Here’s more from my Saturday evening telephone interview with Jim Nantz, the lead NFL play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports. Nantz talked about the Cleveland media’s criticism of his close friend Mike Lombardi, hired Friday as the Browns vice president of player personnel. Nantz first defended Lombardi in a Friday radio interview on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan.
Q: You sound upset with the Cleveland media?
A: I don’t think it’s been fair and I definitely know it hasn’t been accurate. Other than that I’ve got no problem with it.
It’s amazing how many things people want to credit or blame Mike for when in some cases he had nothing to do with draft picks, players signed, etc. It’s just not right. Just look at the draft classes of these teams he was part of. ‘Oh, look, he picked JaMarcus Russell.’ He didn’t pick JaMarcus Russell. He didn’t have anything to do with that pick. He didn’t want Russell to be picked by the Raiders. It wasn’t his call on that, but I’ll blame it on him.
The attitude, though, that some people have, that they know more than Mike Lombardi knows about football or know that he would not be a good fit, it’s outrageous.
Q: I went through all the picks of his five years with coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland. They had 40 picks and only one Pro Bowler. I know Mike had different titles during that time, but that wasn’t a very good record. Do you want to say Belichick was doing all the picking?
A: We certainly know that Mike at the time, the youngest general manager in the NFL did not have control, as they say, of the locker room. The man who has control has the power. You really think that Mike sat there and said, ‘Hey, we’re taking this guy, we’re taking that guy.’ You don’t think it was a consensus, you don’t think it was a group effort?
By the way, there were some pretty good things in Cleveland when Belichick was there. They didn’t lose the team until they found out they were going to be moving to Baltimore.
Q: There are so many things we’ve heard about Lombardi from the ‘90s. So you’re saying in this position he’s going to be much better?
A: I don’t have any question in Mike’s ability to scout and evaluate players.
If you put football people in a room, there’s no question who knows the most about football. There’s never a question. To think that somebody in our business thinks they know whether this guy’s qualified or not. Really? Let’s have a debate and we’ll see who will win, who knows more about football.
Q: Those of us who have been critical are looking at some of the Browns’ picks, like Tommy Vardell.
A: Let’s look at all that, let’s break down some of picks. You heard what Joe Banner said about what he did in Philadelphia those two years, so I don’t need to go back to that again. Now he’s with Oakland. The most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL forever. Mike wanted to work for Al Davis since he was a teenager and he got his wish. He worked for Mr. Davis, Mr. Davis wouldn’t even really give him an official title. I know some years there was a title, some years there wasn’t one. But you think Al Davis would let someone make every pick for him? Really. We’re going to blame him for JaMarcus Russell. We’re going to blame him for Robert Gallery. We’re going to blame Mike for all of these, right? Let’s give him credit then for taking a team that was 4-12 the year before he got there and played in the AFC Championship game back to back years just a couple years after he went there. And got his team to the Super Bowl.
Everybody keeps saying, ‘We had an unbelievable draft this year in Cleveland.’ Really? Says who? Says who? They took a flier on a running back with the third pick. Nobody in the league these days goes that high with a running back because so many of them are interchangeable. Adrian Peterson put together the greatest highlight film probably of any running back that’s ever come out. Guys around the league kept saying, ‘We almost can’t believe this guy’ after they’d worked him out. I think he went seventh in the first round. Trent Richardson went third. And by the way, Cleveland got conned into moving up a spot from four to three. And I think Richardson’s good. But I’m telling you, you take a running back in the third position, he’d better absolutely set the world on fire. Now maybe he will. Maybe he will.
(Tampa Bay’s) Doug Martin had a pretty good year. You didn’t need to move up to get Doug Martin; he went (31st). Vick Ballard was a fifth-round pick of the Colts, he only led that team to the playoffs. (Washington’s) Alfred Morris was a sixth-round pick. He rushed for 1,600 yards. If you’re going to be taking a player at three, a running back, you’d better be talking Adrian Peterson.
Then, OK, is everybody thrilled to death with Brandon Weeden later in the first round? Maybe he will develop. I think both of those players caught a real break with (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner coming on board and (Rob) Chudzinski being their head coach because he can make them great. I think Brandon Weeden has ability, I really do. I think Trent Richardson definitely has ability. But people in Cleveland right now are overestimating what their performance was. And by the way, last time I checked they were 5-11.
It’s been interesting, the media made a real push about how great this draft was and that general manager (Tom Heckert) deserved to stay. That was all media-driven. I read all these posts. I read what all the comments are. I’m not seeing the same results that are being said by the media. All everybody wants to do is say, ‘Oh, he made every pick for the Raiders?’ Yeah, really? You think so? You know what it was like inside that building with Al Davis? C’mon, that’s not fair.
Q: Because Lombardi wasn’t in the league for five years, we’re assuming Bill Belichick didn’t offer him a job then.
A: Yeah, well, anyway. I’m just trying to lend some perspective to the Cleveland Browns fans. I think Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner have done an outstanding job of putting a group together, a front office and a coaching staff. It’s the marvel of the league to have Chudzinski, a bright young mind as the head coach, he’s going to be a perfect fit, a Toledo guy leading the way. To have Norv Turner, every team in the league would like to have Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Ray Horton, he could have gotten a head coaching job right now. He’s going to be one of the best defensive minds in the league. And I believe Mike Lombardi deserves to be looked at in the same light. All of this trashing of him has gone overboard. It’s gone beyond overboard in fair and accurate. The point is, everybody needs to feel pretty good about what Mr. Haslam has done. He’s come in here, he’s changed the culture and he’s changed it for the better. I think the Browns are going to be on the way up.
Q: Don’t take this the wrong way, but people remember when you said (in 2009) that Eric Mangini would take the Browns to a Super Bowl.
A: Well, I feel pretty close to this situation. Forget what I have to say, just remember what Bill Belichick said. If you’re out there making smarmy remarks like they actually know, just go back and read Bill Belichick’s comments, then factor in how many times Bill Belichick goes out on a limb and says something like that. Then you put it in the context that he actually took five minutes out of his preparation for the AFC Championship to deliver those comments. I think it says a lot. I think that’s all people need to really know.