BEREA: Randy Lerner walked onto the Browns’ practice field Saturday morning like he owned the place. He still does, but maybe not for long.
Lerner is in the process of selling the Browns to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam III, a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and president and CEO of Pilot Flying J. The deal is on the “fast track” and could be approved in August, Pro Football Talk reported a day after Lerner confirmed his negotiations with Haslam in a statement.
Once an agreement is signed, it must be approved by a vote of league owners. Browns President Mike Holmgren said Saturday the next owners meeting is scheduled for October, but he also acknowledged a special session could be held sooner to approve Haslam’s pending purchase.
“I know negotiations and discussions between Randy and Mr. Haslam, it’s been going on a little bit and they’ve had good discussions,” Holmgren said. “I can’t begin to predict how fast it’s going to move along now. You’ve got accountants and lawyers and all sorts of people getting involved. When that happens, you never know.”
Haslam is in the process of buying the Browns for $920 million, Forbes reported Saturday. Lerner’s father, Al, who died in 2002, purchased the team in 1998 for $530 million.
Lerner had been looking to sell the franchise for between $1 billion and $1.1 billion, according to the report. Last August, Forbes valued the Browns at $977 million, ranked 20th out of the league’s 32 teams.
Former Philadelphia Eagles President Joe Banner is involved with Haslam’s group, Howard Eskin of NBC 10 in Philadelphia tweeted Friday. Banner will serve as part owner and possibly president of the team, the Plain Dealer reported Saturday.
In other words, Holmgren’s days with the Browns might be numbered. Other significant changes could also be on the horizon, but with the season fast approaching, coach Pat Shurmur and his assistants should get a chance to prove themselves to Haslam and Co.
“We’re gonna play a game in a couple weeks,” Holmgren said. “There’s not gonna be a lot of things happening right away, I wouldn’t think.”
Browns General Manager Tom Heckert, in a radio interview with WTAM-1100, acknowledged the recent news of a sale has affected the front office and other members of the organization.
“It does. It affects a lot of people’s lives,” Heckert said. “Right now, we can’t worry about it. We’re focused on the football team. I’ve talked to a lot of players about it. It happens in this business and we all know it. Whatever happens down the road happens. We think we’ve built this thing the right way, and that’s all we can do.”
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said the coaches and players are trying to focus on meeting their high expectations for a legitimate turnaround after limping through last season en route to a 4-12 record.
“Honestly, coaches are a lot like players,” Fujita said. “We’re really a bunch of lab rats. We’re a bunch of hamsters who get on the wheel. We come into work, we’re handed a schedule and we just grind. So you have to do your best to block out all those kind of distractions and just go to work. Football is the best distraction from all the other stuff.”
Lerner chatted with Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur as he watched the first practice of training camp open to the public.
“We haven’t talked about really anything beyond being informed of what’s going to happen,” Shurmur said. “So now it’s a process.”
Holmgren said Lerner and his son Max, who’s on the verge of entering his sophomore year of high school, moved back to New York after living in Cleveland last year when Max attended St. Ignatius.
Holmgren said Lerner “was in a pretty good mood” Saturday, but selling the team isn’t necessarily easy for him.
“He’s an emotional guy,” Holmgren said. “He loves this place. Anything like this is going to be a very tough, emotional decision.”
Fans are emotional, too. After Holmgren finished his motorcycle rally with about 325 fellow bikers on Saturday afternoon, he spoke to them as they gathered at the team’s headquarters. When he guaranteed the Browns would not leave Cleveland despite the looming change the crowd let out the loudest cheer of the day.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.