On Tuesday, Jimmy Haslam announced that Browns CEO, Joe Banner would be phased out over the next couple of months. We also learned that General Manager Mike Lombardi would be fired and that they would promote Ray Farmer to his newly vacated position.
The news shook my world. I awoke to a series of text messages from my brother. All of which arrived around 5am. The announcement stirred the fan base and national media into a frenzy. Locally, it was seen as a welcomed surprise by many fans and media alike however nationally, the news was met with staunch criticism and mockery. Once again, Cleveland was an easy target. Many pointed at the firing of the head coach after just one year, and now the firing of the front office after just one year, as "the obvious dysfunction" in Cleveland. Many in the national media perceived the changes to mean things were only getting worse and that Cleveland was becoming a circus act under new owner Jimmy Haslam.
From the outside looking in, it could appear that way. Why? Because that perception has been reality for years. But let's be clear and fair - what's happened in the past 15 years, and what's going on now, are mutually exclusive. What Haslam does is in no way tied to what was done by the Lerner's or by any of the hires since the return of the Browns.
And to be fair, the changes that transpired over the last year probably warrant criticism. It's not a good look for a franchise desperately needing stability. So when it was announced that Haslam would be streamlining the front office and firing Joe Banner, many in the media immediately assumed the worst. However, we've learned over the course of the week that this is not the case. DawgsByNature site manager Chris Pokorny described it very well here in his review of the situation:
All of it goes back to my point that Haslam saw this disconnect between the pair and had to say to himself, "My god, we have the greatest cap situation and draft pick accumulation that one could ask for. There's no way I'm letting these two guys throw that down the toilet ... especially when I have potentially better and much more well-liked replacements waiting in the wings."
Joe Banner does deserve credit though. He helped negotiate the updates to the training facility and helped merge all the business offices centrally in Berea; he helped negotiate the new stadium renovations that will be completed over the next few years; he brought in some "rising stars" in Alec Scheiner, Shashi Brown, and Brent Stehlik; Banner negotiated the naming rights of Cleveland Browns Stadium with First Energy; he helped position the team with a heap of cap space as well as 10 draft picks in this years draft - five of which are in the top 100 picks; Banner helped orchestrate the acquisitions of Dion Lewis, Brian Hoyer, Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, and Quentin Groves - all of which played a key role in the plan for the team; Banner's signature was all over last years #6 draft pick, Barkevious Mingo; and furthermore, for Browns fans that were not too keen on bringing in Schiano or McDaniels as our next head coach, it appears that we have Joe Banner daps for talking Haslam out of both those ticking time bombs.
Being liked and getting results are two different things. While fans and the league might not have liked Banner and Lombardi's personalities, they definitely left the franchise in better shape in the areas described above. But as time passed, Banner's name was the continued source of much of the "toxicity" that surrounded the Browns. His personality and approach didn't make him well liked by the players, the local media, fans, or those in the league either. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes was Banner's all-in approach for Chip Kelly that ended in failure. While they might have spun the situation to appear they had a back-up plan, it was clear that they weren't prepared with a contingency.
It's been recently reported that Ken Wisenhunt spouted off at Banner during his interview when asked what he knew about putting together a championship roster? Perhaps, although it defies the logic of an interview, perhaps at that point in the interview he had decided he didn't want the job and stood up for himself.
Banner also reportedly trumped those around him and made decisions that didn't fit with the consensus mentality outlined and described from the inception of the front office. According to Mark Kay Cabot, at least one example of this was in last years draft where he trumped the scouts and the other coaches and drafted Leon McFadden in the 3rd round when most everyone else had him rated as a 5th round pick and wanted to take other players. Then, as the year progressed, there were rumblings that Banner wanted Chud to play McFadden, but Chud refused because he wanted to play the guys that gave the team the best chance to win.
Over the course of this past week, we also came to find out that Mike Lombardi - while heralded by some as an immense talent and an extremely smart football scout and general manager - was actually about to be fired by Joe Banner because of the amount of disagreement that existed between the two during the coaching interview process and that Mike knew it. I think Lombardi deserves credit as well. He had a hand in bringing in Hoyer and he had a hand in securing the Trent Richardson trade. Both great moves for the Browns.
Enter the detailed reports from Sport Illustrated's Peter King, Cleveland.com's Mark Kay Cabot, ESPN Cleveland's Pat McManamon, and NFL.com's Adam Schein, each of which depict a much different story than the convenient Browns narrative being churned through the national media's meat grinder. The linked stories above echo that the "wicked witch was dead" and depicted how, in the end, all the negatives Banner brought to the team and spread through the league outweighed the positives. Including the odd twist how Banner was as about to fire Mike Lombardi and that Ray Farmer was going to be promoted anyways.
There is one thing that I am sure about - you can't label something dysfunctional if once you realize there's a problem, you act to fix it immediately. It's only dysfunctional if you realize something's wrong and do nothing about it, or allow it to perpetuate. We found out very quickly that Jimmy Haslam isn't messing around. This is his show. He didn't like the dysfunction between Mike and Joe and decided he didn't want them in charge of the future of the franchise. He recognized the power grab. He recognized that they couldn't agree and find a common consensus, thus splitting the leadership structure. Haslam decided he would assume that responsibility and that everyone would report to him. This was the eventual end game anyways, it was just a matter of time or circumstance before it solely became his rodeo.
