Well...that was fun!
And I’m not kidding. I just spent a half hour reading an ESPN expose piece on Jimmy Haslam and the chaos of the Cleveland Browns’ front office under his watch. The level of detail in the article is so riveting that I hated for the article to end. I don’t know how long Seth Wickersham worked on this article, but he sure as heck had a lot of sources.
At some point in time, reading this type of article may have felt like an embarrassment. But we’ve long known that the Browns were a mess and full of turmoil. Knowing that the future is bright with Baker Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens at the helm offers so much comfort, though, that I was simply “sports entertained” by the article, as the WWE would call it. I encourage everyone to read the article on their own, but here are all of the juicy highlights I learned from it:
Haslam’s Accessibility & Mistrust
- Haslam is very accessible in Berea, talking to people regardless of rank. It seems endearing, but then later leads to mistrust. For example, he will ask a position coach how he rates the talent that scouts are drafting. Then he turns around and asks the scouts how the position coaches are doing at developing talent. It comes off as him being your friend, but it’s really just a non-stop interview of him fishing for information.
Joe Banner’s Firing
- When the FBI raided Pilot Flying J, NFL executives called Joe Banner and were worried about the league having approved Haslam as an owner. People the Browns had hired thought about leaving, but Banner talked them into staying and vouched for Haslam, calling him an “extremely principled and extremely honest man.”
- It was a unanimous 5-0 decision to fire Rob Chudzinski, but the coaching search didn’t work out. Trade discussions for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh failed, Adam Gase wanted nothing to do with Cleveland. Haslam made the decision to hire Mike Pettine.
- In February 2014, Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi argued over a player. Jimmy Haslam called Assistant GM Ray Farmer about it. Farmer said he was surprised that Haslam, as an owner, knew so much detail about the argument. Farlmer told Haslam that “while everyone knew Banner and Lombardi disliked working together, arguments over draft prospects were common and healthy.” Haslam “said it made sense and told Farmer he understood.”
- Haslam then called Banner and asked if they could get dinner. Then, he asked Banner to meet him at the office before dinner. They talked about free agency for a bit, then Banner said he was hungry and suggested they leave to get dinner. Haslam “replied by praising Banner for building a strong team -- so strong, in fact, that he was going to let him go.”
- Banner was stunned and asked for a reason for his firing, but Haslam wouldn’t give him one, other than saying Lombardi was being fired too. Haslam then went to dinner with his new executive team, “some of whom knew ahead of time that Banner wouldn’t be there.” (So it was a setup all along). Haslam had also dropped the stunning news on Farmer that he was suddenly being promoted to GM, despite never interviewing for the job.
The 2014 NFL Draft
- Jimmy Haslam loved the war room on draft day, and would invite friends, family, and sponsors to sit in the room during the draft, which “frustrated some football people.”
- In 2014, Ray Farmer traded down from No. 4 to No. 9. But he traded back up to No. 8 because Mike Pettine wanted CB Justin Gilbert.
- With the Browns’ second first-round pick, Farmer had his eyes set on WR Brandin Cooks.
- QB Johnny Manziel started to slide, and Haslam wanted Manziel. The “football guys” wanted QB Teddy Bridgewater in the second round, but “something about Bridgewater’s handshake rubbed Haslam the wrong way” during the interview process. Manziel texted QB coach Dowell Loggains during the draft, “begging the team to pick him,” and Loggains showed Haslam the texts. Farmer gave in and traded up to get Manziel. While Haslam celebrated, “those in the room could tell Farmer was frustrated.”
- Brian Hoyer was furious, and Farmer had to call him to calm him down. Right after that, the Houston Texans called to offer a high second-round pick for Hoyer. “The room was buzzing,” but Farmer killed the trade because he felt like he “needed to take control of his first draft” after not getting to pick who he wanted with his first round picks.
