Tour of renovated headquarters shows Haslam’s dedication

CLEVELAND – There are quotes from famous people throughout the newly-renovated Browns’ facility, each intended to make the reader pause a moment for reflection.

Quotes attributed to U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson are painted on the orange walls of the modern, spacious complex. The words of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell and others seem to be at every turn of the hallway that winds through rows of desks and offices.

The hope of Browns CEO Joe Banner is that the quotes will be a reminder of the selfless approach everyone in the organization needs to adopt, from owner James Haslam to the groundskeeper who might venture to the second floor.

One quote in particular is Banner’s favorite. It’s unique in its source and its deviation from the central theme: “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” – Willy Wonka.

Before showing media members that toured the $5 million renovation of the second floor Monday, Banner joked that the quote belies his image of always being serious. The Wonka quote, which can be seen easily from just outside Banner’s office, speaks volumes of the man few Browns fans know on any personal level.

Banner led the tour with the pride of a young boy showing off his baseball card collection. He even dared to take his visitors into the “war room” – that deepest part of a team’s inner sanctum that is off limits to all but a chosen few.

Entering a room where all the important decisions are made during the NFL draft was like walking into Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms in London’s underground. That’s a stretch of an analogy to the fullest, but to general managers and scouts that value their secrets like well-devised military plans, the media is an enemy that should be kept as far from strategy as possible.

Making the moment awkward was seeing Browns general manager Michael Lombardi and a few of his personnel hard at work. Lombardi seemed almost stunned that Banner would include the war room on the tour. The feeling was mutual from the media’s perspective.

What was learned from the brief tour was the value that Haslam and Banner place on camaraderie and employee satisfaction from a work place that can be described as inviting and worker friendly. Banner said that many players have roamed to the second floor from their territory on the ground floor to soak in the atmosphere and mix with office personnel.

It seems that Haslam will spare no expense to provide an environment that’s conducive to an improved work ethic and, he hopes, winning games on Sunday afternoons. The next plan, scheduled to start in January, is a multi-million dollar renovation of First Energy Stadium, which has aged at time-warped speed since it opened in 1999.

Hidden behind the glitzy renovation of the headquarters and the thought-provoking words that appear on the walls is a message that Banner knows is on the mind of every fan – beautiful buildings and comfortable work settings are fine, but show me the wins.

“The key to winning is being able to attract great players to the Browns,” Banner said. “As we bring people in, there’s a totally different feeling than there was last year. Whether it’s a coach or somebody in the business area, I think we’re going to be able to attract new people.

“I think it’s important that this organization has an owner that’s going to be willing to put the money up to run a first-class organization. We ask players to go out and literally risk their health every Sunday. They need to know that the people they’re working with have their skin in the game and are doing everything they can to be the best they can possibly be.”

Maybe the best motivation is large images of Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Don Fleming and Lou Groza that greet players as they enter the building. Graham, Brown and Groza are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fleming and Davis both died in their primes – Davis of leukemia and Fleming from electrocution.

The combined visuals of greatness and untapped talent play off a Thomas Jefferson quote on the second floor: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Those are words that should filter beyond a football facility and resonate throughout society.