Maybe 2013 will go down in Browns history as a strange outlier. Maybe we’ll all laugh about it as the trial by fire (of a thousand suns?) that Jimmy Haslam needed in order to figure out how to run a football team and be the kind of team owner he always envisioned becoming. After reading his latest Q&A with the media from the NFL meetings in Orlando, I’m starting to see the possibility that Jimmy Haslam can be the owner we all hoped he would be when he secured ownership of the team from the Lerner family.
Make no mistake, Haslam’s trip to this point hasn’t been a good one. Jimmy got some bad advice, namely whoever told him to align himself with Joe Banner. But as owner, he also owns the bulk of the responsibility. There’s little doubt that Haslam’s first year on the job was never going to go to plan considering what he was dealing with at Pilot Flying J. This isn’t to paint Haslam as a sympathetic figure of course. It’s a mere observation of fact.
Regardless of whether you like Jimmy Haslam or not, you have to assume that more often than not in his role as owner of the Browns that his goals are aligned with fans of the team. Now that he’s realized a bulk of mistakes and streamlined the Browns, he’s starting to really come off like the guy we wanted him to be.
The one overriding question about Haslam after he cleaned house of micro-manager Joe Banner was how the team would operate going forward. Would Joe Banner’s removal clear the decks for Jimmy to fashion himself as an Al Davis, Jerry Jones or even a Jim Irsay type who are more involved with personnel than they should be? At least at this point, when asked if he would step in and pull rank in the draft room, Haslam says there’s “zero chance.” That is in complete opposition to what the Browns likely had with Joe Banner — a non-traditional “football guy” — lording over the GM and coaches.
Jimmy Haslam now seems to have his priorities in the right place. With the prospect of losing Alex Mack after touting the number of Pro Bowlers on the team, even if Mack somehow finds his way out of Cleveland, you can’t blame Haslam. He put his money where his mouth was after the Browns adminstered the transition tag. He didn’t sit back with that hammer lording over the player; he got a plane together and took everyone who is anyone to in the Cleveland Browns organization (including Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine, Sashi Brown, Alec Scheiner, Kyle Shanahan and offensive line coach Andy Moeller) to visit the free agent center. That’s the way you want your impulsive billionaire to be with his excess of riches.
There is still a concern that Haslam might be operating a little bit like Randy Lerner where he seeks outside opinion and then seemingly follows whichever advice he heard last. Haslam buys the team and someone tells him to hire Joe Banner? OK. At the Super Bowl Jimmy Haslam meets with Peyton Manning who indicates Joe Banner will never enable the Browns to be successful? OK. Who was next on Jimmy Haslam’s list of influencers? Is it Bill Parcells?
Haslam doesn’t sound like he’s out there bowing down before others’ opinions. In his discussion about meeting with Parcells, he had the following:
“And I said if I’m ever down there (Jupiter Florida,) would you have lunch with me? He said sure and I was down there 2-3 days after Christmas, called him, and I was back down in late Jan or Feb. Bill’s a very smart, very confident guy and he likes to talk football. So to spend talking to him about football I think is 1. Interesting, 2. It’s fun, and it can’t hurt the Browns. But it’s no more than he’s nice enough to spend time with me talking football.”
Maybe that’s just more lip service, but it seems like less of a needy, scared owner and more like the confident one we were hoping would replace Randy Lerner two years ago.
Of course, the Pilot Flying J risks are hanging out there until they’re not, but for now, it feels like the Browns are in a better place than they were just about a year ago. It feels like a team that shouldn’t be as capable of the kind of dysfunction that we saw through all of 2013, whether hunting for coaches or firing them after just one year. Maybe it’s just perception, but until we have proof, perception is all we have to go on. The good news is that right now my perception of the Browns is in as good of a place with regard to ownership as they have been since 1999, and who knows how long before that.