July 23, 2014

The Demographic Debate: Which Browns fans have it worse?

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Located throughout northeastern Ohio, interspersed between Youngstown and Toledo, trickling down along Interstates 71 and 77, there exists a group of individuals who have only known Ed O’Neill to be Jay Pritchett rather than Al Bundy. Neil Patrick Harris has always been Barney Stinson; not Doogie Howser. Will Smith was never Fresh. The Dead were never Grateful. And the Cleveland Browns have never been a fumble or a drive away from heading into a weekend that will soon be experienced by those Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and New England. The Kardiac Kids live only in lore. “Bernie, Bernie” is just one of the tracks on that dusty cassette dad won’t throw away. And through 14-plus seasons of work, their team has only reached the postseason one time.

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The Cleveland Browns have changed me

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The latest round of dysfunction in Berea has taken a serious toll on me as a football fan and it might have permanently changed my perspective of the game. A week or so ago, I got into a conversation with a Twitter follower who has been reading WFNY for some time, and he noted how much I’ve changed in terms of how I look at the Cleveland Browns. Where I once looked for ways they could be getting things right and improving, I now look with a skeptical eye. I acknowledge this change and I think it’s interesting to look at how it all came about. I don’t think it necessarily started in the past year, but I believe the tipping point was the raid on Pilot Flying J.

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Jimmy Haslam addresses coaching search in letter to season ticket holders

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- Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s open letter to season ticket holders, sent on January 15, 2014.

 

Haslam’s Pilot Flying J company settles fraud lawsuits out of court

The Knoxville news today reported that Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J corporation has reached an agreement to settle fraudulent fuel rebate lawsuits out of court. The settlement, which was agreed to by federal judge James M. Moody in Arkansas involves the full repayment of all money owed to individual trucking companies plus six percent interest. Pilot Flying J will also cover the legal expenses of those companies, which could end up being all 4,500 enrolled in the rebate program to some extent.

Haslam released a statement saying that his customers “will get every dollar they are owed, with interest, without protracted legal battles, time delays or costly legal expenses.”

Cleveland.com reports that the agreement could cost Pilot Flying J upwards of $40 million for the fuel shortages, and another $14 million dollars in legal fees.

This doesn’t absolve Pilot Flying J of any legal ramifications. There is an ongoing federal investigation.

[Related: Federal Grand Jury investigating Pilot Flying J]

NFL News: Federal Grand Jury Investigating Pilot Flying J

The hits keep coming for new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Cleveland’s NewsChannel5 is reporting that a federal grand jury is hearing testimony from witnesses connected to the alleged rebate fraud. Spokesmen for both the US Attorney’s Office and Pilot Flying J declined to comment. For those us who are legally challenged, what does this mean, exactly? From the Federal Judicial Center:

A criminal case formally begins with an indictment or information, which is a formal accusation that a person committed a crime. An indictment may be obtained when a lawyer for the executive branch of the U.S. government–the U.S. attorney or an assistant U.S. attorney, also referred to as the prosecutor–presents evidence to a federal grand jury that, according to the government, indicates a person committed a crime. The U.S. attorney tries to convince the grand jury that there is enough evidence to show that the person probably committed the crime and should be formally accused of it. If the grand jury agrees, it issues an indictment. After the indictment is issued, the accused person (the defendant) is either summoned to court or arrested (if not already under arrest), depending on the severity of the crime.

A grand jury is different from a trial jury, or petit jury. A grand jury determines whether the person may be tried for a crime; a petit jury listens to the evidence presented at the trial and determines whether the defendant is guilty of the charge. Petit is the French word for “small”; petit juries usually consist of twelve jurors in criminal cases. Grand is the French word for “large”; grand juries have from sixteen to twenty-three jurors.

I’m sure it’ll be fine…

This is just more bad news for Haslam. Five former Pilot Flying J executives have pleaded guilty and are working with federal investigators. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Pilot Flying J is roughly 4 billion dollars in debt and rumors continued to swirl that, due to financial issues and the ongoing investigation, Haslam might have to sell the Browns (he has explicitly denied that the Browns are for sale).

Browns’ training camp begins on Wednesday, July 25th. I imagine Mr. Haslam can’t wait until the Browns start making some news on the field.

