If Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was telling the truth on Saturday, Browns fans have reason to celebrate.
In the NFL, two things are critical to success: Consistency and a franchise quarterback. The Browns are still seeking the latter, but appear to have found the former.
Today, in his first press conference of the 2015 season, Haslam stated his desire to keep Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine, regardless of the results on the field this season.
Haslam spoke on a variety of other topics, but his purposeful declaration of faith in Farmer and Pettine was the highlight of the presser. Haslam's main quotes are laid out below, but you can read a full transcript here.
Asked if he'll consider blowing things up at the end of the season if certain results aren't achieved, Haslam said:
"We’re not going to blow things up. I think we’re on the right track so we’re not going to blow things up. I understand why people might ask that after a couple of bumps in the first couple of years, but we are not going to do that. I think we’re putting a good foundation in place. The first year we were here, the draft was not what we wanted. I think the second year was better, and a lot depends on how the two first rounder’s do, right? If they turn out to be really good players, then we had a tremendous draft last year or two years ago. If one of them makes it, we had a good draft; if neither of them make it; it’s ok or just so-so. I think this past year we had a really good draft. We added 12 players, two of them might be redshirts, and we have 11 picks this coming year. If you have that many picks and you pick good talent and can coach them, over a period of time we’re going to be successful."
As Browns fan know well, the offseason was filled with media reports of unhappiness in Berea. Jason La Canfora, Tony Grossi, and several national outlets wrote about the dysfunction in the front office.
Haslam struck down these reports on Saturday.
"I struggle with those comments because they’re totally inaccurate and irresponsible. I don’t think they were worth commenting on then and I don’t think they are now. People who pride themselves on getting it right and holding us accountable, we accept that responsibility. At the same time, they need to hold themselves accountable and make sure what they report is accurate. Some of the comments about people in this building not getting along are just totally inaccurate."
"Textgate" was a significant sticking point for many this offseason, but Haslam dismissed it as a non-issue.
"Ray Farmer is the same all the time. He is totally absorbed with football and absorbed with winning. You all know him well. He’s a quality person. He made a mistake. He admitted his mistake and cooperated fully with the league. He regrets it 100 times more than anybody else does, and we’re ready to move on. We never talk about it. The only time I ever think about it is when you all ask a question. It’s a total non-issue in our building."
Along with Textgate, many wrote that Farmer and Haslam don't work together well.
There might be a kernel of truth to these reports, but Haslam denied these rumors.
"The reports of them not getting along are just totally inaccurate. They work together well. I am with them every day I am here. They work together exceptionally well," Haslam said. "They are both quality people. They are both smart. They work hard and they work well together. I enjoy working well with both of them ... I think we have the right people in place to over a period of time be successful."
Just like the offseason, the 2014 regular season was a mixed bag for the Browns. The team started strong, but the roof caved in at the end of the season, leading to five straight losses.
Haslam didn't excuse the long losing streak, but didn't call last year a failure.
"I think I talked about the qualities they have earlier. They’re quality people, they’re smart, they work hard and they have been around football all of their lives. If I had said this time last year we were going to be 7-9, you all would have said that’s pretty good. The problem is we lost our last five and we get that and understand that. We’re not pleased with it, and I don’t want to say that. At the same time, I think it’s unfair to say you have to win X amount of games because injuries happen, schedules are harder, easier than you think. It’s a tough league. You have to look at the body of work over a period of time. I feel good about where we are versus two years ago or even a year ago."
Haslam actually called the end of last season a confirmation that he found the right coach in Pettine.
"NFL coaches, one of the things they have to do is get their players to play hard all year. It’s a grind. We’re here on August 1 and we’ll be talking again whenever our last game is January 3 and it’ll be cold. That’s a long time from now. People get hurt, things happened and you’re under a lot of criticism. I think the testimony to Pett is that we go into Baltimore 7-8, Connor Shaw playing quarterback and a lot of people hurt. We lost the game, but we’re ahead 10-6 going into the fourth quarter and the guys played their tails off. I think that’s what head coaches have to do, and I think Pett did a great job with that."
Speaking of quarterbacks, Haslam had plenty to say about the state of the position.
Most notably, the Browns' owner affirmed that the team is not giving up Johnny Manziel quite yet.
"I think we are pleased that Johnny did the things that he should do in the offseason. It was a great improvement over his first year, but anything less would have been totally unacceptable. He is working hard. To play pro football, you have to be a pro, particularly when you play the position he does. He has to work hard every day on and off the field. He is making progress, but he has a long way to go. We are obviously pleased with the offseason ... Everyone forgets that he is barely 22-years old. He turned 22 in early December. He is still young. I think over the next couple of years, we have to see if Johnny can be a legitimate quarterback or not. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him or our coaches to say it has to happen this year."
Speaking further on Manziel, Haslam is impressed by Manziel's improved conditioning.
"Physically, he looks a lot better. He looks like a pro athlete should. He is clearly engaged this year. I think (quarterback coach) Kevin [O’Connell] in particular is working all four quarterbacks hard, including Johnny. He is clearly engaged this year."
While Manziel develops, Haslam is content with Josh McCown.
Haslam admitted that he knew little to nothing about the veteran when the team signed him, but likes what he's seen so far.
"I think in Josh you have a guy who’s played in the league and who is experienced. We are clearly putting together a team that is not totally reliant on great play out of the quarterback. We think we are going to be very competitive this year. Despite what everybody reads and says, we haven’t given up on Johnny. We think he has potential to be a good football player. Having the potential to do it and doing it are two different things. I think we have said numerous times that you are not going to win consistently in this league without a good quarterback. We are trying to make that happen."
As the Orange & Brown Scrimmage quickly approaches, Haslam commented on the club's excitement at playing in Columbus.
"I don’t think that has been finalized. [President] Alec Scheiner is continuing to work with the people in Columbus. I think there are some details to work out. We are excited about going down to Columbus and letting our fans in the middle part of our state see a scrimmage. It sounds like we are going to have a great showing of fans on Friday night. We’re looking forward to doing that. We’ll see if things work out in the future."
One of Haslam's most interesting quotes dealt with the organization's goals for the future, and its recent progress.
Haslam believes the Browns have made significant strides since his arrival.
"I think Pett says it best, ‘In this game, you are judged by wins and losses,’ and as he says, it is a pass/fail league. I think we came in with three goals. We will save the wins for last. Be a good participant in Northeastern Ohio. With [Owner/President of the Cleveland Browns Foundation] Dee [Haslam] leading the charge, we have done a nice job there. I think we said we wanted to provide our fans with a great experience. We spent $120 million on the stadium and we are changing uniforms, playing in Columbus and playing in Akron last year. We are doing a lot of things like that. The ultimate goal is winning, and until we consistently win in our division, which everyone knows is a challenge, none of us, including me, are going to be happy. We understand that we have a long way to go there."