Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner spoke about a lot of personnel strategies earlier today with the local media, but what we didn't cover was how much he was asked about Director of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi. Since Lombardi was brought on board, nobody in Cleveland's front office has really commented about the known criticism Lombardi was facing from the media and fans when it was rumored he would be hired.
Had this been a normal press conference, I think Banner would have answered questions more vaguely about Lombardi, while quickly noting his confidence in his talent evaluation ability. Because this was more of an informal talk that the media had with Banner at the NFL Combine, he seemed to be more open in discussing the process, going off of the quotes listed by the Akron Beacon Journal.
When you talk about perception around the league, there’s also perception that Mike Lombardi, vice president of player personnel, is a TV guy who hasn’t worked in the league for five years and that your expertise in Philadelphia was business and contracts. Could you address that in terms of bringing in players?: "I think the people around the country and around the league that know don’t share those perceptions. So I think people in the league know that I was intimately involved in the small group of people who made the football decisions in Philadelphia that led to a lot of success. I think the people that know Mike Lombardi as it relates to his player evaluation ability would feel like it’s a good combination, that we can build a successful organization. I don’t think some free agents or the agents of the free agents are going to be telling them [anything] other than they expect Cleveland to turn around and be successful."
Banner was then asked about the rumors that went on for months last season regarding Lombardi coming to Cleveland, and the "coincidence" that he ended up being brought aboard:
What about the process of hiring Lombardi? There were reports about him for months from pretty credible people that were denied, talked around. Then all of the sudden he was magically hired: "I don’t think they were ever denied. When I was asked, I always said I wasn’t going to get into the specifics of it. So I never acknowledged or denied. My facetious [answer] is a broken clock is right twice a day. So there’s a lot of stories about which there’s a lot of speculation. Occasionally the speculation comes true. It doesn’t mean that it was fact before it became fact. Mike was always a consideration in my mind. He was one of the people I intended to talk to and interview. I knew him well. I had positive experiences with him. But until the end, he was not the guy."
When asked how many people were considered for Lombardi's position, Banner said that he has been sticking with "three to five people" as his answer. He then delved into the fans not wanting Lombardi:
Fans didn’t want Lombardi. Does that concern you at all?: "As I said, I think what people ultimately want is for the team to be successful and to win games. I’d be concerned if people thought we were dishonest. I don’t think you’ll ever experience that with me. I don’t think you’ll every experience that with Jimmy. I don’t think you’ll see that in Chuds. I don’t think you’ll see that in this administration. We haven’t done that. We won’t do that. I think in the end they want us to be right even when we do something they didn’t believe in because they ultimately want to be able to watch the team on Sundays and feel good and be excited and be proud of it."
Lastly, Banner was asked why Lombardi was not being made available to the media at the NFL Combine, and if this would be a regular thing (hearing from Banner, but not Lombardi). Banner was clear that Lombardi will be available to the media in association with certain events:
Why is Lombardi not here?: "He’s here."
Here in the room? Why isn’t he accessible to the media?: "Would that be fun? Video it? I think he’s focused on the meetings we’re having with ourselves and the combine, and I think that’s the best utilization of his time right now."
Is he going to be accessible?: "He will be accessible as we would plan on making the personnel position accessible. So as we get into free agency, the draft and things like that and there are things that would be his area of expertise, he’ll be available."
It won’t just be you speaking for the team?: "No, no, [Lombardi] will speak."
Call me crazy, but I think this is exactly the type of discussion Banner needed to have with the media to inspire more confidence about either his, or Lombardi's, ability to help steer the ship. When I say that, I'm not just referring to the quotes above, but to everything that was said.