The President gave way to the Chief Executive Officer. Similar to corporate structure, the CEO oversees the various presidents, focusing on collective vision while those beneath aim their arrows at the various moving targets which comprise the entire business. But in the case of the Cleveland Browns, a business where middle management had become all too prevalent, it was decided that the President should no longer preside.
Joe Banner sat at the elongated table within the Dino Lucarelli media room in Berea and said that Mike Holmgren’s decision to turn in his key card following the Browns’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was indeed his; the contributions were dwindling and his time, he felt, was up. The truth is, Holmgren’s time had been up — for better or worse — the day that the Browns stopped denying that the team had been for sale and Jimmy Haslam III arrived seemingly overnight. Sure, both parties attempted to feign a transition period, but it wasn’t like Banner spent the last several weeks shadowing the outbound Big Show.
There is a lot to be said about titles, typically given as opposed to earned, ranging from the fairly direct to completely nebulous. Case in point: Jim Tressel, vice president of strategic engagement. But when it comes to Banner, it is tough to argue that this man has not worked his way up the food chain. Certainly, his first NFL gig came through good fortune and wealthy friends, but since stepping foot into a league office, Banner has not let anyone stop him from getting to the top. A calculated man, Banner has arrived in Cleveland not with both hands in the air claiming to be the one who will get it right, but with the conviction that the days of excuses are long over.
“I know these fans have been through a lot of hopeful starts,” Banner told the Cleveland media during his October press conference. “I don’t want to be the next promiser in their lives.”
A stark contrast to the parade of empty promises and failed expectations that have marched through the halls of Berea since 1999, Banner — complete with a breath-of-fresh-air majority owner by his side — may never own a press conference. He may never provide the money quote, littered with hope and rhetoric like Holmgren’s infamous “it’s different now,” after the public relations nightmares of 2011. Also providing a stark contrast, there is an instant level of accountability placed upon those working under the CEO; they’re not his guys.
As much of a “good cop” as Jimmy Haslam III has been, speaking to the media countless times, offering ideals of big picture improvement, Banner has no issues with being the counterpoint “bad” version. Haslam had zero input in the debacle of a giveaway that was the white flags against the Pittsburgh Steelers — the decision never made it up to him because his CEO promptly pulled the plug. Banner understood interpretation and that, more often than not, perception often wins out when it comes to a fan base which has been dragged over the coals, weekly, for the last decade-plus. Banner knew that there was zero sense in “trying to prove a point,” and that no good could come from a public relations mishap, regardless of sponsorships and and back-channel backlash and all too exorbitant service charges.
At the end of the day, Mike Holmgren was a mascot crowned, a high-priced jester given rule for five years. He was hired for his goodwill and ability to control the room and make people laugh; he was the namesake of local fundraisers and used his gargantuan persona and stature to rule over his hand-picked minions. Banner has won awards for his philanthropic endeavors, none of which bear his name. Banner will speak to the media when he has to, addressing the macro-organizational picture and blatantly avoiding answers to questions he doesn’t feel are merited — no friends to be made.
The only goal in mind: long-term, sustainable success. From the day he stepped foot in Philadelphia, the Eagles were an NFC contender.
This past June, following a season gone awry, the Eagles announced that Banner desired to pursue other opportunities.
“There is no better executive in sports than Joe Banner,” said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. “We are making this announcement today because he is looking for a greater challenge. Joe and I have achieved a great deal since I acquired the team. From building Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex, to driving the work of the Eagles Youth Partnership and, of course, our successes on the field, Joe has been an integral part of everything we have done.”
It’s no coincidence that the Eagles have been in a free-fall since the day Banner set his sights on things both bigger and better. The ensuing sideshows, complete with mid-season coach firings, the ousting of a marketing president and a head coach who continues to lose his locker room by the day, are only there to deflect away from the abysmal record compiled by a team rife with actual talent.
“Objective evaluation,” Banner, with his shoulders seemingly providing two end posts for his head to hang between, states as his lone goal for the next five weeks of football. He won’t comment on specific players at this stage, but does stand up for them — an interesting exchange given his reputation as not being very player-friendly — stating that fans, not specifically limited to Cleveland, have a cynical view of today’s professional athlete.
He claims they’re just as motivated by pride as they are perceived to be motivated by money. They care. They want to win football games just as much, if not more, than those screaming — from the stands of their living room — yearn them to. But Banner will also be the first to tell anyone who will listen that things have not gone as well as anyone in Berea over any stretch of time would have ever hoped.
But the building continues to be swarmed by cranes; the beams, laced with solder, bricks, with mortar. An older roster has been turned inside out, now replaced with younger, less experienced players. Banner will answer emphatically when asked if his decisions will be made with things well beyond the football team being in mind, the entire organization will be the subject of this Chief’s execution.
“I do think that there is a foundation here — I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” said Banner earlier this week. “I’ve been really impressed with how hard the coaches have continued to work and how hard the players have continued to play. I think that’s something you want to see. It says a lot about the character of the coaching staff and the character of the players we have here — I think this is a key element in all of the franchises that win.”
There will always be a lot of plates spinning in the circus known as Berea, Ohio. Good news is, with Joe Banner in town, the clown cars have been handed directions to the nearest on-ramp out of town.