The 16th Annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards took place Thursday night in at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel Grand Ballroom. Desmond Howard was the emcee for the event, and the "Professional Athlete of the Year" award went to Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James, who beat out Gary Barnidge and Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley. (Aside: Last year's winner was the Indians' Corey Kluber, and the year before that was WR Josh Gordon). Jim Donovan, the radio voice of the Browns, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.tight end
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam were also present at the event, and the former fielded questions from the local media for about 12 minutes. Much of the talk focused around the hiring of Andrew Berry as the team's Vice President of Player Personnel, but there was also some talk about QB Johnny Manziel, WR Josh Gordon, defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and Hue Jackson's role at the Senior Bowl. I have transcribed Haslam's interview below, and the video of the interview from the Akron Beacon Journal is also at the bottom of the text if you are interested in listening.
(What are your thoughts on the assembled front office you have now?) "We're really excited. I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Sashi [Brown] and Paul [DePodesta] because we worked together during the search, we were together 24/7 during that time period. We spent two different sessions with Andrew [Berry]. He came up to Cleveland some time last week and spent several hours with us. A couple of our people had met him before, but it was the first time that Dee and I had gotten the opportunity to meet him. Then he had dinner with Hue [Jackson], Sashi, and myself on Monday night in Mobile, and much like when Paul, Sashi and myself had interviewed Hue, it just felt really comfortable talking to and working with him. He's very bright and very energetic. I know the question is 'he's only 28 years old!' but we checked references on him extensively like we did on Hue and they came back extremely positive. I think he'll be a great addition to our team. He'll start Monday and we're really excited."
(How many candidates did you guys interview for that position?) "I won't be exact here but...7, 8, 9? We had good interest, and just like the coaching search, you learn a lot just by talking to people who have been in football a long time; everybody has a different perspective. Some were former GMs, some were scouts -- different jobs. We learned a lot, it was very productive and we were pleased with the people we talked to, but we felt like Andrew was the best fit for us."
(Is there any concern that you are a little light on experience in evaluating college talent? Andrew comes from more of a pro background.) "First of all, when you're with an organization, Dan Saganey [Manager, Pro Personnel] does pro work for us, but he also does a lot of college work too, and Andrew has been in the same boat too. He does have that background and that experience. I think what people miss though is that we've got 17 or 18 scouts out in the field. We have older individuals who have been in the business a long time, and younger people who are newer to the business and have done a lot of college work over the last several years -- some for many years. We feel like we've got a good group put together and we're excited to see what they can do."
(Those scouts you refer to, they were all put in place by Ray [Farmer]. I know they are under contract through the draft, but what happens after the draft?) "These guys are all adults. We had dinner with them Monday night -- I had two dinners Monday night, an early dinner and a later dinner. The late dinner was with the scouts, and we had a great, productive session. They're all focused right now on finding us great players we obviously need for the draft. That's what everyone in the organization is focused on right now."
(I've had readers ask me what was Andrew's role in the Trent Richardson trade. Do you know anything about that?) "I do not. I don't know if he was involved in that or not. We might have discussed that, but it was not in-depth so I don't know what his role was in that."
(How will the structure work? Will [Andrew] just provide information?) "We haven't finalized the exact structure yet. Sashi will be control of the 53, as you all have widely reported many times [laughs]. Sashi will be in charge of the 53, and Andrew will report to Sashi. The scouts will report to Andrew. Exactly how that is organized, we haven't decided that yet. Sashi, Paul, Andrew and I have a long call scheduled for Friday and we'll begin finalizing the structure. Everybody will be back in on Monday and Andrew will be there for his first day, so we'll finalize that structure. So, it's still a little bit fluid, but it's really starting to take shape. We feel good about it. I'm repeating myself on purpose -- we've had the opportunity to work with Paul now for three weeks solid, spent time with Hue and a lot of time with Andrew and feel good about the group we've put together and the chemistry. Everybody is singularly focused on turning this franchise around."
(How much of this current group [the type of people] is a result of lessons learned from the first two groups you put together?) "I think we've been very up-front, as we certainly were on Sunday night, January 3rd -- the reason the franchise is in the shape that it's in is my fault. You learn and take the responsibility -- I don't put it on anybody else who has worked here. Hopefully we've learned and it'll be more productive going forward. Our fans deserve better than we've given them and we're solely focused on turning things around."
(Did you purposely seek to go outside the box on every hire? You could make the case that it's non-traditional.) "Well, let's think about it. I don't think Hue Jackson is a non-traditional hire. I don't think Ray Horton is a non-traditional hire. On the personnel side, did we go a little bit more outside-the-box? Yes. Did we go in to the search for the player personnel [VP] thinking we're going to go outside-the-box? No. The majority of people we interviewed were 'outside-the-box,' but I don't know that Andrew is. He's clearly very smart. He played college football. He's been a scout for one of the better organizations in pro football and run their pro personnel department since he got out of school. He's younger, but I don't know that he's non-traditional."
(What did Andrew tell you about his ability to find and pick talent?) "Andrew is very intelligent, he's very organized, he's very process-oriented, he will be a great team player and he'll work well with everybody in the organization. He and Hue have already meshed together. I think he'll understand what Hue and the coaches need and I think he'll go out and find those players for us."
