Jimmy Haslam held a news conference at the JW Marriott hotel in Chicago after NFL owners unanimously approved his purchase of the Browns. Here is a transcript from the news conference:
Opening statement: “Obviously a very exciting day for our family and one that I guess like a lot of families we've dreamed about for a long, long time. And what we've come to understand since Aug. 3 since we were introduced in Berea, Ohio, is that it's made even more special by the fact that it's the Cleveland Browns. I had always heard what a great football town and football area Cleveland and Northeast is, but what we've experienced since Aug. 3 has been nothing short of phenomenal. This is truly one of the great iconic NFL brands, and if you think back to Paul Brown and then, of course, arguable the greatest NFL player of all time, Jim Brown, it’s a very special place. As we have said on numerous occasions, we’re gonna do everything we possibly can and work as hard as we possibly can to bring a winning team to the fans of Cleveland. Whether they’re in Cleveland, Northeast Ohio, or one of the many Browns Backers around the country, we’re gonna work hard for them. Somebody asked me the other night if I was excited to win the first game, and I said, ‘Well, of course we were. It was a relief.’ I was excited for the players and the coaches who work hard, put a lot of time in and candidly catch all the grief. But I was really most excited for our fans. As we left the stadium, an hour or so after the game, there were still thousands of people around, and I didn’t no better, I would have thought we’d just won the AFC Championship instead of winning our first game in 11 months. So it’s a great town. It’s a great football community. and we feel very privileged to now own the team. It’s really an asset of the community and we’re gonna do everything we can to increase the value of that asset and candidly the way you do that is you put a winning team on the field.
“I want to comment on three different people. I’ll start with the family group. The Haslam family owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Lerner family. And if you think back to, first of all, the late Al Lerner, who worked so hard to bring a team back to Cleveland, and we wouldn’t be standing here today if he hadn’t done that. Secondly, his wife, Norma, who has become a great friend of my wife [Dee] and I and has been very gracious in introducing southerners to the Cleveland community and it’s been outstanding. And then lastly to Randy Lerner, who I met for the first time on July 2 and who has worked very closely with us during this transition process. So it’s been a great experience with the Lerner family, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them in the future.
“The next person I want to comment on is Mike Holmgren. I’ll be honest. I had never Mike till Thursday night, Aug. 2. of course, knew of him, knew the famous Super Bowl winning coach, et cetera, and on Thursday night, Aug. 2, my dad, my wife and I had dinner with Mike. It was supposed to be an hour dinner and it ended up being about three hours, and we quickly found we had two things in football – and I want to get this right because my wife’s probably listening: family and football. We talked for a long time and had a great visit. Since that time, we have spent hours and hours together. Candidly, I have spent more time with Mike than anybody in the organization, and he has been kind enough to answer hundreds and hundreds of questions about the NFL and pro football and how you do this and why you do this, et cetera. Mike has decided with our becoming the owner that his role would obviously change a lot. Mike was brought in to be the president and I think in a lot of ways the de facto owner. And with us coming in and taking a more active role, Mike has decided to effective at the end of the year to leave the Cleveland Browns and to retire. Mike will work very closely with us over the next three or four months to ensure that this transition goes as well as possible. Mike and I have had numerous long talks, and I know that he has been and still is committed to doing everything he can to help make the Cleveland Browns a better football team. To assist with that transition – and I think of the Browns as a big organization and I don’t think a guy walks out the door one day and somebody takes his place the next day – I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to do things. And so we are going to bring in Joe Banner. Joe will be the CEO of the team. That will be effective on October the 25th. Joe and Mike will work together over the next three, three-and-a-half months until the end of the season to transition in what I would call a seamless fashion to do everything we can to bring a winner to the Cleveland Browns. If you think about the experience that the two of them have, it’s probably over 50 years of experience in the NFL, and I don’t think we could have two better people to help us turn this transition around. So we’re very excited about that.
“I know there will be a lot of questions about personnel and what about this and what about that, and there’s always questions about the head coach, and I will tell you exactly what I told Pat Shurmur on Saturday night and the other key people of the organization. This is the only personnel change we’re gonna make until the end of the season, and I’m not at all saying we’re gonna make changes at the end of the season. But this is the only personnel change we’re gonna make and candidly we felt with Mike deciding that the role no longer fit him, we thought it was important to bring somebody in so we do have a good transition [and] we’re able to hit the ground running after the end of this season.
“We’re a young team. We’ve played six games. We’re 1-5, but if you followed us we could easily be 3-3. We have a lot of football left to play. We played our best game the other day, and we’re gonna do everything we can to support Pat and his coaches and his team for the balance of the season. At the end of the year, we’ll evaluate everybody in the organization just like we will at the end of every year whether we win the Super Bowl or we win two games. That’s our philosophy and that’s what we’ll do. I’ll be glad to answer any questions that you all might have.”
