Moment of clarity
Finally a moment of sanity amid all the dysfunction that has enveloped the Browns. It came via Browns owner James Haslam, who on Tuesday announced sweeping front-office changes that are intended to streamline the football operations and perhaps put the organization on a one-track mentality.
Gone is General Manager Michael Lombardi, one of the most despised persons in Cleveland sports since Art Modell. CEO Joe Banner will be gone within a couple of months, clearing the path for Haslam to be the sole voice at the top and the man to whom everyone in the organization will answer.
Ray Farmer, who had been assistant general manager, has been promoted to the role of GM. He’ll be the point man on all things football and have final say on the composition of the 53-man roster.
The announcement was major, even in a city where the hiring and firing of coaches, general managers and CEOs are routine. Clearly there were issues that developed in the last year that concerned Haslam, who was pre-occupied at the time with legal issues involving his Pilot Flying J business.
Those problems are still the elephant in the room, but they weren’t enough to stop Haslam from changing the actors in what has become a soap opera. He said all the right things about the contributions made by Banner and Lombardi in dealing with an ownership change, but he still decided to end his association with both men.
Ultimately, Haslam structured the organization the way he wants it and not the way in which he was advised by persons in the NFL when he hastily assumed ownership from Randy Lerner in summer 2012.
“It’s the setup that I’m used to,” Haslam said. “I view my job as one, to provide the proper resources, two, to put the right people in the right place, three, to hold them accountable, and four, to do everything I can to help them be successful.”
The turnover since the Browns finished the 2013 season with a loss in Pittsburgh is stunning. Coach Rob Chudzinski was fired less than six hours after the loss to the Steelers on Dec. 29. Now, less than seven weeks later, Lombardi is gone and Banner is headed for the door.
Haslam would never say it, but he has to look at his latest moves as addition by subtraction. He undoubtedly saw Banner and Lombardi for what they are – two power-hungry men acting like kids in efforts to wedge their way into the power structure.
It was a train wreck waiting to happen. Banner came to town with a reputation for being a businessman first and a football man second, the order of which he had in reverse. Lombardi’s track record with the Browns in the late 1980s through 1995 was clouded by behind-the-scenes maneuverings that proved more self-serving than team-oriented.
Now factor in Haslam’s absence last season to handle the legal issues involving a fraudulent rebate scheme offered by Pilot Flying J, and the kids were bound to act badly. There has been talk of Lombardi and Banner not being in agreement with personnel decisions during the last off-season, including the draft. It’s believed the two were at odds in the coaching search that landed Mike Pettine, with Lombardi (a Bill Belichick guy) wanting to make a concerted run at New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Banner preferring other paths.
It all points to the fact that Lombardi and Banner, contrary to popular opinion, weren’t on the same page on many issues. When rumors surfaced that Lombardi was on the way out, the belief that Banner might follow him in protest of the move was inaccurate.
Banner would have remained long after Lombardi was gone. Haslam, however, made sure that didn’t happen when he decided he’d seen enough chaos for one year.
Haslam needed to move Banner, who had assumed too much control over football matters. He now has a true football man in Farmer, who played collegiately at Duke and then spent three seasons (1996-98) as a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Haslam disputed the claim that he was concerned with Banner having too much say on all things football.
“I felt that the previous setup was a little bit cumbersome,” Haslam said. “I think the way we’re organized now is much more streamlined; much more efficient and clear in terms of who’s in charge of what.”
In the short term, the moves won’t change the image of the Browns as being dysfunctional. On a larger scale the changes will be generally accepted – especially locally – because of the intense dislike for Lombardi and to a lesser extent Banner.
For most fans, the door can’t hit them fast enough on their way out.