiring in Cleveland would seem to have been a coup for Lombardi, and would seem to have strengthened his position as GM.

For the Browns, the effort to acquire a top coach might have resulted in them hiring Harbaugh. The only argument against hiring him would have been the cost; would it have been worth mortgaging the future they’ve acquired for a coach.

They move on with Pettine because ... well ... because he’s the guy they hired.

For the 49ers, though, there will be hard questions. Why would Harbaugh want to leave a team so close to a title, a team he did much to help build? Why would he even be willing to leave the Bay Area for Cleveland, a championship level team for a team that has lost 11 games six years in a row? How does he return to his team and ask for full commitment when he was willing to be committed to another team? What of the much-discussed contract extension that Harbaugh and the 49ers were seeking?

The words "never a dull moment" come to mind.
A few folks were weighing in with different thoughts on the Cleveland Browns on Thursday.

Bill Parcells, the legendary former coach of the Giants, Jets and Cowboys, said he spent time with Jimmy Haslam during the coaching search, but not to discuss a job.

“He asked me if he could come and talk about organization, what I thought were the reasons they were successful or weren't successful,” Parcells said Wednesday evening on SiriusXM NFL radio. “And so I try to help anybody who asks, and that's what he was asking about. But there was no discussion about any jobs or anything.”

Which of course leaves open the tantalizing question as to what exactly the two discussed, and what Parcells had to say.

Say this for Haslam. At the news conference where he announced Ray Farmer would become the general manager, Haslam admitted there is a learning curve for being an NFL owner, and that “if you want to look at me as a work-in-progress, that’s fair to say.”

Refreshing candor.

If he wanted to learn something, he went to one of the best.

Mike Pettine spoke to some of the local media at a Special Olympics event at the team’s facility, and addressed the change from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi to Farmer.

He said it was not mentioned during his job interviews, that it was controversial and shocking, but that he was “full speed ahead” with Farmer. Pettine addresses a topic head-on. He might not always be able to answer, but he’s got a little Tito Francona in him in that he doesn’t seem to want to dodge a question. He still has to win, mind you.

Then Pettine said offensive and defensive coaches have visited with Farmer to explain just what kind of player they want for the new systems. This is an important part of building a team.

“‘These are the position attributes that we're looking for,'" Pettine said. “‘This is what a Sam linebacker looks like in our system, this is what a center should look like in our system, a wide tight end, a Z receiver' so we gave the attributes.”

Perhaps it’s looking too much into a guy just being honest, but what Pettine said about the center is interesting. It might have just been an off-the-top list of positions, but if the word ‘should’ means anything more than that, it might indicate how the Browns view retaining Alex Mack.

Finally, I was talking to an NFL assistant this week, and I asked if he knew Farmer at all.

“I really don’t know him that well,” he said. “But I respect him a great deal.”

This seems to be a very common feeling around the league. It’s tough to find anyone who would say they don’t respect Farmer. And yes, he still has to find players, and win.

Haslam took quite a meandering path to get here, but he might have brought the Browns to the point where fans might actually be able to ask themselves whether this will work without crossing all their fingers and toes.
When a head coach is hired before a general manager, the head coach usually wields the most influence with the team.

Think Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He was hired immediately after the Bucs fired Greg Schiano, and his imprint and approach will be all over the team. In the more extreme sense, think former coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. He convinced former Browns owner Randy Lerner to hire George Kokinis as GM, then Mangini ran the team.

But with every rule there are exceptions, and thus it is with the Cleveland Browns of 2014, where neither the GM nor the coach will have the most influence with the team. That influence appears to be shared, with guidance coming from owner Jimmy Haslam.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony Dejak"I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed," GM Ray Farmer said.
GM Ray Farmer will be in charge of football operations, but he and coach Mike Pettine will share authority and work together in this latest incarnation of Browns' rebuilding. Farmer ultimately will be in charge of the 53-man roster and Pettine will be in charge of the roster on game days.

“(Picking players) will be a collaborative effort,” Haslam said. “I think that we’ve got a great group of scouts, and I think that Pett and his coaching staff -- we talked about this at dinner last night -- will participate, and I think that we’ll all work together to get the best players we can.”

