April 24, 2014

Joe Banner Brings Winning Experience and Tough Decisions to Cleveland

Joe Banner will have some decisions to make in Cleveland

While Randy Lerner’s sale of the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam is not yet official, it’s becoming quite clear that everyone expects the deal to go through without issue. Furthermore, we now know that former Philadelphia Eagles President Joe Banner is a part of Haslam’s ownership group.

What does that mean for the Cleveland Browns? Well, it’s possible that Banner just wants to be a part of the ownership group and is done overseeing football operations. But that seems highly unlikely. Most observers fully expect Banner to take up the role currently being held by Mike Holmgren. For Holmgren, the writing is on the wall. It would be stunning to see Holmgren hang onto his job once Banner gets into town.

It really has nothing to do with the quality of Holmgren’s work over the last several years. This is just how business works. Jimmy Haslam is bringing Joe Banner along for a reason, and that reason is to do what Banner did for the Eagles when he was serving the role of President from 2001 to 2012.

Over that period, the Eagles went 110-65-1 with a record of .500 or better in 10 of 11 seasons. The Eagles also made the postseason 8 times, including 1 appearance in the Super Bowl. Over the same period, the Browns went 63-113 with just two seasons with a record of .500 or better and just one playoff appearance.

To be fair, the Eagles were already a good team by the time Banner stepped into the President’s role, but Banner was involved in the Eagles’ organization from the day Jeffrey Laurie purchased the franchise and he saw the team and organization were built. Banner, like Holmgren, brings a winning pedigree. But whereas Holmgren’s success was as a coach, Banner’s success was as President. And while Banner didn’t build the Eagles into winner’s by himself, he saw how it was done and then as President, he oversaw a period of sustained success and winning.

So the question for the Browns is, what happens once Haslam and Banner hit the ground running in Berea? More importantly, what does this mean for General Manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur? Many feel that Heckert has done a good job in his role as GM, particularly with respect to the draft, something the Browns has been failing at miserably for years. The jury is still out on Shurmur who had a rough rookie year as head coach under some unique circumstances.

But will Haslam and Banner clean house? And should they clean house? If you think back to when Mike Holmgren took over, one of the biggest mistakes he made was keeping Eric Mangini around for a 2nd season. This has nothing to do with Mangini’s abilities as coach, but everything to do with the role of the President. Holmgren was here to streamline football operations and to get everyone on the same page. Mangini was not a Holmgren guy. They have very different ideas about the game.

Over the last year, Holmgren has all but admitted that was probably a mistake, keeping Mangini. Holmgren needed someone who was on the same page as the President and General Manager. Keeping Mangini was a token move, something done out of Holmgren’s soft spot as a former coach himself, feeling Mangini was getting a raw deal. And Mangini was dealt a raw deal, no doubt about that. But that’s the business. This is professional football. There’s no room for sentimentality when making smart decisions. Keeping Mangini that one year suspended the rebuilding process and kept the franchise locked in neutral.

The first thing Joe Banner needs to do, assuming he does indeed step into the President’s role with the Browns, is make sure he has his people in the key roles. Heckert has the advantage of having worked under Banner with the Eagles. But if Banner isn’t 100% behind Heckert, he should replace him. If Banner isn’t 100% sold on Shurmur, he should replace the coach as soon as he can.

If the sale of the Browns is indeed fast tracked and completed by the start of the season, it still obviously it makes no sense to fire the GM and coach before the season even starts. So Heckert and Shurmur should have a full season to audition for their own jobs. This will give time for Banner to make sure everyone really is on the same page.

This isn’t to say the Browns should overhaul everything and start completely over, switching systems/schemes. If you look at the system Banner comes from, he surely has some of “his guys” who run 4-3 defenses and the west coast offense. Swapping out the head coach and GM doesn’t have to disrupt continuity of the systems. It just means getting the right guys in all the key positions.

Joe Banner very well could keep Heckert and Shurmur around. I’m definitely in favor of Heckert staying on board. But they shouldn’t be kept for the wrong reasons. I want Haslam to bring his experience in watching the Steelers operate and I want Banner to replicate what he saw done with the Eagles. These guys bring a pedigree of success to town with them and I don’t want to see them compromise on having their people in place for the sake of continuity of personnel.