[Related: Browns to officially enter the 21st century with in-game upgrades]

 

Forbes: Browns are “bigger concern for NFL” than Patriots

The New England Patriots may have just released a budding superstar-turned-alleged murderer, but Forbes’ Mike Ozanian feels that the Cleveland Browns are a bigger issue for the NFL given their recent run of misfortune off of the field. This one, per Ozanian, starts at the top of the food chain.

 “The Browns should be one of football’s flagship small-market franchises,” writes Ozanian. “But the Browns now appear on the verge of imploding. Haslam’s Pilot Flying J, his source of wealth, is being investigated by the FBI for defrauding customers. Three of the truck stop company’s employees have entered guilty pleas. And credit ratings for Pilot Flying J have been put on negative watch for possible downgrade by both Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.”

The Forbes column touches on the Browns players who joined the Browns after Haslam bought the team and have already gotten in trouble with the law. Quentin Groves, signed as a free agent, was arrested in April and charged with solicitation in a prostitution sting. Seventh-round draft pick Armonty Bryant was busted in May for driving under the influence. And, most recently, undrafted free agent Ausar Walcott was released by the Browns after he was arrested for an attempted murder earlier this week.

Ozanian adds that despite having the lowest average ticket price in the league, FirstEnergy (formerly Cleveland Browns) Stadium is being filled to only 90% of capacity. Forbes has pegged the team’s revenue at $258 million for the 2011 season, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 20th in the NFL.

“Don’t be shocked if Haslam unloads his team,” says Ozanian. “It might be the best thing for both the Browns and the NFL.”

[Related: It’s been all quiet on the Weeden front this off-season]

NFL Rumors: FirstEnergy Stadium potentially receiving $200 million in upgrades

FirstEnergy Stadium could be receiving a bit of a face lift in the coming months.

Per Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository, the place once expected to house Bon Jovi for an evening could be looking at upgrades north of $200 million. On the cover, this dollar amount could potentially include the addition of a retractable roof to the current structure, but the cost and likelihood of such an addition has been debated since Haslam purchased the team last October. Prior to Haslam’s acquisition, the Browns front office had asked the city of Cleveland to provide $5.8 million for repairs to areas that had reportedly sustained damage due to use coupled with abrasive lake-front weather.

Following Haslam’s acquisition, the Browns hired Alec Scheiner, a former Dallas Cowboys executive who was credited with much of the planning, financing, and implementation of upgrades at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. This hiring came roughly one month after Haslam and his team took a trip to Jerry Jones’ gem and saw the venue first hand.

Housing 73,200 seats, FirstEnergy Stadium (formerly named Cleveland Browns Stadium) was build in 1999 for $283 million.

[Related: Browns will not raise ticket prices for 2013; cell service issues to be rectified]

 

Haslam: Jim Brown is iconic, team is “thrilled” to have him back

Jim Brown is one of the most iconic figures, not just in Cleveland, but the entire NFL. His playing career still stands as one of the most remarkable in league annals, and his work in the community since his retirement, especially with our youth, has been just as impressive. He will be a tremendous asset to our organization and we are thrilled that he will be representing the Browns in many different capacities.

— Cleveland Browns majority owner Jimmy Haslam III on Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown who, on Wednesday morning, was named as a Special Advisor to the team’s front office. In his role, Brown will perform in a variety of off-field capacities with the club and in the community. Brown previously served as an Executive Advisor with the team, a position he held through 2010. “I am excited to be back and a part of a franchise that will always be very close to my heart,” said Brown. “I want to thank Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner for giving me this chance to return to the organization and the great city of Cleveland, whose fans are the best in the NFL and who always have supported me.”

[Related: Cleveland Browns hit reset button on media relations]

Jim Brown to assume new role with Cleveland Browns this week

Outspoken Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will assume a new role within the Cleveland Browns’ front office this week. Brown has served in several capacities with the Browns and, now at age 77, will begin another phase with the team.

ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi reports that Brown will be formally introduced by owner Jimmy Haslam on Wednesday to a new position with the club. The position and the specifics of its responsibilities are not yet known.

