July 29, 2014

Randy Lerner puts Aston Villa up for sale

randy-lerner_1410510c

The rumors have finally come to fruition. After eight years as Aston Villa’s owner, former Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner is finally selling his Aston Villa soccer club.

In a statement on Villa’s website Lerner gave detailed reasons for selling up as he believes that a fresh and a new approach is needed to bring the club back to its glory days of the past.

Above all, the debt I owe Aston Villa whether as owner, Chairman, custodian or simply as a fan is to put the Club first. To make good on that debt, I owe it to Villa to move on, and look for fresh, invigorated leadership, if in my heart I feel I can no longer do the job.

Lerner bought the Aston Villa club for £63 million in 2006 and has spent around £250 million on players and facilities, drawing the ire of stateside Browns fans who felt that the son of Al Lerner was not fully committed to the American football team. Since 2011, however, Lerner has been the subject of EPL fan criticism as he has largely disappeared while the team—believed to be worth $300 million—piles up losing seasons and fends off relegation.

Sounds eerily familiar, eh?

(h/t Kunal)

Jimmy Haslam sounds like the Browns owner we always wanted

 Jimmy Haslam Steely

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. [Read more...]

The Cleveland Browns have changed me

Wut

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.

[Read more...]

The Raid of Pilot Flying J – WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2013: No. 7

If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and apperances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.

The Raid of Pilot Flying J 595

It is difficult to avoid putting on that old comfortable sweater of Cleveland sports misery. That ratty thing has holes in it, so it shouldn’t be worn in public anymore, but anyone who covers Cleveland sports has undoubtedly spent many days, weeks or decades wearing it, willingly or not. And yet, it’s impossible to avoid it with a story like the raid on Pilot Flying J and how it impacted the Cleveland sports scene in 2013. [Read more...]

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]

WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2012: #1 Haslam and Banner Replace Lerner and Holmgren

2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one.

Sometimes something so big happens that it renders almost all previous opinion and criticism useless. That’s the ultimate takeaway for me after watching the Browns get sold this year. I’d always targeted my Browns criticism and tried to figure out what I thought were the best possible solutions to fix the Browns with the assumption that Randy Lerner was going to sit at the top of the organizational chart. That was the crux of my position that Randy Lerner’s outsourcing of himself to Mike Holmgren was one of the best of all possible solutions. It just never occurred to me that Randy Lerner was actually going to sell the team. But he did. And this being a Browns town, this is obviously the biggest story of 2012 in Cleveland sports. [Read more...]

Moving Forward in Berea: Mike Holmgren, legacies and dirty water

In a lot of ways, I’m happy that Mike Holmgren’s services are no longer needed in Cleveland. Given the team’s record over the last three years, I welcome the opportunity to have someone else lead this team. Still, I’m a bit taken aback by some of the outbursts on Twitter and on local talk radio that look to cast Mike Holmgren as public enemy number one. [Read more...]

WFNY Podcast – 2012-10-24 – Defining Holmgren’s legacy

Andrew and Craig discuss Mike Holmgren’s press conference with the media. More specifically, how is Holmgren’s legacy defined today, and how could it change in the future?

  • How much of everything is Randy Lerner’s fault?
  • How much credit should Holmgren get if this roster produces wins down the road?
  • What about Holmgren’s mistakes?
    • Giving Mangini an extra year
    • Hiring Pat Shurmur
    • Going a year without an offensive coordinator
    • General absence on big issues
      • Colt McCoy concussion
      • Peyton Hillis saga
  • How fair is it to crush Pat Shurmur in only his second season
  • Reconciling “best practices” in organizational building with change from the top down

 

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Browns’ Mike Holmgren a no-show in Chicago for NFL owners meetings

Though he represented Randy Lerner in years past, current Cleveland Browns team president Mike Holmgren has decided to bail on his planned trip to the 2012 NFL owners meetings held in Chicago, Illinois.