It’s time for change in Berea. It’s time for the Browns to operate like a winning franchise. To do that, it’s important that everyone is in line from the top on down. If that’s Heckert and Shurmur, so be it. But if Banner isn’t comfortable with them, I hope he has the courage to do what’s necessary.

  • MrCleaveland

    FWIW, this morning Phelps and Baskin on 92.3 interviewed some media guy in Philly, and the guy just crucified Banner. He added that Banner lost out in a power struggle with Andy Reid. Obviously I don’t know what underlying agendas are involved, if any, but the media guy painted Banner as a total jerk.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Man this team felt like it had some direction for once. I really don’t want to see Heckert given the axe as the Browns seem to be getting some good players from the draft and it definitely seems like there is a real plan being executed as far as building a team. As for execution… I’m not a big Shurmur fan anyway, so whatever happens to him I don’t think I care. If he shows improvement as a HC this season, then I’m fine with him staying. If the teams looks out of sorts again and Big Shurm looks overwhelmed again, then I hope he gets canned for a veteran HC.
    I’m sure both Heckert and Shurmur won’t be happy about Holmgren getting fired though… he’s probably a lot better to work with on a day-to-day basis than Banner from what I’ve heard about both guys.

  • dan

    I’ve never understood the Heckert love around here. I like several of his personnel decisions, but it’s not like he’s turned the team into a playoff contender. There’s really no reason to believe that some other GM couldn’t do at least as good a job from here on out.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    No offense, but you thought he’d turn things around in 2 years with the roster we had? To his credit, he built up the defense to the point where they were 5th in points allowed last season (which is amazing considering how often our offense gave opposing offenses a short field). With this year’s draft, he’s working on the offense. I think a lot of people are writing Heckert off because his biggest successes have been with early picks in the draft, but man look at what we got out of everyone before Heckert… consistently missing on 1st and 2nd round picks. It’s nice to get a starter out of a 4-7 round pick, but the one thing a GM has to do consistently is find top-end talent at the top of the draft, and I think Heckert’s done that. So to your point that any GM could step in and do as well as Heckert… well, they haven’t over the previous decade of the new Browns and I’m sure there are a lof of other teams who would love to have him (Buffalo, Seattle, Miami, Oakland, Minnesota, Tampa Bay to name a few).

  • mgbode

    Title should read:

    Joe Banner brings winning experience that he gained while working with Heckert, Shurmur, and Childress

  • mgbode

    also, I have issues with this line:

    “If you look at the system Banner comes from, he surely has some of “his guys” who run 4-3 defenses and the west coast offense.”

    Banner apparently had a power-struggle with Andy Reid (if we believe the Philly media). He was on the business side and spilt over into personnel decisions w/ the cap, contracts, etc. He lost the power struggle (if there was one).

    All of the coaches are under Reid’s umbrella (football side). If Banner decided he didn’t trust Heckert/Shurmur and wanted to start over (and I don’t think that will be the case), then why would we assume that he wants to keep the WCO/4-3? All the football people he worked with would have sided with Reid in any power-struggle, right?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I don’t assume he WOULD. I’m just saying if he wanted to, he knows people.

    And yes, I’m aware he worked with these guys in Philly. It doesn’t mean he trusts them or thinks they’re the right fit for what he wants to do.

  • dan

    Well, no offense, but of course I thought the franchise would turn around in three years. Not “Super Bowl contender in the third year” turn around, not necessarily “wild card in the third year” turn around, but “not another season of 10+ losses” progress doesn’t seem unreasonable for a third year of a rebuilding program. I don’t expect a Lions’ type turnaround — from 0-16 to, three seasons later, 10-6 — but some noticeable increase in win total as a measure of progress over three years shouldn’t be considered an unreasonable expectation. I don’t remember Holmgren, Heckert, Lerner, or anybody else in the early months of 2010 saying something like “well, the next three seasons are going to be all ten-loss seasons, but we expect the improvements made during those years to finally have an impact in 2013, when the Browns should have a real good chance of going 8-8.”. So why should I be impressed by the fact that H&H had 10+ losses in their first two years, will probably do the same I. The third, and may by 2013 have put together a team with a good chance of going 8-8? Why shouldn’t I think there are plenty of other GMs who could have done the same?

