Jimmy Haslam ready for Cleveland
New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III arrived in Cleveland on Thursday night to dine with president Mike Holmgren before attending his team's practice Friday, where for the first time he will meet coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert.
The first thing Haslam noticed upon landing in Cleveland was the appetite for football there.
"As soon as I got out of my car, the gentleman who grabbed my bags started telling me how serious Cleveland takes its football, how important it is to win, how much the Browns mean to them," Haslam said Thursday night in his first interview as the new Browns' owner. "We're in Cleveland now and we're fired up."
Haslam and Randy Lerner finalized their deal -- worth $1 billion-plus, sources said -- for the Browns on Thursday, enabling the CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying-J Travel Centers to take over one of the NFL's most storied franchises.
Even though he has arrived in Cleveland and is in the headlines, Haslam has clear ideas about how he wants to see events unfold. He said he wants to "listen and learn."
Haslam walked to the middle of the practice field in Berea, Ohio, on Friday with Holmgren and Heckert to watch his first practice. Haslam was wearing shorts on a hot, humid morning, according to The Associated Press.
As Haslam told Holmgren, the team's president, before the two men dined Thursday night: "This is a critical time of year for the team and we don't want to be a distraction. The story after today needs to be about the Browns, not about the change in ownership."
Haslam already has demonstrated that he is not looking for the splashy headlines that Cleveland has generated in other seasons. He would like to model his team the way his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been built. Haslam owns between 10-16 percent of the Steelers but already has discussed divesting his shares with Pittsburgh owners Dan and Art Rooney, a process that is expected to be completed in the next couple months.
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Art Rooney welcomed Haslam to the NFL's family of owners in a statement released Friday morning by the Steelers.
"Jimmy Haslam and his family have been great partners in the Steelers ownership for the past three years," Rooney said in the statement. "I am sorry that he will be leaving our ownership group, but I am happy the National Football League is going to have a strong new owner.
"I am sure the Haslam Family will bring constructive and able ownership to the Cleveland Browns."
Haslam called the Rooneys class acts who "cared about the Steelers, the league and winning."
"We'll care about the Browns, the league and winning," Haslam said. "And we're also going to build through the draft. Rarely did you see the Steelers build through free agency. They did it through the draft, and that's what we'll try to do."
And we're very excited to be in Cleveland because we know important football is here and how serious they take football. This is a great football city. That's what excites us about this opportunity.” -- New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III
Haslam also insisted he has not made any decisions on who will stay in Cleveland nor will he until if and when the league approves his purchase of the Browns, which is expected by October.
"For us to make any comments would be presumptuous," Haslam said before his dinner with Holmgren. "The only person in the Browns' organization that I've met until now is Randy Lerner. So to make any comments on any people would be unfair, and we will not do that until we get approved."
Yet, Haslam does have decided ideas on the Browns' reputation and how the team has operated. Since he began looking into buying a team around Memorial Day in May, he has relied on the advice of a handful of people around the league for their opinions.
One of them, Haslam acknowledged, was Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner.
"We did consult with several people on an unofficial basis, and one of them was (Banner)," Haslam said. "But we're not going to comment on any potential hires at this time."
Throughout the negotiations to buy the Browns, there was little comment from anyone. It started out with Haslam notifying the Rooneys that he was interested in purchasing an NFL team should one become available. Then in May, Haslam said he was told there was a team available, though it was not identified. He didn't find out it was the Browns until late June, and then he had his first conversation with Lerner on July 2.
One month to the date of his first call with Lerner, the two men finalized their $1 billion-plus deal.
Haslam declined to discuss any of the final figures or the deal's details, but an NFL source said it was worth in excess of $1 billion and the sale will be laid out in two parts. Haslam will take over controlling interest of the Browns for more than $700 million. Then, in the second phase of the purchase, he will pay more than $300 million to complete the deal.
Now Haslam will set out to learn about his new investment and team.
"I know very little about them," said Haslam, who has been peppering Holmgren with questions about the Browns. "I know it's a young team that has struggled as of late that is well under the cap next year. (Holmgren) and I spoke about it last night. But he's very enthusiastic about some rookies who are going to start this season and make an impact. And we're very excited to be in Cleveland because we know important football is here and how serious they take football. This is a great football city. That's what excites us about this opportunity."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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