It’s not an unusual setup. In fact, it’s very much like the setup in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert handles personnel, Mike Tomlin handles coaching, and Art Rooney runs the team. Tomlin can go to Rooney at any point, and though Colbert has a lot of authority, it’s tough to call him Tomlin’s boss. The structure can work.

What is unusual is the timing. In most cases, the owner would want the new GM involved actively in choosing the new coach. That did not happen, through no fault of Haslam.

It seems the owner entered the coaching search without plans to make an overhaul. It actually seems that the coaching search contributed to the decision to make the overhaul.

Which means Farmer becomes GM at what could be an awkward time, but doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be if those involved don’t want it to be awkward, and don’t let it be awkward.

The job for Pettine and Farmer is to win. To set aside egos and win.

The way to win is for Pettine to let Farmer know what kind of players he wants, and for Farmer to find those players. That process has started.

“(Pettine) has already kind of set forward the players and how they kind of stack up for his scheme, the importance of one position versus another,” Farmer said. “As we work through those, I’ll get a better idea of what he needs to be successful.”

Pettine and Farmer have been impressive since being hired. Pettine is firm, straightforward and honest. Farmer has hit a lot of right notes in a couple of days since he was named GM. He’s personable, bright, answers a question, and does so without a lot of ego. He gets the idea of being on a team because he was a player, and seems to have a little something-something, a presence, that gives reason for hope. He’s also respected by many throughout the league.

None of that will draft a Pro Bowler or win a game, but it’s a good starting point.

In a recent radio interivew on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Farmer was asked what kind of team he would build. He said tough, because that’s the kind of team Pettine wants to build.

Farmer said Tuesday that the Browns already have multiple draft boards, but they would change as he consults with coaches. He said the draft is about preparation, that by the time players are picked “the hay is in the barn.”

“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”

If that sounds like it had a good dose of humility, it’s because it did.
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.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
AP Photo/Tony DejakTrading star WR Josh Gordon would likely have been a PR disaster for the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam.
“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 -- 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 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.
Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner and Mike LombardiAP Photo/Mark DuncanBrowns owner Jimmy Haslam, right, is parting ways with Mike Lombardi, center, and CEO Joe Banner.
BEREA, Ohio -- If what Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam did on Tuesday was streamlining, it would be downright frightening to see his overhaul.

The coffee cups might not even be safe.

Haslam blew up not only his front office structure on Tuesday, but also blew out the people he initially hired to run it. CEO Joe Banner will transition out of the front office over the next two months, and general manager Mike Lombardi is gone. Both were said to be shocked at the moves, though Haslam said he and Banner discussed streamlining the team’s structure two weeks ago. If those realities sound implausible, well ... hey ... it’s the Browns.

Ray Farmer is the new GM, promoted from assistant GM. Alec Scheiner becomes a true president, in charge of business operations with no CEO over him.

They, along with coach Mike Pettine, will report directly to Haslam.

Haslam chose not to dump dirt on the folks who are leaving, praising them effusively for the jobs they did and thanking them over and over. But it’s pretty clear the NFL-arranged marriage between Haslam and Banner didn’t work, and Haslam wanted to regain charge of his team.

He called it a streamlining that he and Banner discussed and agreed to, which would make it one of the few times in history that an NFL CEO streamlined himself out of a job.

Haslam explained it by saying Banner was adept at building a new organization, and he had done that. His work in Cleveland, evidently, was over.

“Jimmy just corrected a mistake,” one league coach said.

Haslam spoke in his news conference in a way that would have made the governor of Tennessee proud, a man who just happens to be Haslam’s brother.

But this streamlining sure seemed to carry a ton of accountability with it. Though Haslam again denied there is a negative public perception of the Browns, there is no denying the team has been buffeted about in heavy seas without a sail in recent months.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakRay Farmer was named Cleveland's GM on Tuesday.
There were puzzling personnel decisions during the season, the distasteful leaks as Rob Chudzinski tried to coach the season finale, Norv Turner’s emotional reaction to the coaching change (the thought alone of Turner being let go by the Browns is mind-boggling), the Davone Bess trade and contract extension, followed by his bizarre behavior after the season and his even more bizarre tweets and news that he had similar issues prior to his trade.