What non-personnel moves might we see right out of the gate?: “We’re taking over the team in the middle of the season. So I think what you’ll see if you’ll see us with a very visible presence. I think you’ve seen that already, and we’re gonna be in Cleveland. We’re gonna be in Cleveland a lot. And I think for two reasons: One, this is the second-largest investment that our family has, the main one being our primary business, Pilot Flying J. And the second is we think it’s important for ownership to be present and to be involved. Like I’ve said -- I’ve said this 1,000 times and will continue to say so – we’re gonna do everything we can to bring a winning team to the Browns.”
Was there any discussion with Holmgren to get him to stay with the Browns, to modify his role?: “I think Mike is, like I said was brought in to do a certain role. And that’s the kind of guy Mike is, and I don’t think he wanted to do a different role. I can’t stress enough what I good relationship we have. Mike will not be in Cleveland every day like he is now at the end of the season, but I think he’s a guy that a year or two years or three years from now, if I have a question about football or a question about how to do something, I’ll feel very comfortable and hopefully he’ll do the same.”
Your reaction when you received applause from the other NFL owners after they voted?: “Well, it’s exciting and it’s fun. On the other hand, there’s 100 people in the room and they’re all looking at you and you’re not sure whether to smile or to look up or look down, but it’s very exciting. I can’t say any different. Our entire family is very excited. It’s a great opportunity.”
Will you and Joe Banner decide what changes will be made and will you participate actively in hiring new people?: “Joe’s gonna be the CEO. He’ll be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company, but any big decisions, we’ll be involved in.”
How did you get affiliated with Joe? Who put that together? How long have you known him?: “Once it became in late July that we might have an opportunity, we started talking to a lot of people who have been involved in football for a couple of reasons, primarily to get up the learning curve. We’ve been in business, done relatively well in that and been around football. But it’s a lot different when you have the responsibility we now do. One of the people that we talked to early on was Joe. We talked to all kinds of different people, some of them very well known and very famous, if you will, and others you probably never heard of. I’m not gonna go into naming any of them. But Joe was one of the ones we talked to early, and I’ve talked to Joe lots of times since then. His track record in Philadelphia is outstanding. His commitment, work, drive, passion and intelligence to help make the Browns a winner is something that we’re very excited about.”
In Philadelphia, Banner didn’t directly have a role in personnel. Will that change in his role as CEO? Will he have an influence in personnel decisions with the Browns?: “Football will report to Joe. We haven’t worked out the details, all the final details, but football will report to Joe as the CEO. We will, as I mentioned earlier, be heavily involved.”
You talked about your relationship with Holmgren. Why would you hire Banner if you don’t have that same kind of personal relationship with him?: “Well, I think we’ve developed a pretty good personal relationship, candidly, over the last three or four months, and we did a lot of checking, a lot of background checking. This is a key hire, right? And, of course, in our prior life or our current life now running a company like Pilot Flying J, we’ve hired a lot of seasoned, senior executives. I think we know that process, know how to understand it and go about it and feel very excited about the hire of Joe.”
Did you try to talk Holmgren out of his decision to get him to stay on board with you?: “If you know Mike, he’s a pretty strong personality, and I think Mike had it in his mind exactly what he wants to do, what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Like I said, we’ve had numerous conversations on the subject as late as Sunday night, and they’ve all been very positive. I think Mike would say the same if you checked with him.”
So Mike didn’t tell you about his decision until Sunday night?: “No, no. It’s something we’ve been working on for the past several weeks and all I’m saying is we had a long conversation Sunday night to work out some of the logistics. And let me just say this, Mike, a lot of you know him, he’s a first-class professional that I’ve enjoyed working with and is, in my truck-stop terminology, if you will, is a really good man.”
When you do sit down at the end of this season to make some big decisions, what will be the criteria to decide future of coaching staff?: “I don’t know that. I would never stand up here and say we have to have X amount of wins or whatever. I think you want to see positive direction, and it’s been a tough year for our coaching staff and our players because, I mean let’s face it arguably our best defensive player, one of our best players missed four games. And if you watched the other day, [cornerback] Joe [Haden] had [one interception]. If Joe had played all four of those games [instead of being suspended], would we have won a couple more? It’s purely speculative. I don’t kow. But it's a young team and it's getting better. I think you want to see improvement, continued improvement, and I think you want to see them play hard. And if you've seen our team, we've played hard every game. The Cincinnati game, Trent gets hurt, we face adversity, they hung in there tough and actually played the best football of all in the fourth quarter the other day, which was great to see.”
