Now that it has sunk in that the Browns have a new owner, I am extremely happy at the prospects. There are no guarantees that Jimmy Haslam is going to do this thing right, but it represents opportunity for Browns fans to have something that most didn’t even think possible a few short weeks ago. These newly owned Browns have potential for something new and different that hasn’t been seen on the North Coast since forever and a day (at least.) Browns fans can realistically think about possibly having a healthy top-down culture with real leadership.
I was really happy when Randy Lerner outsourced himself to Mike Holmgren. That wasn’t me being some kind of blind “In Holmgren We Trust” type of guy, but I considered him the best possible option given the Randy Lerner ownership. It is true that Mike Holmgren had never served as a team president before and his time as a general manager was stained by his removal from the position in Seattle. Still, I saw an owner floundering with stranger configurations in Berea than a kid re-arranging his room for the first time without the help of his parents.
Butch Davis and Pete Garcia usurping the whole organization was like putting the desk in front of the closet doors. Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage together was like putting the mattress from the bed on top of the desk. Mangini (first) and then hiring George Kokinis before firing Kokinis shortly thereafter was like piling up all the furniture in front of the door. This isn’t to say all these people were bad at their jobs, but without strong structure organizationally, many were destined to fail.1
Through the lens of those failures I found Mike Holmgren and his merry men to be the best of all possible outcomes, as it was, with Randy Lerner as owner. My thinking was, “You mean we can have a president, GM and a head coach all at once again?” The NFL is a league of innovation, but doing away with the checks and balances that proper hierarchy gives teams in a fast-moving business like the NFL doesn’t seem like it is a step forward that deserves to be marked by the word “innovation.” When I heard Lerner was going to hire a president and that the Browns were going to have a GM and a head coach it seemed like a dream come true. The fact that they were going to all be on the same page unlike Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage was an added bonus.
That was then. I hadn’t realized getting a new owner was likely with the Al Lerner legacy. What I hadn’t realized or what I wasn’t willing to admit to myself was that the Holmgren solution, while possibly effective2 was just another bandaid to make up for something that the Browns were lacking. No sooner did Holmgren have the job, but in a flash it seemed he was close to year three of his five year deal and getting older. No matter what he was instilling in the team, and no matter how much I appreciated the structure he installed, it wasn’t likely to outlast his contractual obligations to the Cleveland Browns. Legacy is something that rarely lives on with employees.
It isn’t a necessity that the owner be visible, public and drive the culture from the top, but there’s little doubt it is a preferable state with the right owner. At least until he proves otherwise, Browns fans can dare to dream that they’ll have that with Jimmy Haslam and his family. That’s something that I had all but ruled out over the last few years because Randy Lerner selling seemed about as far away as the Browns’ last championship before I was born. Even as rumors swirled in June that the Browns could be for sale, I still didn’t believe it.
Today I wake up and it is true though. The Browns have a new owner. I can’t sit here and glow about it and guarantee that it is going to be great, but there is a real opportunity for it. Certainly there is an opportunity for something different if not more than there was just a few short weeks ago when Randy Lerner sat atop the heap in Berea. And in this life when trying to love sports teams as an important part of culture in my life, opportunity and possibility are worth celebrating. In that vein I feel like celebrating the new ownership of Jimmy Haslam and his family today not for what they are yet, but what they could be.
Mr. Haslam, it is your move.3 Please make it a good one.
(Photo: Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer)