Bryan Broaddus has an intimate knowledge of what Browns CEO Joe Banner sees in Mike Lombardi, and it all goes back to their days with the Philadelphia Eagles.
But Broaddus realizes the majority of Cleveland sports fans don’t share Banner’s view. Broaddus knows most of them are not pleased about his dear friend, former co-worker and the best man in his wedding, Lombardi, returning to the Browns as vice president of player personnel.
“They hate him,” Broaddus said during a phone interview Friday evening, hours after Lombardi’s introductory news conference at Browns headquarters in Berea.
Lombardi joined the Browns as a scout in 1987 before rising to director of pro personnel in 1989 and director of player personnel in 1993. In coach Bill Belichick’s five drafts from 1991-95, the Browns were never slated to pick lower than 10th overall but selected just one Pro Bowler.
Lombardi and Belichick also chose to cut quarterback Bernie Kosar in 1993. Lombardi made a point to tell reporters Friday that Kosar called him to congratulate him on his new job.
“I think Michael had to make a lot of his own mistakes,” said Broaddus, a former NFL personnel man who’s now an analyst for the Dallas Cowboys’ website. “I think there were things that he regrets that happened in Cleveland. There are things that he should have maybe handled a little bit differently. Maybe the decision he made wasn’t the right decision.
“Maybe he should’ve done some things differently, and I think he would admit that. But he’s grateful for the second opportunity. I think Michael now has a real good understanding in his mind, ‘OK if I got another opportunity, the mistakes that I made here, I would do this differently.’ ”
Still, with all the draft missteps the Browns took on Lombardi’s watch, the fact he hasn’t worked for an NFL team since the Oakland Raiders fired him in 2007 and the lack of other organizations pursuing him, many Browns fans believe this is a recipe for disaster.
On Friday, Banner said, “I understand that I’m going out on the limb by myself” by hiring Lombardi, who spent the past five years working as an analyst for NFL Network. But Banner is willing to do so partly because he has a much different perspective than Lombardi’s critics.
Leaving an impression
Banner remembers the work Lombardi did as a member of the Eagles’ personnel department from 1997-98. In early 1997, Lombardi joined the Eagles as a pro personnel consultant, and Broaddus was hired as the organization’s college scouting administrator.
Lombardi and Broaddus ran the 1998 draft together and picked three-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Tra Thomas 11th overall; four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter in the third round (No. 72); one-time Pro Bowl return specialist Allen Rossum in the third round (No. 85); and one-time Pro Bowl special teamer Ike Reese in the fifth round (No. 142).
They also picked defensive end Brandon Whiting, who became a regular starter for the Eagles for four seasons, in the fourth round (No. 112). And a month before the draft, Lombardi was credited for negotiating with New York Jets coach Bill Parcells and trading second- and fifth-round picks in exchange for three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas.
Banner called it “one of the best drafts you’ve seen anybody have” and said it laid the foundation for the Eagles’ four consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game from 2001-04.
“A lot of what differentiated Mike [was] the idea of building teams versus picking players,” Banner said. “There are a lot of teams in the league that pick players and don’t really have a clear understanding of the difference between doing that and assembling a team where people complement each other. You’re creating the right culture, attitude, work ethic, picking players that fit your particular program as opposed to just picking good players that end up making personnel people look good necessarily and not necessarily making the team any better.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mike. I’ve stayed in touch with and had a relationship with Mike since we worked together. I know the effectiveness when we were together as well as the years of talking before and after drafts, what players we liked and didn’t like. I feel like I have firsthand knowledge on his ability to evaluate players, which is the most important thing he’s going to do.”
So why did the Eagles fire Lombardi a month after the 1998 draft?
Broaddus said Banner and owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted to build a culture similar to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so they hired Steelers personnel executive Tom Modrak as the Eagles’ director of football operations. Shortly after Modrak arrived in May 1998, Lombardi and Broaddus were shown the door.
“I don’t blame Jeff Lurie or Joe Banner,” Broaddus said. “That’s their prerogative. It’s their football team. But I think the one thing that Joe Banner learned from the whole thing was Michael Lombardi was a pretty damn good personnel guy.
“The guys we drafted in that ’98 draft, once they saw that these guys were two years into the thing, [they thought], ‘Wow, they actually did do a good job. They did hold this thing together. They did have a good eye for these players.’ ”
Perhaps Banner gained a greater appreciation for Lombardi after he saw the fruits of the 1998 draft develop. They have reunited 15 years later in hopes of achieving similar success.
Banner said he, Lombardi, new coach Rob Chudzinski and owner Jimmy Haslam will collaborate in an effort to reach consensus on roster decisions and find the types of players the coaching staff wants. Neither Banner nor Lombardi would reveal who has final say on such matters, but Haslam announced Oct. 16 that football operations would report to Banner, so he’s expected to have the ultimate power. That’s a concern for some because Banner was primarily known for being a salary-cap manager and contract negotiator during his 19 years in the Eagles’ front office, not a talent evaluator.
“I see them working together,” Broaddus said. “I don’t see this as a power grab or anything like that. I see Michael putting together plans, putting together draft boards and free-agency strategy. … Joe will fight you on players. He fought us on the draft. He fought in a good way. He didn’t fight in a bad way. He was very vocal about what we were looking at and what he saw. I think that’s what they’re trying to get to. They’re talking about consensus, and that’s surely what we did in that draft. There was discussion. There was debate. You kept it in the room, and you didn’t take it personally.”
Lombardi said it’s the best approach and the 1998 draft is evidence.
“I like working with smart people,” Lombardi said. “I like people that challenge you and make you answer questions. I think Joe is always good at doing that. I don’t take offense to being asked questions. I think that draft was about a lot of us working together in a collaborative effort to build the best thing we could.”
Browns special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor received a two-year contract extension that locks him down through 2015, USA Today reported. … Haslam was asked Friday about his reaction to Chip Kelly deciding to leave the University of Oregon to coach the Eagles after flirting with the Browns during their coaching search a few weeks ago. “I didn’t really have [a reaction],” Haslam said. “I’m not worried about any other situation. We’ve got a lot of work to do here.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.