By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has made more sweeping changes to his organization with a blockbuster shakeup in the front office.
CEO Joe Banner will be stepping down in the next two months as he transitions out of his role, General Manager Mike Lombardi is leaving the organization and Assistant General Manager Ray Farmer has been promoted to GM, Haslam announced this morning.
Farmer will immediately take the over the team’s football operations and lead the Browns during free agency and the draft, which runs May 8-10. The Browns have 10 draft picks, including two in the first round (Nos. 4 and 26 overall), and the NFL Scouting Combine will begin next week in Indianapolis.
Farmer interviewed for the Miami Dolphins’ GM job last month and was a perceived favorite to land the gig, but he withdrew from consideration. He insisted he didn’t know he would receive this promotion when he made the decision that the Dolphins’ gig “was not right for” him.
President Alec Scheiner, meanwhile, will continue to be in charge of the Browns’ business operations.
During a news conference this morning, Haslam said Farmer, Scheiner and new coach Mike Pettine will report directly to him. Haslam said Farmer would have final say on the 53-man roster, and Pettine would have final say on the game-day roster.
“Joe [Banner] and I after lots of conversation mutually agreed it was best for the organization if we streamlined things, where accountability, reporting lines were much clearer,” Haslam said. ... “We will not have a CEO, and those three people will report directly to me.”
Haslam said he would be more visible at the team’s headquarters in Berea as a result of the changes.
Farmer, 39, is a first-time GM and has never run a draft. Still, he now has control of roster decisions as the Browns are in the midst of what Haslam previously dubbed “the crucial offseason.”
Farmer believes he’s qualified to call the shots in the draft.
“I believe I’m ready, and running the draft is as simple as the process,” Farmer said. “You have to have a process that you create that answers all the questions in advance. The hay is in the barn by the time you actually get to picking players. It’s the process that you go through to get to that point. So I think I’m definitely solidified in that process. I’ve been involved in that process numerous times and will be prepared when it’s time to select the players -- players that fit what Coach Pettine wants to do.”
Banner had been in charge of the Browns’ football operations since October 2012, when NFL owners approved Haslam’s $1.05 billion purchase of the franchise. Banner then hired Lombardi as the organization’s personnel chief on Jan. 18, 2013.
All of these changes come on the heels of Haslam and Banner firing coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29 after he went 4-12 during his lone season on the job.
“I will accept comments and criticism about change, and I’ll accept responsibility for some of the changes that have been made,” Haslam said. “There is no primer for being an NFL owner. It is learn on the go. But I think what’s really important is for all our fans to understand that this ownership group, our family and this owner is committed to bringing an owner to the Browns.”
The Browns hired Pettine on Jan. 23 after embarking on a 25-day search for Chudzinski’s replacement. Banner gushed about the Browns’ other head-coaching finalist, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the day Pettine was hired. But the Browns hired Pettine instead of waiting until after the Super Bowl to interview Quinn a second time.
Haslam downplayed suggestions that the way the coaching search was conducted led to him ousting Banner and Lombardi. Haslam praised Pettine and emphasized his belief that the Browns hired the right guy.
“The reports of [coaching candidates] not wanting to talk to us are inaccurate,” Haslam said. “I think most importantly, I think we got a great head coach. I said that when we were up here three or four weeks ago and I feel even stronger watching Mike work, watching his leadership and watching the staff he’s put together.”
Farmer, who said he has a four-year contract, expressed extreme confidence in his abilities to succeed despite Haslam’s history of quick firings.
“It doesn’t bother me one iota,” Farmer said. “It’s about getting the job done and getting it done right. So I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do which is try to find the players to make this a championship level club. It doesn’t motivate me. [There’s no] fear or being scared or being motivated by a change could come. It’s the National Football League. Some people say it’s ‘Not For Long.’ Some people say it’s the ‘No Fun League.’ People have all kind of little anecdotal pieces that they’ll put on that. But my job doesn’t change, and I think the stress that I put on myself is really what I’m focused on – making sure that I work hard every day to get the most out of each moment. So if I do those things, I believe the results will bear themselves out.”
Farmer conceded he wasn’t a part of the group that conducted head-coaching interviews last month, but he researched Pettine and was part of the process in that capacity. Farmer insisted he has a good relationship with Pettine and will strive to acquire the type of players who’ll fit into the coaching staff’s systems.
“Between me and Mike [Pettine], we will work in collaboration,” Farmer said. “I think both of us have our ideas of what needs to happen. ... It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach, so I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure that we find the right players for him to succeed with.”
Haslam released the following statement:
“First of all, we wanted to capitalize on the knowledge, experience and character we’re fortunate to have in Ray Farmer. Ray has a tremendous football IQ, he’s compelling, and he understands the types of players we need to acquire and develop in order to win in Cleveland. He embraces his partnership with Mike Pettine, which is critical in helping build the right team. Ray will provide excellent leadership in our front office.
“We appreciate Joe’s contributions to the Cleveland Browns, especially in helping us as new owners. He was committed to creating a successful organization and bringing in talented individuals. We thank him for his work and dedication. We wish him and his family the best.
“Alec will continue in his role as President of this team. I think he’s one of the most intelligent and innovative young executives in the NFL.
“We’re also grateful for Mike Lombardi’s efforts and commitment since rejoining our organization. He is an experienced and creative NFL executive with a unique ability to see the big picture. He has tremendous instincts and I know he’ll be a valuable addition to any NFL organization. We simply wanted to give Ray this opportunity that he’s earned. We wanted to move forward under his leadership and capabilities.
“The purpose of these moves is to unify our team with one, unequivocal goal: Provide our fans with the winning organization they have long deserved.”
Banner released the following statement:
“It is bittersweet leaving the Browns organization. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Jimmy Haslam and helping him set the infrastructure for this franchise. I am proud of the talented individuals we brought in to help lead this team and feel that the Cleveland Browns are in good hands moving forward.”