BEREA: Browns owner Jimmy Haslam described himself as competitive and passionate when he held his introductory news conference Aug. 3.
Several weeks later, Haslam’s intensity took center stage when CBS captured it on camera during the telecast of the Browns’ 17-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
After rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon dropped the potential game-winning touchdown pass at the Colts’ 3-yard line with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter, Haslam was shown swiping the air in frustration with his right hand. Then after coach Pat Shurmur elected to punt during the following play instead of going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Colts’ 41, Haslam wore an angry look on his face, sat back in his chair and locked his jaw.
Some criticized Haslam for his emotional outburst and others praised him for it. In an interview Thursday morning with the Beacon Journal, Haslam made it clear that he didn’t regret the way he acted Oct. 21 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“The only thing that I want to make sure everybody understood, there was a widespread feeling that my frustration was over a fourth-down call,” Haslam said by phone from Washington, D.C. “My frustration was over the disappointment of a dropped touchdown pass that could’ve won the game. And so in that case, I think I reacted like almost every other Cleveland Browns fan did. Football is an emotional, passionate game, and I’m a huge fan. I obviously have a lot at stake with the Cleveland Browns, and I don’t have the ability to just sit there passively and watch a game when good and bad things happen. And I don’t know that the Cleveland Browns fans want us to quite frankly.”
When pressed about giving a look of disapproval following Shurmur’s choice to punt, Haslam insisted he was reacting to Gordon’s drop.
“That had nothing to do with the fourth-down call, and I made sure that Pat knew and understood that,” Haslam said. “My reaction was simply to the dropped pass. As you remember, I think we ended up losing by four [points] and that would have put us ahead with [6:38] left in the game. So those are the plays you just need to make, and I know next time Josh will make that play. It was just disappointing.”
Haslam’s camera time fueled the widespread perception that Shurmur will be fired after this season. There’s also a popular belief that General Manager Tom Heckert and the front office will be wiped out, too.
So is there any chance that Haslam won’t clean house and hit the reset button?
“I think we’ve been very honest and very open since Aug. 3,” Haslam said. “First of all, we weren’t going to comment on any personnel decisions, and that’ll be the case every year till the end of the year, so that’s the case now. But we feel like we’re making progress as a football team. We’ve lost a lot of close games. We did beat the Steelers [20-14 on Sunday]. We’re 3-8 but could easily be 6-5 or 5-6, so the team is better than it was. It’s the youngest or next-youngest team in the league, and I think we’re making progress.”
Haslam also addressed several other topics during the interview.
QB of future?
Haslam and CEO Joe Banner must decide whether rookie Brandon Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft, should be considered the franchise’s long-term solution at quarterback.
What opinion are they forming about the 29-year-old Weeden?
“I would say it’s a work in progress,” Haslam said. “We’ve played 11 games. We have five games left. Brandon’s a rookie. He’s done some things well. Like all rookies, there’s some things he can do better. And we’ll sit down and evaluate Brandon at the end of the year just like we will every player on the team. Obviously Brandon plays quarterback. So that is without a doubt the most important position on the team.”
Haslam acknowledged that the quarterback decision is among the most vital calls the organization will make.
“I think if you look at the teams that win and win consistently in the NFL and you go back to when I shared what other owners shared with me in terms of what’s important in terms of having a consistent winning team, the first answer everybody gives you is, ‘You’ve got to have a really good quarterback,’ ” Haslam said. “So it’s exceptionally important.”
Jobs for legends?
Since Haslam struck a deal to buy the team from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion, former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar has publicly expressed a desire to work for the organization. In October, he told Miami radio station 560 WQAM he would like a “substantive football role” with the Browns.
Haslam said he’s in contact with Kosar but hasn’t formally discussed hiring him.
“We have not had any talks with Bernie involving any kind of official capacity,” Haslam said. “As you know, Bernie is a Cleveland icon. He and I talk and text frequently. As a matter of fact, I got two or three texts from him last night. But we’ve had no official conversations about any kind of formal role.”
Hall of fame running back Jim Brown also made it clear he wants a role with the franchise when he visited Cleveland in September to attend former teammate Ernie Green’s induction into the Cleveland Browns Legends. Brown and Haslam met that weekend and agreed to stay in touch. But Haslam said he has yet to offer Brown a job.
“I haven’t talked to Jim in the last two or three weeks,” Haslam said. “I did get a congratulatory phone call from him after we won the other day [against the Steelers], and I’m sure we’ll be talking again in the not-too-distant future.”
A Memphis TV station, News Channel 3 WREG, reported this week that former NFL coach Jon Gruden has a contract offer in hand to coach the University of Tennessee football team and the deal would give Gruden an ownership stake in the Browns. Gruden and the Browns denied the report Wednesday.
Haslam, a major booster for Tennessee, also dismissed the report.
“No, that’s completely ... I’m not at all involved in the UT [coaching] search, the UT football search, and that’s a completely erroneous report,” Haslam said. “It was, I thought, almost laughable. Jon Gruden’s a great guy and a great coach, but I have no idea where that came from.”
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.