BEREA: No one has met Jimmy Haslam, the Browns’ potential new owner.
No one knows how Haslam, a Knoxville, Tenn., native, runs his business, Pilot Flying J, or how much help he had turning his father’s Pilot gas station business into the 11th largest private company in the U.S., according to Forbes.
“He’s a very impressive man when you read about him,” Browns president Mike Holmgren said Friday. “People I have talked to who know him say he’s a tremendous guy.”
No one knows if the tweet by Howard Eskin of NBC 10 in Philadelphia will prove to be true. Eskin said on Twitter on Friday that Joe Banner, who left the Eagles in June after 18 years as team president, is part of Haslam’s group.
On June 7, Eskin tweeted that he heard the Browns were for sale, which was denied a week later by Holmgren. Eskin could be this year’s version of the Baltimore television newsman who broke the story of the Browns’ move in 1995.
If Browns owner Randy Lerner’s sale of controlling interest to Haslam goes through, the fate of the Browns’ franchise is as uncertain as the futures of Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur. But the deal has the potential to give Browns fans what they deserve — a team run by two men at the top who are all in.
It might give them an owner who isn’t afraid to step in front of the television cameras when a crisis arises or when the team is floundering, or even when it’s not. It could give them an owner who wants to be in the public eye, rather than a security-conscious one who lurks in the periphery, visible mainly on Sundays as he slipped into his box or visited the post-game locker room.
It might give them an owner who wants to shake their hands at training camp or at the Taste of the NFL or at the Akron Browns Backers banquet.
None of those things could be said of Lerner, who always seemed uncomfortable in his role, which he was thrust into after his father, Al, died in 2002. His passion for the Browns and their fans could never be questioned. He tried to do the right thing, and spent all the money he could to do it. But his good intentions were undone by questionable hires, especially when it came to coaches. He had to tire of the long and frustrating process of building a winner.
Lerner’s departure could also spell the end for Holmgren after this season, his tenure ending two years shy of fulfilling his five-year contract. But if he leaves, it will likely be with his full salary or a hefty settlement from the ever-generous Lerner.
“My future is bright,” Holmgren said Friday. “That will probably be answered down the road. You control the things you can control and do the best you can. I think we’ve done a lot of great things here in getting to this point, but we’ll see.”
Asked about Banner’s possible involvement, Holmgren said: “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
When he left Philadelphia, Banner said he hoped to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
If Banner is part of the group and Haslam doesn’t want to clean house immediately, Shurmur, General Manager Tom Heckert, offensive coordinator Brad Childress, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple all worked with Banner in Philadelphia. But Shurmur was a virtual unknown who’d spent only two years as offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams when he was hired and might not be attractive to Haslam.
Browns fans didn’t get what they wanted in Randy Lerner, but neither did Holmgren turn out to be the savior they’d hoped. To this point, he’s spent much of his time at his homes in Arizona and California and with his daughters and grandchildren in Seattle. He went to his hometown of San Francisco well before the Browns’ game there last October. He tried not to overshadow Shurmur, his hand-picked choice for coach, even though most would have rather had him at the helm instead. He too often seemed torn by the lure of family and football.
Presumably, that will not be the case with whomever Haslam would select as Browns president.
Haslam should be enthused about his first venture into majority ownership in the NFL and would be expected to surround himself with men and women just as zealous. He did buy a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, which he will have to sell for the Browns’ deal to go through, but that should have given him a taste of how to do things the right way.
As financially stable as the Browns have been under Lerner, there has been more than the team’s record to criticize during Lerner’s 10 years. From the handling of Colt McCoy’s concussion last season to its public relations missteps — which included something as simple as not putting Holmgren at the podium Friday to address the biggest Browns story of the year — the organization has never operated as efficiently or as professionally as outsiders would presume. When it comes to game-day operations, press releases and even pre-game food for the media, they’re outdone even by the short-staffed Cincinnati Bengals.
With the possible sale to Haslam, the Browns could be turned around, both on the field and off. Lerner’s departure would give the Browns’ franchise a chance to become a model of NFL respectability like the Steelers and New England Patriots.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft might have been one of Lerner’s best friends and confidantes, but Lerner’s eccentricities would never allow him to be like Kraft.
Haslam might not be either, although charm could be in the Haslam genes. Haslam’s brother Bill is Tennessee’s governor.
The massive changes that would accompany Jimmy Haslam’s arrival could bring Browns fans the type of organization they’ve deserved since the hastily reorganized franchise returned in 1999. Across Northeast Ohio, fingers should be crossed.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.