Since officially stepping in as team president in January 2010, Holmgren had been casting ownership votes on league business on behalf of Lerner. Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan reports that Holmgren was scheduled to make the trip once again, but with the meeting largely focused on the sale of the Browns to Jimmy Haslam III, the team president opted to sit this one out. 

Ruiter adds that, while Haslam is in attendance, it is unclear as to who will represent the Browns at this year’s meetings. Currently, Bryan Wiedmeier, the team’s Executive Vice President of Business, is in Chicago.

[Related: That Sure Was Fun, Wasn’t It?]

Jim Brown re-uniting with the Cleveland Browns this weekend

I know many in Cleveland are tired of hearing from Jim Brown because his truth isn’t always the easiest to hear whether he’s talking about Trent Richardson or Art Modell. Brown seemingly also didn’t appreciate Mike Holmgren’s version of the truth that he didn’t need Jim Brown in his larger adviser role that Randy Lerner had given him before “The Big Show” arrived. All those rifts aside, it can’t be a bad thing to have the greatest Cleveland Browns player in team history involved with the team.

It will be Brown’s first time at Cleveland Browns Stadium in more than two years. He has been at odds with the club since team president Mike Holmgren removed him from his role as an adviser to owner Randy Lerner, who is selling the franchise to Jimmy Haslam III. Holmgren offered Brown a reduced role with the team, but he declined.

So, we’ll see how it all goes. Nice to know that there will at least be a chance to have Brown around the team with Jimmy Haslam taking ownership soon. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if it all blew up again either.

[Also: C.J. Spiller is on fire and headed to Cleveland]

Joe Banner Will Join Browns As Top Executive In October, According To Report

Just minutes before the Browns kick off the season against the Eagles, reports have surfaced that former Philly football executive Joe Banner will be joining the Browns in late October. Jason La Canfora of CBS reported that Banner would come on board as soon as new owner Jimmy Haslam takes full ownership of the Browns.


Banner has long been rumored as a potential exec for the new Browns regime. La Canfora also reported that he had been advising Haslam since before the first meeting with Randy Lerner. He is heralded as a key component of Eagles turnaround and their ascendance to consistent contention. He’ll join back up with GM Tom Heckert, who he worked with in Philly. This adds fuel to the fire that President Mike Holmgren is on his way out.

[RelatedJoe Banner Brings Winning Experience and Tough Decisions to Cleveland]

 

Jimmy Haslam Represents Possibility and Opportunity

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. [Read more...]

Cabot: Joe Banner Will Join Browns Ownership Group

Though the deal has yet to be voted on by the National Football League, Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner will join  Jimmy Haslam in Cleveland once the sale is approved.

Banner, who has declined essentially all comment with regard to the pending sale, worked closely with Browns general manager Tom Heckert, coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress during their collective time with the Eagles. This move, however, would essentially signal the end of Mike Holmgren’s run as team president, as hired by Randy Lerner following the 2009 season.

Holmgren, in the third year of a five-year deal with the Browns that compensates him $8 million a year, has expressed consdierable uncertainty regarding his future, but has told the Cleveland media that he would like to remain a part of a team which he feels is heading in the right direction.

The complete sale of the Browns will reportedly be a two-part process, starting this season, and being finalized within a four-year window.

[Related: A Mild Conspiracy Theory About the Sale of the Browns]

A Mild Conspiracy Theory About the Sale of the Browns

Corporate photo of Jimmy Haslam from Steelers.com

The Browns are sold even if the ink isn’t dry. This much we know. What we don’t know is how it all came to pass. Let’s go through the timeline a bit.

January, Randy Lerner goes on Mike Trivisonno’s radio show to raise his profile. It seemed like Lerner was finally starting to get the need to have his voice heard.

February, Vince Grzegorek does a great piece for Scene on Lerner that was cultivated over multiple meetings with Lerner in Berea over the previous months. One of many revelations in that piece was that Lerner was setting up shop in Cleveland with his son going to school at St. Ignatius.