There was the extended coaching search, with coaches declining to take the job -- including Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen. Wisconsin admitted Tuesday that he had interviewed but decided to stay with the Badgers.

There was Josh McDaniels pulling out, after Chip Kelly chose Philadelphia over Cleveland a year ago, after Nick Saban chose not to interview. Their common denominator is they were all said to be in Lombardi’s circle.

There was more, and as time goes on more will come out. Banner always ran a team with a firm hand, leading, some said, by fear and intimidation. It can work, but it wasn’t popular. At last year’s draft, the team scouts rated cornerback Leon McFadden as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and the Browns took him in the third round. Future draft picks were traded away. Tony Grossi reported on ESPN-850 radio in Cleveland that he spoke with two NFL insiders at the Super Bowl, two Lombardi guys, and they both said Banner was to blame for what was wrong in Cleveland, that Banner was calling the shots.

Banner was deep into analytics, numbers, while old-time football guys would favor old-time scouting. Lombardi perfected the “box test,” which supposedly tested player agility. Old-time football guys favor how a guy tackles and closes on receivers. Lombardi never met with the media, a decision made by Banner, who handled personnel questions and decisions.

Asked if Banner was a good judge of football talent, Farmer said this: “Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I’d say that’s a good representation."

Banner did secure $30 million in funding from the city of Cleveland for stadium renovations, and he did bring Farmer to Cleveland from Kansas City and juggled titles so Farmer could join the team.

But the Browns did not resemble a team working together. In the past month they resembled a team eating its own, with folks struggling to protect their fiefdoms.

An owner who came from the Steelers' tradition had to look at his structure and wonder what was happening. Because hiring a coach into the same structure was not going to change the operation.

Haslam now has taken a drastic step ... err ... has streamlined to put a guy in charge who garners near universal respect around the league. Farmer hit all the right notes in his news conference, saying “It’s time to make people proud of the Browns again.” That won’t help him select a quarterback, but there almost seemed to be a breath of relief from the fandom following these changes.

A business guy is running business.

A football guy is running football.

A coach is coaching.

All report to the owner.

Imagine that. A respected longtime football guy running football. As anyone in Cleveland can attest, it doesn’t guarantee wins. But it’s something.

For team and a fan base that has had little reason for optimism the past many years, something is meaningful.

Haslam: Browns would welcome Sam

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
The Cleveland Browns would welcome Michael Sam to the team.

That's the word from Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who released a statement one day after Sam, who played at Missouri and was the SEC's co-Defensive Player of the Year, publicly acknowledged he is gay.

Sam could be the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL.

Haslam's complete statement:

“Absolutely we would welcome Michael Sam to the Cleveland Browns organization if he can help us win games and is the right football player for this team. We are intent on creating an environment that is supportive, accepting and respectful of individual rights and differences.”
Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner addressed the perception Thursday that the Cleveland Browns did not have a plan when they conducted their coaching search that resulted in the hiring of Mike Pettine.

They had a plan, they said. Their plan was simply different from most.

“We’re going to spend thousands of hours researching whether to pick a quarterback in the draft or not,” Haslam said. “Why would you not spend a lot of hours researching who the head coach of your organization is going to be?

“This thought that the first person to finish the coaching search is the winner I think is extremely far-fetched. This is an important hire. To not take your time and talk to people and do the research, the background checks we’ve done I think would be inexcusable.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports"This is an important hire. To not take your time and talk to people and do the research, the background checks we've done I think would be inexcusable," Jimmy Haslam said.
“We think it was a great process.”

Haslam went as far as to say the Browns did not start with a first choice or lead candidate, but went in ”with a wide-open field.”

“This is a fluid process,” he said, “and it changes all the time.”

Many teams do their coaching search by choosing one or two candidates, then zeroing in on them immediately and hiring them quickly. The Browns chose to cast a wide net, talk to as many people as possible and talk to many candidates. They acknowledge that Pettine was available immediately, but saw no rush to interview him when they knew he’d still be available in mid-January.

