Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner said at the team’s last news conference that he understood the feelings of the team’s fans.
“We’re not in their shoes,” Banner said as he explained the firing of Rob Chudzinski. “We haven’t experienced it all. So in reality, I can’t tell you that we know exactly how they feel, but we certainly have a sense of it.”
If he has a sense, then he’ll know that fans have gone beyond being disappointed or frustrated.
The fans have spoken the past week, and one clear feeling comes through: disgust.
And it’s been seen in many ways and places.
There was the very public question to Haslam about whether the Three Stooges were running the Browns. That question followed Dan DeRoos of 19 Action News reading comments from the station’s Facebook page, all of which ridiculed the Browns.
DeRoos said the statements were a fair example of what the station had heard since Chudzinski was fired, and as he read the comments, it prompted Haslam’s expressions to change several times in what looked like uncomfortable ways.
On Sunday, DeRoos told the Akron Beacon Journal that the reaction he’s heard since he asked the question has been “overwhelming positive,” with nine of 10 thanking him for being the voice of the fans.
DeRoos shrugs off criticism of the professionalism of the question, saying he was speaking for the fans and because he was a news reporter, he had nothing to fear in asking.
His selection of comments did reflect the overwhelming opinion that fans seem to share. Several letters to the Cleveland Plain Dealer have been critical of the team, and a letter to the Akron Beacon Journal on Jan. 2 pointed out Chuck Noll went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8 his first three seasons.
Plain Dealer editorial cartoonist Jeff Darcy also has had fun, with a drawing about “Bannardi Time” in which Haslam scolds Baby New Year. Darcy printed the cartoon he drew a year ago making what he thought was a sarcastic reference to Chudzinski getting at least two years.
And yes, less than a week after the news conference, a Cleveland T-shirt company called Teespring had a “Three Stooges” shirt for sale.
None of this involves scientific study or polling, of course. But gauging reactions isn't tough in this case -- the feeling is decidedly one-sided.
In the end the move may become popular with fans. A few winning seasons, after all, go a long way. If that happens, Banner and Haslam can stand on their decision.
But at the moment, the Browns have a large public relations problem on their hands.
It’s not all this management team’s making, of course. They’ve only been around for one 11-loss season. But they also can’t divorce themselves from the past.
Purchasing the team means purchasing all that goes with it, from the good memories of Jim Brown and Otto Graham and the 1964 title to the many bad ones since 1999.
It doesn’t help a lot when Haslam defends the move as “expensive.” It was, of course, but it wasn’t like fans petitioned him to spend $10.5 million to fire a coach. Too, fans know how lucrative it is to own an NFL team, and proportionally speaking, the fans have shelled out a good portion of their income to watch losing teams.
While a few may agree it was the right move, hardly anybody agrees it was a fair move. And Cleveland is the kind of area where fair still matters.
Haslam rightly referred to people being skeptical, and the team deserving all of it.
But in this instance fans have gone through skepticism with the speed of a luge on a straightaway. They are sick and tired, and it almost seems that they are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
As the Browns rebuild the coaching staff and the team, they also have much work to do toward winning back the goodwill of a fan base that in the past six years has had its exceptional loyalty rewarded with little more than empty promises and words.