If success starts from the top the new, “enthusiastic” owner of the Cleveland Browns will seek to stop the bleeding from what’s left of a once-proud franchise.
CLEVELAND – Time may prove Jimmy Haslam III just as inept and clueless an owner of the Cleveland Browns as Randy Lerner, but I’ll take my chances.
After 13 years of abysmal football, with only one playoff appearance and zero post-season victories, Lerner’s exit merits celebration for everyone who’s suffered through the second coming of the Browns since 1999.
Lerner wasn’t cheap, and he never shied from firing a coach or team executive just because he owed him additional dollars.
So Lerner wasn’t Mike Brown, but neither have the Browns bettered the Bengals often enough in the AFC Central standings to extoll Lerner’s stewardship of the franchise began by Brown’s father, Paul.
A recluse by nature and a reluctant recipient of the Browns from his late father, Al, Lerner in more than a decade never once exuded the passion, accountability or competitive nature Haslam exhibited in abundance Friday at his introductory press conference as the Browns’ owner.
If you played a drinking game that required consumption of a shot glass’ contents every time Haslam emphasized the importance of winning, you’d have been passed out on the floor by the time he left the microphone after 30 minutes.
After confessing to being “fired up to the max”over plunking down $700 million now and another $300 million four years from now to become Browns’ majority owner, Haslam said: “Hopefully, we can put a great team on the field and win a lot of games and get everyone fired up.”
That would be a marked change from the team’s fortunes under Mike Holmgren’s management regime, the latest testament to Lerner’s uncanny knack for hiring the NFL’s hottest name, only to reap rewards more frigid than the South Pole.
Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel, Phil Savage and Holmgren each arrived with impeccable credentials, but the only payoff came from the checks Lerner wrote to make them rich beyond measure.
Holmgren will ride his Harley out of town with around $40 million for three seasons, and that’s if he sticks around the rest of this year. Right now, that’s about $4.5 million per-win, of which there have been only nine in Holmgren’s two seasons.
“Let’s be realistic, it’s all about winning,” Haslam said. “There’s no reason why we can’t win here. If we don’t, I’ll accept the blame.”
That’s a refreshing embrace of the cold realities of NFL ownership, and the exact opposite of Holmgren citing the impediment of the 2011 NFL lockout as an excuse for a 4-12 season in “our second first year.”
Haslam comes to Cleveland having spent the last four years as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he quizzed GM Kevin Colbert frequently and perhaps learned some secrets of the Rooney family’s unparalleled four-decade run of success.
From the minute he became involved in Pittsburgh, Haslam told the NFL he eventually wanted to become a majority owner somewhere. He met Lerner for the first time on July 2, and a month later their deal was done, which shows both how badly Lerner wanted out and how badly Haslam wanted in.
He made his money running Pilot Fuel Centers, the massive truck stops along Interstate highways in the United States and Canada. A few years ago, Haslam’s company snapped up bankrupt competitor, Flying J, and the hybrid company is now Pilot-Flying J.
It’s not difficult to see the Steelers as Pilot and the Browns as Flying J in Haslam’s mind as he attempts to merge the lessons he’s learned in the NFL and in business to accomplish his one overriding goal.
“The one thing you need to remember when you leave here today,” Haslam said, “is that the Haslam family is committed to one thing and one thing only, and that is making the Cleveland Browns a winner again.”
I’ll drink to that.
* Bruce Hooley is a former Troy Daily News sports editor and long-suffering Browns fan (there is no other kind). He hosts The Hooligans on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland and is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Email Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz