During a phone interview tonight with the Beacon Journal, owner Jimmy Haslam vowed to remain heavily involved with the Browns despite returning to his former role as CEO of Pilot Flying J. Click here for the story and read below for the transcript from the interview:
Q: How will you reassuming your role as CEO of Pilot Flying J affect the Browns and the time you spend in Northeast Ohio?:
A: “I think it’s a fair question. I would say this: We were introduced in Berea on Aug. 3, right? And I was CEO of Pilot Flying J all the way through Dec. 31, and really for the past five or six weeks have not been. Hopefully you and the fans and everybody involved could see beginning in Berea on Aug. 3 and going really all the way up to the present and certainly through the end of the season that we were heavily involved and very passionate and very intense and have proclaimed many times we’re going to do any and everything we can to bring a winner to the Browns. I think there’s absolutely no difference. We went through the last season in the same situation. We obviously feel great about the new team we have in place both on and off the field, and we’re excited to get into free agency, get into the draft, start moving forward to the 2013 season.”
Q: You once referred to former Browns President Mike Holmgren as the team’s “de facto owner” because Randy Lerner wasn’t very visible. Now fans are afraid CEO Joe Banner will be a de facto owner and you won’t be very visible.
A: “Yeah, that’s a fair question. But I would just reflect back to last season. I was the CEO of Pilot Flying J, right? I’m not saying everybody will agree with every decision we made, but hopefully they could see we were very involved, very hands on and cared deeply about the Cleveland Browns, Northeastern Ohio and restoring a winning tradition to the area.”
Q: Will you be involved in free agency, the draft and all the key decisions this offseason.
A: “Absolutely. We’ve got a meeting, the week after next on the 19th, an all-day meeting on free agency. And we will be heavily involved in all key decisions just as we described, starting with free agency and then proceeding up to the draft.”
Q: But you won’t go the NFL Scouting Combine, right?
A: “Yeah, that’s correct. But I never planned to the combine. The football guys will go to the combine, and we’ve already begun our planning for both free agency and the draft. It’s premature, No. 1, you can’t comment on free agency. The NFL doesn’t allow it. It would be premature to comment anyway on either free agents or the draft, but I can assure you [vice president of player personnel] Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner and the team are working extremely hard to evaluate free agency and the draft. I will be involved at the appropriate time in those decisions.”
Q: Will you go to owners meetings, including the one coming up March 17-20 in Arizona?
A: “Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ll be at the owners meeting for three days. I’m on the business ventures committee. We meet Feb. 27 down in Miami. There’ll be no difference at all. Hopefully you felt that we were involved in the proper role this past season, and I anticipate our role being even stronger this season because we really didn’t assume full ownership till mid to late October.”
Q: You have been visible and involved since August. Lerner wasn’t as hands on during his reign. Fans were excited about that type of change and now they’re afraid things won’t be much different after all.
A: “You can assure everybody we’re going to be extremely involved. One, we have a huge investment. And two, I think more importantly, we want to win and we want to bring a winner to Northeastern Ohio and Cleveland. We believe that’s very doable. … Hopefully you know us well enough to know and understand that we’re going to be involved. We have a great team at Pilot Flying J. I’m still involved there. I feel great about the team we put in place at the Cleveland Browns, but we’re going to be involved there at the proper level at the proper time. This business is all about people decisions, and we’re going to be involved in those key people decisions.”
Q: A lot of people in Northeast Ohio freaked out when they read your quote in the Knoxville News Sentinel saying running Pilot Flying J is your "first love."
A: “See, that’s where I grew up. You have to remember I’ve worked in the family business since I was 13 years old, OK? And I realized when I stepped aside how much I liked it. But I think you have, I know you have, and hopefully a lot of the fans have been around me enough to know that we want to win. And we want to do it the right way, and we want to bring a winner to Cleveland consistently for a long period of time. I’m more committed to that now than I was Aug. 3 [during his introductory news conference]. I think I have a lot to learn as a rookie owner, but I think I know a lot more now than I did on Aug. 3. And I should know a hell of a lot more a year from now than we do now, right? I think that’s how life is and how things work. … I think I said early on Aug. 3 I was going to split my time between Knoxville and Cleveland, and that’s no different. … I appreciate it that the fans care so much. You know what I mean? So I’m glad and proud that we own a franchise where the fans are so passionate and care. If the attitude was ho-hum, it wouldn’t be any good. You know what I mean? I’d be disappointed. We’re appreciative that the fans do care so much and are concerned.”