Enter Mike Tanier.
I'm sure Mike Tanier is a good enough guy. He was a high school math teacher. He loves the Philadelphia Eagles. He helped put together the Football Outsiders Almanac for several years, wrote for FoxSports and the New York Times, and currently writes for Sports on Earth.
Impressive resume right?
Thanks to Twitter - Mike Tanier, meet Mike Krupka.
What a powerful medium. A "place" where I have been able to connect with so many different football minds and writers, many of whom I never would have "met" or interacted with otherwise. I'm just a student, that's my mentality and approach. I always try to be cordial and professional when I interact with other writers. I try to learn from them and pick their brain. But what I don't like is when these popular national media types just spew their speculation and don't own up to it when they get called out, especially when they are wrong. It happens all the time to the Browns, but I'm not scared to confront it.
Take a look at our conversation below:
Bloom: Pro Football Laureate @MikeTanier sums up the #Browns situation, which is no laughing matter: http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/67643914/joe-banner-michael-lombardi-leave-cleveland-browns
Go ahead and read Tanier's article. Poe's law sucks by the way.
Krupka: When things didn't work out, Haslam had had and learned enough; he cut ties & restructured team to his authority.
Tanier: Or, perhaps they are all a dysfunctional mess and all of this is boat bailing. Which they are and it is.
Krupka: It's clear from the Manning rumors to the NFLNetwork media reports that Banner/Lombardi caused that perception.
Tanier: And the Schiano thing? Maybe Banner and Lombo were trying to save their boss from a grave mistake? No?
Krupka: Perhaps it wasn't advice they gave, rather how they conducted themselves. SI + others detail NFL not liking them. If football coaches and NFL people don't like the guys repping the Browns & making hiring decisions that's "toxic"
Tanier: Banner had a fine rep in Philly and is not, you know, under a massive fraud investigation. I have written about the LomBanner issue before. Firing under these circumstances is still gross, pure incompetence.
@MikeKrupka I have written about the LomBanner issue before. Firing under these circumstances is still gross, pure incompetence.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 12, 2014
Krupka: Perhaps you have a link, but what circumstances deem this specific decision to phase out Banner & axe Lombo gross incompetence?
@MikeKrupka It's obvious unless you have chosen to take a contrarian opinion and defend it tooth and nail. Which you have. Take care.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Tanier: It's obvious unless you have chosen to take a contrarian opinion and defend it tooth and nail. Which you have. Take care.
Krupka: If you have it, I am open to the truth. Why I asked for a link. I approached our discussion professionally w/out venom/emotion. I know you're busy, but I'm a contrarian for providing my opinion & asking for clarity into your perspective on yours?
@MikeKrupka Sigh. Okay.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Tanier: Sigh. Okay.
You don't fire your entire front office seven days before the Combine. You do not fire them after they have hired a coach.
@MikeKrupka You don't fire your entire front office seven days before the Combine. You do not fire them after they have hired a coach.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Right, unless the combine isn't for 10 days and unless the 2.5 week process leading to the decision to name the head coach was marred by such a poor display of professionalism and lack of collaboration on the part of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi that the real issue was illuminated during the decision making process itself. That problem being Joe, Mike and Jimmy couldn't agree on anything and NFL coaches didn't want to do business with Joe, and therefor the Browns.
"One coaching agent told me on Tuesday, "Jimmy (Haslam) had one idea. Mike had another. Joe another one. That leads to confusion and chaos. That's what happened with the coaching search in both of the last two years. That's the turn-off." Or as one rival executive explained to me, "Mike is a great football guy, but he couldn't get many things he wanted past Joe. It just didn't work. Now, with Ray (Farmer), they are back in business."
So let's continue with that chaos. Great dysfunctional idea!
Also, let's be honest, why does firing anyone before the combine matter? It's the combine. It's not the draft.
Lastly, Ray Farmer did play a role in hiring the head coach. Although a small role behind the scenes, Farmer helped gather information on Coach Pettine, and while he didn't hire him directly, Farmer did endorse Pettine.
Tanier: You do not fire them because they would not hire the coach you want, who has proven unhirable anyway.
@MikeKrupka You do not fire them because they would not hire the coach you want, who has proven unhirable anyway.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Fair enough. Banner gave Haslam good advice there. Hard to dispute that. But again you do fire them if Peyton Manning tells you that the guys making the decisions for your team are further smudging the name of the franchise. You also fire them when their inability to work together with other NFL coaches during the search for your head coaching vacancy was specifically responsible for not landing top flight candidates like Chip Kelly, Bill O'Brien, Nick Saban, etc. You fire them when they are the problem.
Tanier: You do not listen to Bill Belichick on the telephone and take his advice over people who actually work for YOUR organization.