    And what, exactly, are the brilliant moves Heckert has pulled off? Who are the Pro Bowl players he’s found in the later rounds? He’s drafted some good players with high picks and when he had the chance to trade down, got a bucket of picks in exchange. That’s something that everybody but George Kokinis, boy wonder, knows how to do. Like I said, it’s a good job, but I see no reason to conclude its an exceptional job his replacement wouldn’t be qualified to continue.

  • mgbode

    yeah, sorry. I’ll blame it on monday morning, as I came off way more crass than intended.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Hah, no problem, I didn’t take it as crass. I just wanted to clarify that my point wasn’t to say Banner could, should, or would do anything. I just hope that if he’s not on board with Heckert and Shurmur, he doesn’t keep them around for the sake of continuity. I thought it was a mistake when Holmgren did it with Mangini, and I don’t want to see us waste time anymore. If this is now Banner’s show, I want him to proceed with people he trusts.

  • mgbode

    best Browns picks in the first 2 rounds of the draft since ’99:

    1. Joe Thomas (Savage)
    2. Joe Haden (Heckert)
    3. Kevin Johnson (Policy)
    4. Jabaal Sheard (Heckert)
    5. Jeff Faine (Butch) / Alex Mack (Kokinis-Mangini)
    7. D’Qwell Jackson (Savage)

    And, that’s really it. Phil Taylor, Greg Little and TJ Ward have time to play themselves onto the list and I don’t think it’s fair to put Richardson, Weeden, Schwartz or Gordon onto it yet.

    But, you can see how easily a top10 list of draft picks from the first 2 rounds could easily have at least 5 Heckert guys on it a year or two from now (Little & Taylor had good rookie years, Richardson “should” make the list, we hope Weeden does).

    ———————

    Biggest Browns busts in the first round

    1. Gerard Warren (Butch)
    2. William Green (Butch)
    3. Courtney Brown (Policy)
    4. Brady Quinn (Savage)
    5. K. Wimbley (Savage)

    Ok, you get the point. So far, only Hardesty would be considered a pure bust from the top2 rounds and he was a very late 2nd rounder at that.

    So, when we say Heckert has been great compared to what was before him, it might be faint praise, but we’ve seen bad for a long time now.

  • mgbode

    agreed. hopefully he learns from Holmgren’s mistake there if he doesn’t trust them as it’s hard to “build” trust when you already have worked with them in the past (it’s either there or it’s not).

  • Vindictive_Pat

    You don’t consider going from 21st in points allowed per game to 5th in points allowed per game as good progress? Or 31st in yards allowed to 10th? It’s obvious that the first two drafts were spent trying to improve the defense and regardless of arguments about who is a star and who is not on our defense, the numbers support that. You’re not willing to concede that this was Heckert’s plan and that he succeeded in achieving it? You’re not willing to wait two more years to see what happens with the offense? I think you might be underestimating just how bad the Browns’ roster was 2 years ago. Who on those rosters besides Joe Thomas and DQ would start for a playoff-caliber team?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Like I said in a previous section it would be fitting that finally after all of the horrible years that once the football team seems to be headed in the right direction a change in ownership occurs. A change that completely uproots the organization. I guess in some ways it would only be fitting that one of Lerner’s last acts be detrimental to the team since almost all of his prior ones hadn’t been beneficial.

  • RGB

    Bye bye, Holmgren.
    Let me help you out…
    http://seattlehome.com/

  • dan

    I consider football stats to be generally in persuasive. I saw a team last year that anybody could run on and nobody had to throw against because it couldn’t score on offense.

    Yes, I think the team is better. But I don’t think it’s improved to a degree that a different GM couldn’t have done.

    Back in Jan 2010, when H&H arrived, what did you think the team would be in 2012, and how far short of that expectation do you now expect them to be?