(We've been down this road many times, but earlier this week, more videos came out of Johnny Manziel partying. Given his history, does that concern you?) "I think we've made clear, and I don't have any different feelings than I did on January 3rd, we think Johnny made progress on the field this year. I think that is undeniable. We have a certain expectation for our players, and that includes Johnny. He's got to live up to those expectations."
(How disappointing would it be to have to move on from a guy only two years in, who you had such high hopes for?) "One of the reasons the Browns are in the condition they are is they've not drafted well. Our predecessors didn't draft well and we didn't draft well. Any time a No. 1 draft pick or any high draft pick is not successful and isn't a big contributor, that's disappointing to the organization."
(Have you reached a point where you think a change of scenery would be best for the Browns and for Manziel?) "No. I think that's a question for Sashi and Hue, they'll make all those calls, personnel-wise, including the quarterbacks. So I think that's a question for them, probably for another day."
(You guys seemed to be on the same page with the Hue hire. Was that the same case with Andrew?) "Absolutely. I cannot tell you how excited we all were, and Andrew had several different offers, and we were tremendously excited to get him. I think if you checked our organization now, people would be very, very excited about the fact that we're adding Andrew to our team."
(How did Andrew come on to your radar?) "He's in football circles. He's one of those young, upcoming talents that you hear about. We've been hearing his name for the last several months. A couple of our people had run into him at various NFL functions and were favorably impressed. As we began checking him out, the references were outstanding. I'm not sure when you'll have the opportunity to talk to him, maybe next week or some time in the next few weeks, but I feel you'll think like we did -- a smart, capable guy for this organization."
(You mentioned Ray Horton. Was it awkward the fact that he was dismissed a couple of years ago?) "No. (laughing) Dee went up to him and gave him a big hug yesterday. No, it wasn't [awkward]. We have good relationships, we try to keep relationships. I called Chud on a reference the other day. Chud calls me on references. So we keep those relationships and I've seen Ray several times. Ray likes to go out to Arizona and play golf. He'd send me pictures of truck stops he's in, so we've kept the relationship up. I sat down yesterday afternoon late. We're re-modeling our facilities, which is currently the defensive conference room. He was watching tape and we went through our entire team and talked for an hour, an hour and a half. It's not uncomfortable at all."
(Did you like the job he did the first time he was here?) "I did. I think Ray did a good job. I think he's put together a good staff. He's got one more coach to hire. I think we've got 3 or 4 [coaches] coming in Monday [for the first time]. Ray is a proven, veteran coach who knows our division, just like Hue. I think that will be helpful. I think Hue's put together a good staff of younger people -- a guy like Rock Cartwright, who is high-energy, fired up, and one of our running back coaches, and it's the first time he's ever coached. Al Saunders, who is 67, 68 years old, is in great shape and very enthusiastic, very knowledgeable, and has coached with a lot of great head coaches. I give Hue the credit -- he's put together a good staff that blends experience with youth. I sat in on the offensive meeting yesterday and they are fired up and ready to go."
(Speaking of the staff, do you have any apprehension at all that there is not an offensive coordinator to call the plays?) "I actually feel great, I really do. You look at some of the better offenses -- I mean, how do you feel about Kansas City's offense? How do you feel about Green Bay's offense? Hue and I had a lot of candid talks about it when we interviewed, and he said, 'listen, it's one of the things I do best. I don't want to delegate that, at least not early on.' We're enthusiastic about him, so why would you have one of the best playcallers in the league not call plays? We're actually really excited, yet at the same time, Hue was down in Mobile all week and Pep, who has been an offensive coordinator, is in there running all the offensive meetings. I walked in there and you wouldn't know that he's not the 'official offensive coordinator.' In a way, I think we're getting the best of both worlds."
(Hue's been really digging in on this stuff [at the Senior Bowl]. Is that a sign of things to come?) "Hue's an intense, high-energy, fired-up individual. I think that's just the way he's made and the way he's put together. He knows everybody and he's very personable. I think that's why he was able to assemble a good staff. He's a good people-person, which I think is a requirement for this business. He works it hard. I saw him talking to people and doing meetings -- he knows how to get the most out of a session like that. As did Sashi -- Sashi did a great job too."
(Back to Johnny for a second. The relationship seems strained, if not distant right now. Can it be fixed?) "Oh yeah, I don't think there is any question about that. We talked to Johnny before he left. I know a big deal has been made that Hue hasn't called Johnny yet, but we've got 53 players on the active [roster] and 10 more. There were a couple of other pretty prominent players he just talked to in the last day or two. I'm sure he'll get around to talking to him."
(Do you feel Josh Gordon is going to be re-instated, and would you personally welcome him back?) "We do not know if Josh is going to be re-instated or not. We obviously saw where he re-applied for his reinstatement, and we'll leave that up to the NFL. If he's re-instated, we'll deal with that at the proper time."
(Did Jed of Korn/Ferry assist in the player personnel search?) "That's a good question, and they did. Jed was really helpful -- a wealth of knowledge and an experienced person, not just in searches but the NFL. Through the coaching search and the personnel search, he was a tremendous asset and really helpful to us. He became a really good friend to Dee and I, Sashi, and Paul, etc. during this process."