Brown, who retired from the NFL and the Browns at age 29 to pursue a movie career, has been unaffiliated with the Browns since former President Mike Holmgren effectively fired him in the spring of 2010. He was serving as “executive advisor” to former owner Randy Lerner, but was ousted as part of a large overhaul. Brown felt disrespected when Holmgren offered a lesser role at a greatly reduced salary, leading to much consternation in the form of a letter—”one monkey don’t stop the show,” Brown penned— and the boycotting of his induction in to the franchise’s charter Ring of Honor class.

A legend on and off of the field, Brown has recently referred to the team’s current running back Trent Richardson as “ordinary,” and was also one of the more outspoken supporters of former Browns owner Art Modell during the most recent NFL Hall of Fame induction season.

[Related: Cleveland Browns hit reset button on media relations]

NFL fears Pilot Flying J lawsuits could drain Jimmy Haslam, undermine Browns

Several team officials are reportedly saying they believe it may be extremely difficult for Jimmy Haslam III to keep his ownership of the Cleveland Browns. CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman reports that, because Haslam may be “ensnared by a myriad of lawsuits and legal actions,” Haslam could experience a significant drain to his finances, preventing him from keeping the team he purchased less than 12 months ago.

Haslam, and his family company Pilot Flying J, is the target of several lawsuits which stem from alleged practices of fraud and deceit. The FBI has been probing Haslam’s truck-stop company and has alleged massive impropriety based on targeted cost-plussing of select clients. A 120-page affidavit recently stated that Pilot Flying J sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts in an attempt to boost company profitability as well as personal sales commissions. If Haslam loses the suits or is forced to settle for large sums, the league is concerned that he will not be fit to own an NFL franchise.

“This is more worrisome than people know,” said one team official who has familiarized himself with Haslam’s situation. In turn, sources tell Freeman that it may only be a matter of time before Haslam is forced to sell the Browns.

Haslam continues to claim his (and his company’s) innocence with regard to the allegations. He recently apologized to the city of Cleveland, stating that he is very embarrassed by the recent fallout. “We feel badly about it, and we’re very comfortable we’ll work through this situation,” he said.

[Related: Where is the line drawn with character concerns?]

While We’re Waiting… Draft day trades brewing?

While We’re Waiting serves as the early morning gathering of WFNY-esque information for your viewing pleasure. Have something you think we should see? Send it to our tips email at tips@waitingfornextyear.com.

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Connecting the dots between a possible Kansas City-Miami trade that might affect the Browns’ plans with the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft: “The connections between the Chiefs and the Dolphins, with regard to [Branden] Albert, have been present for awhile. Now, they possibility could be coming closer to being a reality. On Thursday, Arrowhead Pride passed along the information that the Chiefs had given permission to the Dolphins to speak to, but not meet with, Albert.” [Chris Pokorny/Dawgs By Nature]

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Pilot Flying J engaged in fraud for many years, Haslam aware, according to report

The Plain Dealer’s John Caniglia is reporting that Jimmy Haslam’s Pilot Flying J travel centers has engaged in fraud for many years, according to an affidavit.

“Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s travel center company for “many years” engaged in a fraud scheme to keep money owed to customers as gas rebates, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday,” writes Caniglia. “Employees targeted unsophisticated trucking companies through a rebate program. Federal documents unsealed today also say he was present for discussions about the rebate fraud activities.”

Caniglia describes a 120-page affidavit to a search warrant that says Pilot Flying J sales employees withheld fuel price rebates and discounts in an attempt to boost company profitability as well as personal sales commissions. The most damning evidence may be in the report that Haslam, majority owner of the Cleveland Browns, was aware of the fraud.

The entire affadavit can be read within the original Caniglia report. This story is still developing. Neither the Browns nor Jimmy Haslam (who was in Berea today) have commented about the case.

[Related: Banner and Lombardi hold pre-draft press conference]

NFL News: Jimmy Haslam’s stake in Steelers officially sold

In a statement of ownership transaction released by the team, Jimmy Haslam III’s minority ownership stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers has officially been sold.

The Steelers that in a series of transactions approved by the NFL all of the Steelers stock owned by Haslam has been acquired, the majority of which was purchased by existing Steelers stockholders while the residual portion was purchased by members of the Swank Family, Scott and Russ Swank.

In October of 2012, Mr. Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns, thus disassociating himself from all Steelers business at that time and authorized Steelers President Art Rooney, II and Morgan Stanley to arrange for the purchase of the Steelers stock owned.