How do you assure the coaching staff and front office that they’re not lame ducks?: “I just looked them in the eye and told them that. I told Pat that, I said no decisions have been made, and I’m very comfortable saying that. And listen, these men, they're big boys. They understand the profession they're in, they've been through it before and they understand it. I had a great talk with Pat in his suite Saturday night for about an hour and a half. I think Pat and I have a good relationship. He knows what he has to do and let's face it, the timing of us coming in the day of training camp is not the best in the world, but it is what it is and I've said all along we don't want to be a distraction. I've told Pat, if there's anything we can do let us know. Otherwise, you go out and coach the football team, get the guys ready to play, get them ready to play hard, let's win as many games as we can.”
Can you describe your vision of how an NFL owner should do his job?: “There's a lot of good franchises out there, but I think at the end of the day, and we've talked to a lot of owners as you've heard us say and I think you have to take what works well for others but still be yourself. And we're going to be involved, but I think involved in the proper way. I've said this publicy. I have five people, or did have, that changed Monday, five people that reported to me at Pilot Flying J. They're all smarter than I am, or better at their role than I am and we let them do their jobs. On the other hand, we question them, we push them, we challenge them, and we hold them accountable and I think we'll use that same managerial style at Pilot Flying J. Several people, including one very prominent owner this morning said, 'just use the basic instincts you've had that have been successful in helping build your business and do the same in running your franchise and that feels right to us. Let me say this, we will make mistakes, we're going to make some mistakes and we're going to make some bad decisions. Hopefully they're not fatal and hopefully we can correct them quickly.”
How long will it take you to divest your ownership stake in Steelers?: “I hope not long. We're real close to selling the majority of it and I think that will happen by the end of the month and I would happen that the balance will happen by the end of the year. Art Rooney and the Steelers want to see it happen, we want to see it happen. Once I told Art we were negotiating with Randy, I completely divorced myself from the Steelers, so it's just a matter of getting the financial transaction done, and like I said, we hope to have that done by the end of the year ifr not sooner.”
Can you define your style as an owner?: “I don't know. I haven't ever done this before, so I don't want to pretend to be an expert. And I think you're right. I was talking to another owner this morning, and it's how involved do you get and what coach should do what and what the players should do. We'll just have to learn as we go. I don't have anything set in mind because I've never done this before.”
Is there anything else fans will notice different other than you being out front?: “Well, I think short term no. We have 10 games left so you're not going to change anything now. I think we've been very public in Cleveland that we're going to look at everything -- except the helmet. We're going to look at the uniforms, we're going to look at the stadium but listen, it's all about putting a really good team on the field. If you have a really good team I don't think people care too much about your uniforms. We do want to enhance the stadium and make a great experience for the fans. What that looks like I don't know. I'm not a stadium guy but I do know we're going to look at it ‘cause it's all about the fans."
Does your agreement with Holmgren include a settlement on what’s remaining on his contract of is he just walking away?: “Well, sure, and I'm not going to talk about that. I think it's been a very amicable situation with Mike.”
Will Banner have any percentage of ownership along with his CEO role?: “No.”
Is there any conversation you’ve had with Randy Lerner and any advice he’s given to you?: “Randy and I have talked a lot, and Randy is a gentleman and just like if, and I hope we never sell the team, I hope it's an asset of our family quote forever. But I don't think he's that kind of guy and if I were passing the team onto somebody I wouldn't, either. It's you know do the best you can and enjoy it. I will say this, what Randy told me
the first time I met him is remember that this is really an asset of the community, and I think that's good advice and in our opening remarks we talked about that.”
Do you anticipate any family members being vital parts of the organization?: “I doubt it but we have a large family so you don't know. As you've seen we have a big family and there are a lot of people at the game. Everybody also has full time jobs or is a full time
family person so we'll see over a period of time.”
Do you expect sale to close on the 25th?: “We do.”
Will you introduce Banner Wednesday at the team’s headquarters in Berea?: “Yes we are and thanks for the heads up. Two things that I know you all will be interested in, we are going to have an opportunity to introduce Joe tomorrow at 10 at Berea and Mike [Holmgren] is also going to be available sometime this week. He wanted to figure out, it won't be tomorrow, he'll figure out and [vice president of media relations] Neal [Gulkis] will let you all know whether that's Thursday or Friday or when that might be.”
What are a few of the ways being a minority owner of Steelers paved the way for you or gave you more insight about being a majority owner in Cleveland?: “You all know because you all cover it for a living, the NFL is a big deal and it's a lot of fun and it's exciting. And as a limited partner, particularly with the Steelers where you won a Super Bowl and went to a Super Bowl, it's a great experience, so you have to look and say is this something that we'd enjoy doing and the answer was yes. I've said on numerous occasions the Rooneys are everything as advertised. They're quality people, they do it the right way, they're gentlemen and so you can't help but learn from that. I would consider Art and Dan among our family’s best friends. They're great people.”