The road hasn’t been smooth so far for Lombardi
I’m not sure new Browns player personnel director Mike Lombardi thought this out enough.
The plan when accepting a high-ranking position with a NFL team is to be warmly-accepted by the media and fan base. Do an introductory press conference and a few one-on-one interviews and then hit the ground running to places like Mobile for the Senior Bowl or New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
It didn’t work quite so smoothly last week when long-standing rumors proved true and the Browns named Lombardi to their front-office team. Suspicious minds and those with sharp long-term memories couldn’t help but wonder why this back-to-the-future scenario was playing out in what is supposed to be a time of football Renaissance in northeast Ohio.
Lombardi, as radio talk-show hosts, columnists and numerous angry fans were quick to point out, was part of a failed regime with the Browns in the 1990s. He worked closely with coach Bill Belichick to produce one winning record in five seasons and enough ill will to last more than a generation.
Although Belichick was undoubtedly responsible for the final decisions on player acquisitions, Lombardi will always be linked to many of the bad draft choices made from 1991-95. If the names Craig Powell and Tommy Vardell don’t ring a bell, it’s because neither of the two first-round draft choices ever created a ripple of success.
The whopper to many fans was the controversial decision to cut popular quarterback Bernie Kosar midway through the 1993 season. It’s not fair to point a finger at Lombardi, who’s linked to the move only by his association with Belichick, but when are fans ever fair? Their hero was cast aside, and people had to pay the consequences.
Beyond the personnel moves, an unflattering image of Lombardi emerged that further ruined his reputation in Cleveland. It’s been reported that he played a role in the ouster of Ernie Accorsi as general manager in 1992. At the time, the thought was you had better watch your back if you worked in football operations.
All the aforementioned reasons made it somewhat surprising when Lombardi stepped away from the comfort of the “NFL Network” to accept the offer. What he’s getting into now has a chance to improve his image, but, based on the last 14 seasons, there’s a greater chance he will solidify his place among the most-hated persons in modern-day Cleveland sports history. Some guys named Modell, Stepien, Belichick and James are ahead of him on that dubious list.
“His only reluctance was he was worried that he’d start down the path and not get the job and suffer massive disappointment because he wanted it so badly,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said. “He was excited that we were seriously interested and anxious to see if he could get the job.”
To his credit, Lombardi admits that he had character flaws during his first tenure with the Browns. At a press conference last Friday, he boldly spoke about the changes he’s made in his life, saying that he wouldn’t have expected owner James Haslam and Banner to hire him if he was the same person he was 20 years ago.
Lombardi was in his mid-30s when Art Modell fired him before the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. A lot of young, socially-upward people go off the tracks at that age. All he’s asking for is a second chance.
Lombardi has been given that by Haslam and Banner, both of whom having spit in the face of public sentiment on this call. If Lombardi is able to field a consistent winner, only the most stubborn of his detractors will speak poorly of him.
It’s interesting that many national columnists and announcers have praised the hiring. Jim Nantz of “CBS Sports” was strongly supportive of Lombardi during an interview on “92.3 The Fan” last week. Nantz said that Belichick considers Lombardi one of the best evaluators of talent in the NFL.
Browns fans have learned to expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s no different now that Lombardi is on board. The only difference is they know more about the man than they did with past high-profile hirings.
Having seen the way fans turned on Belichick after he waived Kosar, Lombardi knows what awaits him if he fails. Again, I ask him if he’s thought this out?