Steelers President Art Rooney, II said, “We appreciate the continued confidence of our Ownership group involving this purchase of stock owned by Jimmy Haslam, and we welcome Scott and Russ Swank to our Ownership group.”

[Related: As the highest-paid player on the Browns, is Joe Thomas’ value diminishing?]

NFL News: Browns to reunite with Jim Brown in front office capacity

The Cleveland Browns will welcome back Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown as the one-time estranged legend will resume a new role under Jimmy Haslam III.

Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer reports that Brown, who was a consultant with the team before being demoted by team President Mike Holmgren in 2010 prior to his resignation, met with Haslam in Cleveland on Monday night where the two men finalized plans for a new role with the team.

“Jim Brown and I have spent a lot of time together,” Haslam told Cabot. “We spent about an hour together [Monday] night, and I think we’ve established a really good relationship and I think sometime over the next two or three weeks we’ll formalize that relationship and Jim will play the appropriate role with the Cleveland Browns … It’s a big deal and that’s why I want to do it right. In the next couple of weeks we’ll announce something.”

Brown’s recent history with the team has been contentious at best, whether the former back was involved in a back-and-forth with Holmgren, Art Modell’s Hall of Fame candidacy, voiced his opinion on LeBron James, told fans to “get over” the team’s move to Baltimore and called recent draft selection Trent Richardson ‘ordinary.’ Goodwill with fans has depleted drastically, so it will be intriguing to see in what capacity, exactly, Brown will be engaged.

[Related: The Browns are right to lay low with Lombardi]

The Browns are right to lay low with Lombardi

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.18.12 PMThere’s no getting around the fact that Michael Lombardi was a controversial hire for the Cleveland Browns. Lombardi’s previous history in Cleveland as well as his presumed track record – including a very long stint off of any team payrolls – is plenty of reason to give the fan-base and the Cleveland media pause at minimum. Even those who support the Cleveland Browns’ hire of Michael Lombardi have to admit that he has a lot to prove. With all that in mind, I couldn’t help but support the Browns’ decision to have Lombardi lay low for a while.

I said from the first moment that Lombardi appeared to be absent that it might make a lot of sense with so much tape out there of Lombardi commenting on teams, players, future draft picks and everything else that a media talking head might find himself (or herself) commenting on.

And boy did Lombardi comment. Even before he could cash his first check from Haslam enterprises in Berea, he found himself referencing comments he’d made about the most important battery in the Cleveland Browns offense of Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon. The media was right to ask him those questions and now the Browns are right to let Lombardi do his work as GM and let Joe Banner handle the spokesperson duties while the expiration dates on his commentary approach and eventually pass.

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Dan Gilbert passes Tigers owner Mike Illitch on billionaire list

Mike Illitch may be willing to deficit spend his way to a World Series, but it is Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who is officially the wealthiest person to live in Detroit, Michigan, per Forbes.

Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans, Rock Ventures, Rock Gaming and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers — among other smaller companies and teams — is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, up from $1.5 billion in March 2012, because of the extraordinary growth of his privately held mortgage financing company. Forbes reports that the nation’s largest online lender closed $70 billion in mortgages last year, up from $30 billion in 2011.

Gilbert is also said to be purchasing Greektown Casino in Detroit, while being one of the main investors of a light rail system that will hope to improve the economic conditions of the rustbelt town.

When compared to the rest of the world, Gilbert, 51, slots in 354th overall. This compares to Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam who is said to be worth $1.8 billion, leaving him off of the top 500 as ranked by Forbes.

[Related: WFNY Podcast – Diminishing returns in baseball stats?]

Haslam: I will remain “heavily involved” in Browns’ decisions

I want to assure everybody I’m more excited today about having the opportunity to own the Cleveland Browns — which is a very distinct and rare privilege — as I’ve ever been. I still plan on being heavily involved in all key Browns decisions. My time in Cleveland is not going to change at all. During the season we’re there a day or two a week and we’re there on weekends or wherever we’re playing. We’ll be very active and very visible during training camp and we’re obviously going to be there a lot during the free agency and draft periods which are obviously so important to the future of the Browns. [...] We’re going to be there as much as we need to be to insure success. We feel great about the team we’ve put in place but we’re still going to be highly involved and I think you saw how much we were there from August to December. We’re going to have a big presence in Cleveland.