@MikeKrupka You do not listen to Bill Belichick on the telephone and take his advice over people who actually work for YOUR organization.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Well, the question is who don't you listen to when, as an owner, you realize the guys the NFL "wed" you with can't be trusted in regards to the coaching search and have been the root of the dysfunction? That's right, the fact that you believe you have to talk to somebody outside the team tells you that something is wrong with the people to which you should be asking advice internally.
Albert Breer - @AlbertBreer: One important detail worth reiterating here on Browns/Belichick: Jimmy Haslam has a summer place on Nantucket, as Bill does. And ... Belichick and Haslam have struck up a relationship. They were pretty friendly before Pats/Browns, too. Makes sense JH would confer w/BB.
Tanier: You do not elevate a career scout with no real experience at this level 6 days before the combine.
@MikeKrupka You do not elevate a career scout with no real experience at this level 6 days before the combine.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Right, here's the "combine is so important" angle again. I mean really, it's the combine bro. Not the draft. And at the time we had this interaction, it was nearly 10 days away. Furthermore, this "career" scout had been referred as much more than just a career scout, take a look at his press conference and at the quotes below:
Farmer has: 1. been w/ org for a year and knows roster, 2. does not have to deal with non-football CEO-type, 3. has three picks in top 35. And, with Ray Farmer's reputation as a good person, more teams/agents/players are going to be willing to deal with Browns.
Albert Breer - @AlbertBreer: Sounds like everything remains positive there, and re-signing Haden will continue to be a top priority for the Browns thru the transition.
Will Burge - @WillBurge: Just talked to 2 NFL scouts who said Ray Farmer is among the most respected young football men in the league. 1 called the move a "home run"
Know. Trust. Believe.
"Yes, Ray is staying," Browns president Joe Banner said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Double good day. We've retained an outstanding employee that we were excited when he decided a year ago to come here, and we're really excited that he decided to stay.
"I've been calling Ray an up-and-coming star, which probably haunted us and tipped off the rest of the league how good he was, so I'll be more careful. He's an up-and-coming star. He's a high, high character, outstanding employee and a really valuable part of our team."
Tanier: You do not suddenly decide your front office is untrustworthy after you trusted them to change coaches after one season.
@MikeKrupka You do not suddenly decide your front office is untrustworthy after you trusted them to change coaches after one season.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
It obviously wasn't such a "sudden" realization. It was brewing as the season came to a close, through the Chud firing, through the media circus that insued, and finally it became so unbearable and obviously unfixable through the most recent coaching search, that something had to be done. Don't let the facts get in the way of your argument though.
Jason Cole: @JasonPhilCole: Banner/Lombardi failed to deliver on promises made about who they would be able get after firing Chud. Sunk them selves. Banner/Lombardi also failed to get Chip Kelly in 2013. Throw in rumors of erratic behavior by Lombardi vs Chud, starts to make sense.
Tanier: And you get 0 benefit of the doubt for your wisdom when your business success is a gas coupon racketeering scheme.
@MikeKrupka And you get 0 benefit of the doubt for your wisdom when your business success is a gas coupon racketeering scheme.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
You absolutely got us there. There's no refuting that. Spot on.
Tanier: And pretty much everyone who follows football, let alone claims to write about it, understands these basic facts... all of which were spelled it in my article and can be found throughout the internet in more detail. But you choose to believe this twisty fanboy logic, and keep trolling away about it with a coy "I just don't get you" attitude. I hope I have made my point clear. And also, the sky is blue and water is wet. And you are a troll.
@MikeKrupka And pretty much everyone who follows football, let alone claims to write about it, understands these basic facts...— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
@MikeKrupka all of which were spelled it in my article and can be found throughout the internet in more detail.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
@MikeKrupka but you choose to believe this twisty fanboy logic, and keep trolling away about it with a coy "I just don't get you" attitude.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
@MikeKrupka I hope I have made my point clear. And also, the sky is blue and water is wet. And you are a troll.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 13, 2014
Krupka: Your lack of professionalism/childish name calling aside, you made some decent points
Signed - "coy fanboy troll wannabe"
@MikeTanier Your lack of professionalism/childish name calling aside, you made some decent points 👍 Signed - "coy fanboy troll wannabe"— Mike Krupka (@MikeKrupka) February 13, 2014
Krupka: Great article by @MaryKayCabot about what happened/why during the FO Shake Up @MikeTanier #Browns http://t.co/NqhDESjzjR #PictureMeTrolling
Krupka: Great article by @PatMcManamon about the FO Shake Up #Browns @MikeTanier http://t.co/yRbeqHsp7Q #PictureMeTrolling
Bottom line is that Haslam saw a problem and moved quickly to fix it. The Browns national perception is only bad because of our track record. We're easy targets and lazy media types always bash our team, but very few admit when their opinions are dis-proven.
That being said, we haven't accomplished anything yet. Everyone in Berea must go out and prove themselves this off-season and upcoming season. The team must improve. The draft and free agency must be fruitful and we must decide on a QB. The team must establish continuity and identity and it must improve in wins. The changes made were not easy ones, but they were the right ones and they were needed to fix the dysfunction that evolved in the Cleveland front office, not create more of it.