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.
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.