Haslam said the team interviewed 10 people in person, and a few others on the phone.

The time it took to hire a coach, though, and the Browns' decision to keep the search secret, led to a lot of reports, some of them inaccurate. A source familiar with the search said the Browns had no interest in hiring Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Penn State’s James Franklin or Bill O’Brien, formerly of Penn State and now with the Texans. (O’Brien reportedly did not have the greatest interview experience a year ago.)

Those names were widely reported as part of the search.

There are many different ways to hire a coach. The Baltimore Ravens did extensive research on John Harbaugh before hiring him. Haslam and Banner chose to go the in-depth route.

“With Mike we spent four or five hours twice, we spent another hour (Thursday),” he said. “These are exhaustive sessions when you ask all kinds of intense questions. They ask us very good questions. You tell a lot about the candidate by the questions they ask. There’s not one moment, it’s over a period of time. These are extremely important hires, so to rush into it in any way would be a huge mistake.”

There’s no escaping the fact the Browns did not rush into anything. Haslam said any negative perception generated by the search was caused by the media.

“This perception that’s been created out there is not reality,” he said.

Banner said fans and media have “no idea” who the candidates were and who wanted the job, but he declined to clear up misconceptions.

The pair felt the Browns had a plan all along. It was a unique plan, one that isn’t always followed, but they felt it was a plan that didn’t deserve the “pummeling” (Banner’s words) that the team received.

“I’ll take the ultimate responsibility that we did not perform last year,” Haslam said. “It’s all on me. I call all the shots at the end of the day. That’s all on me. We’re highly focused on putting together a team that will win consistently over a long period of time.”
BEREA, Ohio -- The first thing CEO Joe Banner said when he spoke at the news conference to introduce Mike Pettine as the Cleveland Browns' 15th head coach was a Three Stooges joke.

And it was funny.

“Since Mike Lombardi and I were Moe and Larry, we set out to find Curly, and we succeeded,” Banner said Thursday.

He referred, of course, to the infamous question at the Dec. 27 news conference where Rob Chudzinski’s firing was discussed, when a Cleveland-area TV reporter asked owner Jimmy Haslam to promise the fans the Three Stooges were not running the team.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Tony DejakNew coach Mike Pettine will be looking to end Cleveland's skid of six straight seasons with 11 or more losses.
That was 25 days ago, and Banner was able to laugh about it -- even though an exhaustive search had the Browns taking barbs from everyone from the NFL Network to Deadspin to Jay Leno. Banner referred to it as a “pummeling.”

“It never burnt,” Banner said of the Stooges question. “It didn’t feel justified.”

Then he chuckled.

“But there’s still humor in it,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being able to poke a little fun at yourself from time to time.”

Pettine comes from the Buffalo Bills, and Banner said he, like everyone else the team interviewed, asked the Browns about job security in light of Chudzinski getting just one season. Banner said the team explained its thinking to everyone.

“It’s not unnerving,” Pettine said.

He said it with quiet force.

“Sometimes it’s the cockiness of a coach, but I’ll always bet on myself,” he said. “I don’t want to back away from a job because of a perceived lack of security.”

Banner said the Browns had Pettine on their radar for the defensive coordinator spot a year ago, but he chose to go to Buffalo. The Browns' CEO said it didn’t matter that Pettine was the sixth or seventh person to interview, that the schedule came down to logistics, who was where and who was working.

Pettine promised a mentally tough team that would not fall into old traps of thinking “same old Browns.” He promised players would be held accountable. He said he’d adjust his systems to the personnel, not force personnel into a system.

And he said he’s a pretty straightforward guy who isn’t afraid to be critical. He even admitted his nickname at one point was BFT -- Blunt Force Trauma.

“The days are too short to dance around subjects,” he said. “I think guys appreciate that. You have to do it in ways that are not demeaning. You can’t be that way as a coach anymore. It can’t be that military-type model.

“I think you have to understand we’re all in this together.”

Which means Pettine enters the same player personnel structure as a year ago, with Ray Farmer and Lombardi providing input on personnel and Banner making the final decisions. Banner said that system won’t change.