Instead of spending a couple days a week in Cleveland and the rest in New York, where his other three children live with his ex-wife Lara, the script would be flipped. He would still fly to England on business for his other sporting property — Aston Villa, the soccer team he bought in 2006 — but the majority of his time would be spent on the shores of Lake Erie.

Additionally from Vince’s interview we learn that Lerner considers his team ownership more of a stewardship before saying of the Browns, “I think it should belong to the city.”

June, Howard Eskin reports out of Philly that the Cleveland Browns could be for sale along with the Rams and Bills. We can now pretty well speculate that Eskin was getting his info out of Joe Banner or people close to him.

Just as quickly as the Eskin reports came out, the denial came flying out of Berea via Neal Gulkis.

And then a couple months later, the Browns are sold to Jimmy Haslam III for what is reported to be over a billion dollars total when all is said and done.

So what really happened? [Read more...]

Jim Donovan reports Lerner will retain 30% of Browns

I guess it made sense for Mike Holmgren to specifically say that Randy Lerner was selling a “controlling” interest in the Cleveland Browns if Jim Donovan’s report is true. Donovan claims that Randy will initially retain 30% of the club in his proposed1 deal with Jimmy Haslam III.

Obviously this still means that Haslam will have a controlling interest in the team, but it might or might not change the dynamics of change in Berea a bit.

I know that sounds a bit wishy washy, but there’s really no way to know for sure how much change the new owner and his investing group will deem necessary. It has been speculated widely that Holmgren would be marginalized by former Eagles president Joe Banner. Obviously that leads to more speculation as Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur are the next couple dominoes in line after Holmgren.

So, maybe Randy Lerner’s continued partial ownership will have at least a bit of influence. Only time will tell as we move toward the deal being finalized and as we get to know the players in this new ownership group better.

[Related:A different Shurmur enters his second training camp]

 

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Footnotes:

  1. pending? []

A different Shurmur enters his second training camp

Pat Shurmur talks to media following first day of training camp

The difference in Pat Shurmur year over year is obvious. While it is far too early to see how it translates to the team on the field, there’s simply no doubting he is a different guy than the guarded, often flustered coach that talked to the media every day last year about the percentage of “installation” that had been completed. Simply put, Shurmur often looked like a guy who needed more coffee but dreaded wasting any time because he had so much to do. He wasn’t rude, but he just seemed drained more often than not in the first few days of camp a year ago.

Shurmur spoke to it directly today. A year ago when players walked by him, “I was watching numbers walk by,” he said. “Now as I watch a guy walk by, I know his wife. I’ve talked to him this morning, I know what he did last year. I know how to push his buttons. I know how he responds to adversity.”

When one phase of your job becomes more comfortable though, another phase is likely to pop up and surprise you. The pending sale of the Browns probably isn’t weighing heavier on anyone in Berea more than Pat Shurmur. [Read more...]

Forbes: Browns to be sold for $920 million

Randy Lerner’s father, Al Lerner, bought the Browns for $530 million in 1998. After a decade of losing, Randy was looking to sell the Brownies for a price upward of $1 billion (sweet gig, being a sports owner, eh?). While it looks like Lerner’s billion dollar asking price won’t be met, I’d imagine he’ll be okay with this outcome:

Randy Lerner is in the process of selling the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League to James Haslam for $920 million, according to someone familiar with the deal but who has not been authorized to speak about it publicly.

Lerner had been looking for between $1 billion and $1.1 billion for the team his father purchased for $530 million in 1998. Haslam is currently a minority owner of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and is president and CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J, an $18 billion in sales chain of truck stops.

Last August we valued the Browns at $977 million, 2oth out of the league’s 32 teams. The Browns posted an operating loss (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $2.9 million during the 2010 season. The only other NFL teams to have an operating loss that year were the Detroit Lions. The Browns have lost 67% of their games during their 13 seasons. The only team to do worse over that span? The Lions.