– Cleveland Browns majority owner Jimmy Haslam III in an exclusive interview with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Haslam, earlier this week, became the CEO of the Tennessee-based Pilot Flying J, a position from which he had resigned in the fall of 2012. Haslam owns a home on Cleveland’s east side and recently became a member of The Cleveland Clinic board of directors. Haslam stated that he will not be at th NFL combine, but had no plans of attending the event prior to this week’s announcment. He stated that he will help decide on all key player acquisitions in free agency, trades and the draft, April 25-27.

[Related: WFNY Podcast – Scott and Craig talk Bourn, Flacco, Haslam and Mike Wallace]

Jimmy Haslam III returns as CEO of “first love,” Pilot Flying J

Not even six months after stepping down to focus his efforts on his ownership of the Cleveland Browns, Jimmy Haslam III has decided to return to his role of CEO of Pilot Flying J.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Haslam said he “missed” being CEO of Pilot Flying J. John Compton, the former PepsiCo president, was announced as CEO of the company in September. At this time, Haslam’s resignation was considered a sign that he would be involved more within the day-to-day operations of the Browns, signaling a vast change from that of the team’s previous owner Randy Lerner.

“[This move is]not about John,” said Haslam. “This is about me realizing my first love is running Pilot Flying J and wanting to return to that job.”

Compton will reportedly work as a strategic adviser to Pilot Flying J, the Browns and the Haslam family.

“I am thrilled to work with Jimmy on the strategic opportunities facing our companies,” said Compton via press release. “I have greatly enjoyed working directly with the Pilot Flying J teams and look forward to assisting the Cleveland Browns as well. My family and I are proud to call Knoxville our home and we look forward to a long-term relationship with Jimmy and the Haslam family.”

[Related: WFNY Podcast – Art Modell, House of Cards, Quentin Tarantino and the 2013 Tribe]

NFL News: Browns will have a quarterback competition heading in 2013

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said today that his team will not only bring in a new quarterback this offseason, but whomever they sign will compete with Brandon Weeden for the starting job.

“I think [Norv Turner] and [Rob Chudzinski] have been very open that they like a lot of what Brandon [Weeden] does,” said Haslam, “but we’re going to have competition at that position, and I think competition makes us all better and we’ll see where that competition comes from.”

The Browns have been rumored to be in the mix for the potential services of current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is likely to be released or traded this offseason and he has a history with Turner, the team’s recently signed Browns offensive coordinator. Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer has also linked the team to Michael Vick due to his history with former Eagles front office wizard Joe Banner.

With the NFL’s free agency period set to kick of on March 12, the Browns will once again take part, but will not look to make any large moves.

“[The front office] is going to look at free agency and we’re going to look at the draft, and I think we’ll be selective in what we do in free agency,” said Haslam. “I don’t think you’ll see us making any big splashy, high-priced moves because I think we’ve said all along we’re going to build through the draft.”

[Related: Celebrating Five Years of Waiting For Next Year]

WFNY Podcast – 2013-01-28 – Did Jon and Craig get cocky?

WFNY Podcast LogoI don’t believe Jon was joking when he told me that we shouldn’t post this one today. We went for a long time and we talked about a lot of things, but I think Jon’s feeling is that we got too big for our britches. When going into these podcasts I prefer not to have an agenda per se, but this podcast might have benefited from an agenda. We talked about lots of things, including sports, but we also got off on some tangents. Anyway, in the interest of putting all our potential warts out there, here is the podcast.

Did we do OK? Was it a misstep? Let us know in the comments.

  • The Browns, their ownership and patience
  • The Indians and their ownership and patience
  • Craig watched a national NBA game
  • Deconstructing sports fans’ defenses of their favorite sports
  • Owning up to your own homerism for your favorite sport
  • The Pro Bowl and the band Train
  • The Goo Goo Dolls on Live from Daryl’s House
  • Omar Vizquel doing a karaoke version of “Broadway” by the Goo Goo Dolls
  • Jon’s database project over the weekend
  • Craig’s deathmatch weekend
  • Plagiarism and whether it is a good sign for the artist who commits it
  • Much much more…

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