But Pettine also enters an environment when the perception of the Browns is not great -- with six seasons in a row of at least 11 losses and a coaching search that Banner admitted was so exhaustive it “caused people to question and wonder.”

“We wouldn’t have wanted to take 10 more days of pummeling,” Banner said.

Banner said the pummeling was “not pleasurable” and was “somewhat unjustified” while still admitting that he understood the questions and skepticism about firing a coach after one season.

“It wasn’t fun,” Banner said. “And it was also hard to not be in a position to respond to it.”

Haslam said he never watches TV, so he didn’t know the Leno jokes.

“I think that’s a perception that you all have generated,” he said to the media. “That’s not the perception among the candidates. That’s not the perception among football people I’ve talked to around the country.”

Haslam also said the Browns might never have had a first choice.

“You have a list of individuals we were going to talk to,” he said. “This is a fluid process and it changes all the time.”

Pettine was just glad the process ended with him. The son of a high school coaching legend in Philadelphia, a guy hired by Brian Billick in Baltimore and Rex Ryan in New York, he was just happy for the chance because he believes in the people who hired him and he believes in himself.

“There’s only 32 of these jobs in the world and these opportunities don’t come along often,” Pettine said. “People ask me, ‘Why didn’t you wait? There will be chances next year.’ I don’t know if I believe in that. When you put all the factors together, this franchise is in position, given the right leadership, to win.”
The Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2013 was a Dick Lebeau disciple who loved the blitz.

The latest candidate to interview for the team’s vacant coaching spot is a Rex Ryan disciple who loves the blitz.

Mike Pettine will interview with the Browns on Thursday.

He becomes the seventh coach to meet with Cleveland, the second defensive coordinator and the most recent unexpected interview. The Browns say they are being methodical about their search, but the perception from outside -- locally and nationally -- is more of a team that keeps casting into the water hoping to find a bite.

Pettine, 47, coached with Ryan in Baltimore and was the Jets defensive coordinator under Ryan for four years before he went to Buffalo last season. The Bills defense had a team-record 57 sacks, ranked 10th in total defense, and 20th in scoring defense (that compares to Ray Horton’s defense, which had 40 sacks, ranked ninth in total defense and 23rd in scoring defense).

Pettine was one of the names on a list created by an NFL-created panel of former coaches and general managers to circulate to teams with vacancies. Defensive coordinators Dan Quinn of Seattle and Todd Bowles of Arizona are also on the list. Both were interviewed by the Browns, though Bowles withdrew from consideration.

The Browns are also waiting to interview Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase after the season. No other word has broken on whether they’d talk to other coaches involved in this weekend’s championship games -- like San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Owner Jimmy Haslam sent a letter to fans Wednesday saying the team was being methodical and asking for patience. He also said the team knew it would have to wait for teams in the playoffs to be eliminated before talking to their coaches.

There is growing belief in the league that Haslam is acting on the strong recommendation of Peyton Manning in waiting for Gase, 35. Manning and Haslam are friends from Tennessee.

The Lions admitted that Manning’s unsolicited phone call and recommendation led them to give stronger consideration to hiring Jim Caldwell. If Manning did that with an owner he does not know, it’s not unreasonable to believe he did it with an owner with whom he is close.

Gase has made it clear he will not interview as long as the Broncos are in the playoffs. The earliest he then could interview would be Monday. If the Broncos beat the Patriots and advance to the Super Bowl, the interview would wait at least two more weeks.
At the risk of developing a relationship with everyone in the Twitter-sphere -- admit it, it's a scary thought -- today marks the debut of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag, named partly in honor of David Letterman.

Post your Browns questions on Twitter. Just send them to me @PatMcManamon with #BrownsMail on the post. I'll sort through and find the best and give as honest an answer as I can, time and space and legalities permitting. Your tweets will be embedded in the post, so please, keep them appropriate.

This wouldn't be me if I were entirely serious, so quirky questions are welcome, provided they pass the personal taste test, standards enacted by Sir Laurence Olivier and me.

On to the first edition of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag.