When he arrived in Berea back in August, Jimmy Haslam III was quick to point out how aware he was of the fans of the Cleveland Browns; the passion, the pride and, most recently, the frustration all playing key roles in those who are on the buying end of his newly purchased product. What Haslam purchased was a team not as much in need of wins (this part is obvious), but one that is in dire need of direction and relation. Not only do the fans have their pitchforks and in hand, but as the end user — those who supply the funds, both monetary and emotional — Cleveland fans as a contingent feel as if they have largely been ignored.
A perpetual public relations nightmare every year from August until January, you have a team that has failed to adapt to the changing mediums of fan relation. Ranging from half-hearted meet-and-greets all the way down to Instagram pandering, the Browns have been left in the dust as the rest of the league speeds ahead like Spaceball I in both success and support. Alas, Cleveland has cultivated a fan base that, after being ignored for years in the win department, yearns to have more input in high-level decisions. Look no further than newspaper pleas of who not to hire. But as much as the Cleveland Browns have largely ignored those who have paid for the PSL’s and $11 beers, it appears that Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, while considering the voice of the fans, will stick to their guns in making any moves.
“It would be nice [if the fans instantly embrace whomever we hire],” said Haslam earlier this week. ”But we want somebody who’s going to win. If we win, they’ll be embraced.”
This is Haslam’s way of saying ‘sure, we will take into account certain amounts of history and angst, but at the end of the game, we’re the ones in charge.’ The majority owner an the CEO have a vision of how things are going to be run and it is a hierarchy different from any that Cleveland has seen in recent years. Perhaps it was one that Randy Lerner yearned for when hiring Eric Mangini prior to naming a GM in George Kokinis, but it only took one draft to see that this would not be the way of the future if the Browns were going to build a winner in Cleveland. Haslam left no questions when he said that the top quality he is looking for in his new head coach is leadership. But how much of the needle will this “leader” have to move?
Surely Oregon’s Chip Kelly would be a headline-grabbing acquisition. Bruce Arians getting another shot in Cleveland — especially after his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers — following his storybook run in Indianapolis would provide decent narrative. Bill O’Brien could raise a few eyebrows if he decided to leave Penn State. And then there are coordinators du jour. All of these men have varying levels of personality when it comes to dealing with people and the media (Kelly, for instance, is rumored to be more Belichickian), as well as being leaders. The question will come down to, how much does the former weigh into the decision even though the latter is said to be of the utmost importance?
How many hands will the new head coach be forced to shake? How many babies will he hold during photo opportunities? How long of a leash will he have before he is turned into the next name on a list of coaches who said that they were in fact the ones who would be able to turn this ship of suck around, heading in the direction that the “proud, storied franchise” once called home?
Haslam and Banner bring a personality that has long been removed from the top of the food chain in Berea. They appear confident and they know what they want. They may come off as abrasive at times, but it’s a friction that is easily forgiven if wins begin to pile up.
The safety net in Berea has been removed. The taught, intertwined ropes comprised of names like Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur have been severed. The mass exodus within the headquarters of the Cleveland Browns mean that the blame can no longer be passed — the glass that separates the owner’s suite from the fans and playing field may as well have been replaced with a mirror facing inward. This is just what Jimmy Haslam III wants: responsibility and accountability is in place right out of the gate. But on this tight rope comprised of decisions good or bad, popular or loathed, it will be the fans of the Cleveland Browns who, ultimately, hold the gavel when it comes to deciding if the choices made within the next few weeks — and beyond — allow Haslam and Banner to get to the other end without falling to their approval rating demise.
Jimmy Haslam Browns (Joshua Gunter/Plain Dealer)