It has been rumored ever since Al Lerner died in 2002 that his son, Randy, who bought the English soccer team Aston Villa in 2006, might sell the Browns. He is believed to be more interested in soccer than football and has pumped over $150 million into the struggling soccer team. Two years ago the team’s fans petitioned Lerner to sell the Browns.

[snip]

The paperwork for the sale has not been delivered to the NFL offices yet. And Lerner has been talking to other potential buyers. But Haslam is by far the furthest along in the process, according to my source. And since he is already familiar to the owners as a minority investor in the Steelers, it is not expected the league will have any objections.

 [Related: So Jimmy Haslem Could Invest In The Browns]

McManamon: Lerner looks to guarantee team can’t move

The first fear any Browns fan has when talking about the team being sold is that they could be stolen1 from the city again as Art Modell did so many years ago. It was most of our instincts to think that Randy Lerner would look to ensure that the Browns would never move, and according to Pat McManamon, that is the case.

According to the source, the sale is contingent on “a complete and unconditional personal assurance that the team can never be moved from the city of Cleveland before he heard any details of the proposal.”

Now let’s hope that this is a legally binding document with some actual substance. I’d hate to think that the future geography of the Cleveland Browns could be a verbal contract.

[Related: Official Statement from Randy Lerner with Regard to Rumored Browns Sale]

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Footnotes:

  1. They weren’t moved. They were stolen. Call it what it is. []

Could Joe Banner be Involved in Browns Acquisition?

Howard Eskin of NBC 10 in Philadelphia (by way of Pro Football Talk) is reporting that Joe Banner will likely be part of the Haslam group that is negotiating with Randy Lerner to buy the Browns.

Banner was most recently the president of the Philadelphia Eagles. He was replaced in the role, but remained a “strategic advisor” to Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Banner spoke to Pro Football Talk last month about looking for a team to target.

Then again, Banner told PFT Live last month that he’s ideally looking for a place that needs a dramatic turnaround.  And it’s not really a turnaround if new ownership turns around and keeps the current G.M. and head coach.

So, with that in mind, we’ll see how this shakes out for the Browns and Mike Holmgren. It might not mean a whole lot for Tom Heckert as he and Banner were together there for a while.

Again, as I’ve said previously, I hope it doesn’t mean a complete re-do of the team structure from the top down. If he plugs himself in as president and retains his GM and at least the style of football the Browns are running like the 4-3 defense, it won’t be so bad. Heaven help us all if we have to live through another defensive transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 as we did when Romeo Crennel came in.

[Related: So Jimmy Haslam Could Invest in the Browns?]

So Jimmy Haslam Could Invest in the Browns?

Corporate photo of Jimmy Haslam from Steelers.com

First of all, let’s just get all the freak outs out of the way. Change is scary. Uncertainty! Screaming! Crying?

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business, bullet point style.

  • Jimmy Haslam is the 55 year-old CEO of Pilot Travel Centers. He is the son of an 81-year-old Jim Haslam II. Randy Lerner’s statement mentions Jimmy so we’re talking about the 55-year-old and not the 81-year-old.
  • So he’s the son of a billionaire. Haven’t we been down this road before? Maybe. Maybe not. Haslam has been the CEO of the company since 2001 and the company has grown since that time. This is not a shot at Randy Lerner. Just pointing out he’s been running a privately held corporation that has a reported 13,000+ employees today.
  • Jimmy Haslam is an investor with the Steelers.1 While that may be disconcerting to some at first, let’s look at what he told Steelers.com that impressed him enough that he wanted to invest in the team. “I was immediately impressed with Art and Dan Rooney’s business acumen and conservative philosophy.” Translation: I don’t want to emulate Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones.
  • Also from that same interview, Haslam says he grew up a Cowboys fan and then became a Colts fan. Presumably the Colts thing is because he is a huge supporter of Tennessee, so naturally he wanted to follow Peyton Manning’s career. Hard to argue with that. Obviously after investing with the Steelers, he became a Steelers fan. [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. “OMG! The Steelers are the Browns’ biggest rival! I’m so scared. Hold my hand!” I thought we were getting this out of our system. []