CLEVELAND: NFL icon Jim Brown couldn’t resist gloating about having the last laugh.
Three years after former Browns President Mike Holmgren removed him as an executive adviser to Randy Lerner, Brown is once again a member of the franchise.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam named Brown a special adviser to the organization during a half-hour news conference Wednesday morning at FirstEnergy Stadium. Haslam said Brown will mentor players, become active in the community, especially with inner-city schools, and interact with fans.
Haslam bought the team from Lerner last year for about $1 billion and replaced Holmgren with CEO Joe Banner. Brown, who’s still outspoken at age 77, couldn’t help but chuckle when reflecting on how it all unfolded.
“Here I am sitting with the owner of the Browns, and everybody that thought I had no value is gone,” Brown said. “That’s not taking a shot at nobody. It’s an ironic kind of thing. Here I am, so y’all didn’t get rid of me.”
A rift developed after Holmgren stripped Brown of his executive adviser title in May 2010 and offered him a reduced role. Brown said he felt disrespected and criticized Lerner for failing to deliver the message himself. He also ripped Holmgren in a letter and boycotted the franchise’s unveiling of its Ring of Honor in September 2010.
But after Haslam entered the picture, Brown attended an alumni golf outing at Avon Oaks Country Club in September and expressed his desire to become part of the new regime’s plans. A couple of days later, Brown and Haslam began discussing the idea of Brown rejoining the team in an official capacity.
So when Haslam arrived in town, Brown gained a new ally whom Brown said has treated him and his wife, Monique, with “the utmost respect.” Brown has vowed to reciprocate and offer support, even while Haslam faces legal woes as a result of an ongoing federal investigation targeting his family business, Pilot Flying J, for allegedly running a fraud scheme. Two employees of the truck-stop empire pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud Wednesday, though Haslam has insisted that he knew nothing about the alleged fraud.
“I like the new ownership,” Brown said. “I respect the new ownership. I will stand by the new ownership come hell or high water, and I will be doing everything in my power to help the Cleveland Browns be successful.
“[Haslam] is my guy. I have a relationship with him. I believe in him. I stand behind him. … Jimmy said, ‘I’ll do my own investigation [into the allegations].’ That’s all you can ask.”
Brown, arguably the greatest running back of all time and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who led the Browns to their last NFL title in 1964, also plans to be visible in his new role. He said his Amer-I-Can program, which teaches youngsters life skills, will continue to be fully operational, but the Browns will become his top priority.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time,” said Brown, who lives in Los Angeles. “I’m going to hopefully meet with the coach [Rob Chudzinski], and the meeting with him will give me a good idea what he feels, and where he feels I can be most effective in assisting where he’s coming from. … I’m going to be here quite a bit, and I will be on call to the Cleveland Browns first.”
Brown said he will be more involved in player engagement than any other area, advising them how to improve on the field and how to manage finances and other important aspects of their lives off it.
“Jim carries a great amount of respect with the players,” Haslam said. “He was not only somebody who was a great player, but he’s also recognized as a great man. I see it when he’s in our locker room. I see it when he’s around — the respect. We have a young team. I think he can help them in lots of ways both on and off the field.”
But some question whether Brown is a positive influence because of his well-documented history of off-the-field trouble, including several arrests for alleged assaults on women. Brown was acquitted twice and charges were either dropped or never filed in other cases. In 1999, Brown was convicted of misdemeanor vandalism for using a shovel to break the windows of his wife’s car.
Brown said he was falsely accused of throwing fashion model Eva Marie Bohn-Chin off the second-floor balcony of his home in 1968. A district attorney said there was not sufficient evidence to convict Brown, and Bohn-Chin refused to sign a complaint.
“They said I threw a girl off of a balcony,” Brown said. “That was absolutely false. But it was catchy, and it was provocative, so it caught on.
“We all make mistakes, and then sometimes we’re all accused of things that we didn’t make. So people sort of look at your honesty or your character, and eventually that shines through.”
Brown believes players with checkered pasts deserve shots at redemption.
“There are great cases of change, and I believe that people that want a second opportunity should have one if you pay your dues,” Brown said. “You should not be held forever by that one mistake that you made.”
Brown promised to defy his critics and reward the Browns for giving him a formal role again.
“As I sit here, there’s a reason, and that reason is stronger than anything that says that I shouldn’t sit here,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to cheat. I’m not going to demand something that I shouldn’t demand, and I’m going to give it everything that I have to be helpful in the quest to try and win a Super Bowl. That can be counted on.”
Brown believes the new regime has positioned itself to succeed, and he’s hoping to be part of a turnaround.
“I think the key is the overall approach of the total organization,” Brown said. “I think that you can’t have success if your owner is never around, doesn’t have input. I think it takes an organization from top to bottom to be successful, and I think that the team that was put together here was put together with that in mind.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.