On the heels of training camp, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer conducted an interview with Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner. The interview, which lasted more than an hour, is perhaps the most informative characterization of Banner that we have seen to date. He says all of the right things to Pluto, and even with the Jimmy Haslam situation looming over the organization, Banner instills a level of confidence that I never imagined I'd get from him when his hiring was first announced.
You should head on over and read the organized transcript of many of Banner's quotes. There are also two videos in the article that cover about nine minutes of the interview (the video parts are not transcribed in the article). After digesting everything, here are some of the highlights:
- Banner's Perception of Cleveland from His Philadelphia Days: Banner was asked how he viewed the Browns when he was part of the Eagles' organization:
"We viewed Cleveland as a totally untapped, phenomenal football market. The opportunity to do something special is here, but it seems no one has been able to seize it."He acknowledged the fact that Browns fans have been through so much, including losing their team and losing a lot of games, and that because of that, he doesn't blame fans for being skeptical about another front office coming to town.
- All of the Coaching Changes This Offseason: The number of coaching staff changes wasn't anticipated, but it had to happen because they wanted a "relentless mindset that is more than just winning a game or two next season." He also set the bar very high for the type of goal he expects his staff to strive for:
"Some people are intimidated about setting the bar really high. We want to build a Super Bowl team. For some people, that's too much pressure."
- Emulating the Super Bowl Teams: Part of being a Super Bowl contender is emulating the teams that have been there recently, including division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Among the other teams Banner mentioned are the 49ers and the Packers. He stressed that most good teams play an attacking 3-4 defense, and that "every offensive coach we talked to in the off-season said the attacking 3-4 defense was the hardest to face." Being aggressive and throwing the ball down field "at the right time" is the complement to being an attacking team in general.
- Half-Way There in Terms of Talent: Here is an interesting one from Banner:
"When [coach] Andy Reid was hired in Philadelphia, we asked how many of our 22 starters would be good enough to play for us when we compete for a championship? The answer was 11. I think that's comparable here, but I'm not going to name them."Which 11 players could Banner be referring to on the Browns? I'd say Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Joe Haden, and T.J. Ward are nine of those players. The other two could be Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon, but there are issues with both (injuries or character concerns) that make me skeptical. I left off D'Qwell Jackson because his shelf life might be getting up there by time we reach a "championship level."
- Knowing Lombardi Wasn't a Popular Choice: This was directly from Banner's mouth:
"I knew [Lombardi] would not be a popular choice, and it would make me less popular. ... To a fault, I'm guilty of doing what I think is best to win ... and staying strong about it as to opposed to worrying about what is popular. You have to be prepared to make tough decisions, having the guts to stand up and make the decision."
- Who Has the Final Word on Draft Day? So much was made this offseason about who would be the tiebreaking vote on draft day, or who would have the final say on certain matters. Banner was more concise with Pluto about the topic than he has been in any other interview:
"Unambiguously, the answer is me. No matter if I'm making the decision or those we employ are making it, I'm accountable. I'm perfectly willing to take the blame. Hopefully, it goes well, and (everyone) gets some credit."I think it's important for Banner to put himself out there and not let the rumors or suspicions be in the air. Yes, it is still very much a decision process among a panel of four people, but we knew someone had to have a final say.
- The Draft Day Trades: I don't think many of us at Dawgs By Nature viewed the draft day trades negatively, but many Browns fans in general were outraged by it. Banner said he did not expect such a negative reaction, but stood wisely by the team's decision:
"We had a chance to turn fourth- and fifth-round picks in a weak draft into third- and fourth-round picks next season in a strong draft. ... That's a no-brainer."Amen. Banner also said that he never makes a trade unless he feels like his team is getting the upper hand. He said this front office is making the type of deals that you typically haven't seen from Cleveland in the past. He cites that they got picks for Colt McCoy when "the league thought he would get cut," that they got a very valuable player in Davone Bess for practically nothing, and that getting Dion Lewis "was a good move." The last statement about Lewis certainly stands out -- if there were any doubts about him making the roster before, I think Banner just put those to bed.
- Big Spenders in Free Agency: Pluto asked why a bigger impact wasn't made in free agency, to which Banner responded, "we spent nearly $90 million on free agents..." Whether he is to be believed or not, he also said that the Browns were 2-of-2 in getting their top 2 free agents (Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant). He said at least six other teams wanted those players, but they were able to sell the players on the coaching staff, the city, and the schemes. He insinuates that this would not have happened with previous regimes and coaching staffs in Cleveland.
- Hesitation on Richardson, Hope on Weeden: I sensed a little bit of hesitation when Banner talked about Trent Richardson, saying things like, "He wants to be great. ... You don't like to see collective injuries. ... He has to get on the field -- so we'll wait and see." Obviously, I spliced those three quotes together [perhaps unfairly], but to contrast, it was a bit surprising to see him then gush a little bit over their hopes for Brandon Weeden.
Banner said the team likes the hard work Weeden is putting in, and that they've catered the offense to him by making sure they have him "throwing from the shotgun and throwing more downfield." He said they really like how he throws the ball, but now he just needs to focus on the intangibles.
When asked bluntly why they didn't make a change at quarterback, which is the most important position on the field, Banner said they placed a higher priority on turning over the defense and felt that because the offense was so young (in playing years), they wanted to get another look at how everyone developed before making drastic changes there.
- Stadium Renovation: Banner did not get too much into the stadium renovation talks, saying that they wanted to wait until their formal announcement about it, but acknowledged that all of the bathrooms will be repainted to look better, the trash pickup throughout the stadium would improve, better fan engagement theatrics would be on display during and before the game to create an exciting atmosphere, and much more.
- Gordon's Suspension: The suspension for Josh Gordon is a "concern and a disappointment," but he stressed that they also have to find a way to help him through a situation like this and help him focus on becoming a better player.
The videos from the Plain Dealer are embedded below. What did you think after reading/listening to the interview? Did anything stand out to you?