  • dan

    Heckert needs to be compared to NFL GMs, by which standard he’s fine, but I’ll stand by my previous arguments that I don’t think he’s been exceptional, I don’t understand the devotion he gets, and I don’t think he’s irreplaceable.

    For the record, I don’t blame Dwight Clark (or Carmen Policy, for that matter) for Courtney Brown. As I recall, nobody in the NFL thought he shouldn’t be the pick. He just got injured, that’s all. I put players like Veikune, Thompson, and other obvious reaches much higher on the list of draft mistakes.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I guess that’s where we’re going to differ then… I put a lot more value into stats, particularly when the offense was as historically bad as ours… that to me was the biggest reason for our awful record last year and as I said before, I think that’ll improve in a year or two. Also had lower expectations… I saw a team that was still several drafts away from being able to compete because we just can’t attract free agents the way teams like NE and NYG can (unless we massively overpay a guy like Buffalo did with Mario Williams).

  • hutch058

    I agree with Dan. I wish we would hold our teams to the same standards as other teams hold themselves to. It seems like we LOVE heckert because he has done an average job as GM because we are sooo used to TERRIBLE GM’s.

    The bottom line is win/loss record and until that improves there is no reason to praise any of the people in this organization. A 4-12 team should be treated as such….

  • Eric G

    Time for a change in Berea? Isn’t that what we’ve had for the last 13 years??

  • Harv 21

    I hate hearing the implication that he’s a jerk. Of course, if it’s a Philly media guy making the accusation this could be the pot calling out the kettle.

  • Harv 21

    I will retain my optimism at this point because nothing could be worse than the ownership we’ve had since ’99.

    The guys hired who have had success at the same position before have been fine: Heckert, Jauron. The unproven guys – Holmgren as president, Shurmur as HC, the special teams coach – have struggled. I’ll take a guy who has already had success as team president. Even though Banner might double as president and minority owner, the majority owner is supposedly a pretty stern guy and will not brook the nonsense of an internal power struggle with his huge investment. Set the philosophy and lines of authority, put the peeps you want in place, and start pedaling.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Change for change sake? This sale was orchestrated by the NFL you know the same league that had the city of Cleveland and it’s fans best interests in mind the last time there was a change in ownership.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    holy crap… horrible toupee.

  • BomberDawg

    You also need to think of who we could have selected instead of who we took. Clay Matthews, Jr. for example.

  • BomberDawg

    I have a feeling this will continue in Cleveland (from philly.com):

    Despite his accomplishments in spearheading the building of Lincoln
    Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex and in mastering the salary
    cap, Banner has often been a lightning rod for fan discontent. Some of
    his public comments have backfired on the team, most recently when he
    said last summer that the Eagles were “all in” after they signed a
    number of high-profile free agents.

  • mgbode

    we don’t know the job Heckert has done and won’t for at least a few more years. it takes time for these youngsters to infiltrate the system.

    for now, we do know that his picks (especially the high ones) seem to be panning out. guys like Haden, Sheard, Taylor, Ward seem to be leaders on the defense. Little had a suprisingly good rookie year.

    obviously, we know next to nothing about this past draft at this point.

    we need to see if some of his later picks continue to stick as we get new talent in the system (pinkston, lauvao, hagg, skrine, etc.) and we need to see actual results on the field.

  • Harvey Dent

    Just a warning from someone who is from the Philly area: the media here is not exaggerating when it comes to Banner. He was always very cold with the fans and impatient with the media. Many contract disputes that blew up with the Eagles over the past ten years, such as the T.O. fiasco, were partially due to Banner’s tactics with agents and players. That said even the idiot fans here would admit that Banner is probably the best salary cap guy in the league save for the team in New England. He’s smart and knows how to put a team together.

  • Harv 21

    yeah, after writing the above I started reading those type of things written in the Philly area. I’m guessing he’s the kind of guy who will aggressively assert his authority. Good news in Cleveland is that right now we don’t yet have any free agents we have to worry about him offending. I do hope he’ll retain Heckert and leave him alone, or in the alternative hope his abrasiveness won’t keep us from getting another quality personnel guy. Worst case scenario is that his job security as part-owner makes him even more abrasive than he was in Philly.