#DP Kind of Has a Double Meaning
- I will let this one speak for itself:
The outside anger was felt inside the building. Marketing executives wanted employees to see how fans were engaging with the Browns on social media, so they projected the Browns feed onto a giant wall at the facility. It was like broadcasting talk radio over the entire building, and one day in particular, it was worse than that. One of the marketing staffers entered a search for #dp -- for Dawg Pound. The problem was, that hashtag carried a few different meanings, one of which triggered an array of porn to be broadcast onto a wall for the entire office to see for more than 20 minutes, until a tech employee killed the feed.
Ray Farmer’s Demise & Analytics Growth
- Haslam started souring on Farmer, questioning every roster decision he made and not feeling he was strategic enough during the draft.
- At the start of the 2015 season, people already felt Farmer would be fired before long, so Haslam, Alec Scheiner, and Sashi Brown began visiting executives from other sports teams to gain insight on potentially revolutionary strategies for football. The Browns’ executives created a “Football Stragegy Outline” for Haslam to sell him on a complete teardown for a four-year rebuild, combining sabermetrics and traditional methods. They met with Theo Epstein of the Chicago Cubs, Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mark Shapiro of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Paul DePodesta of the New York Mets. Haslam was intrigued and hired DePodesta.
- Through all of these meetings, Farmer wanted nothing to do with them and would not attend. In the late rounds of the 2015 draft, “Farmer would pass on players rated high by the analytics team out of spite.” Scheiner tried to get Haslam to invite Farmer to an analytics staff dinner near the end of the 2015 season. Haslam didn’t want to, but eventually told Scheiner that he would invite Farmer (but he never did).
- Farmer learned of the dinner the next day and told Haslam, “Something’s gotta give.” He was fired after a 15-minute conversation before the Browns’ season finale that year, but again, a reason wasn’t given.
The Sashi Brown Era
- “Don’t give me the job if you’re going to blow it up,” Sashi Brown told Haslam when he hired him. Brown was motivated by the thought of being known as the guy who finally turned the Browns franchise around.
- Get a load of the nickname that Brown had:
Brown was calm, eloquent and handsome and had graduated from Harvard Law School, which led Haslam to nickname him Obama. Haslam laughed at the nickname, but it offended many in the building as racial stereotyping.
- After hiring Brown, the executive team sat with Haslam and spent hours discussing ideal traits, strengths, and weaknesses for the next coach. Haslam was engaged, offering thoughtful opinions, and the vibe among executives was that Cleveland was about to build something special.
- The problem came when it was time to actually hire the head coach. The executive team voted 4-1 in favor of hiring Sean McDermott as being the Browns’ next head coach. He “had crushed his interview and was known to be open to new ideas.” But Haslam voted for Hue Jackson because he thought Jackson could related better to players.
- DePodesta wrote an email to Haslam arguing that hiring Jackson went against many of the characteristics they had discussed for successful coaches. Brown also told Haslam that he thought hiring Hue was a bad call. “I hear you,” said Haslam. Haslam flew to Cincinnati and hired Hue anyway.
The Mess That Was Hue Jackson
- When Hue Jackson was hired, it was said that he was “nervous about the rebuilding plan.” He “later told friends the team undersold him on the extremeness of the rebuilding plan,” which Browns executives “found absurd” because they had shared an extensive level of detail with him about the plan during the interview process.
- When Sashi Brown traded P Andy Lee during the 2016 offseason, Jackson “went nuts” and stormed into Jimmy Haslam’s office to protest. The article says that this was an example of Haslam’s issues as an owner. For better or worse, “Haslam is always willing to listen,” so he has too many voices in his ear. The article says how several in the building wish that Haslam would have shut Jackson down right then and there to tell him to focus on coaching the team.
- Even though the Browns had a rebuilding plan in place, the front office felt the Browns would still win four or five games in 2016. They went 1-15 instead.
- In 2017, Hue Jackson was adament about wanting Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall, but the team was debating drafting QB Mitch Trubisky at No. 1 too. Jackson “vowed to Haslam that he wouldn’t support Trubisky, publicly or privately.” What a guy, eh?
- The backstabbing and mistrust was in full effect. When the Browns went 0-16 in 2017, the front office thought much of it was due to poor coaching. Jackson blamed it on moves like cutting Joe Haden.
- The article says Sashi Brown picked WR Corey Coleman in 2016, against the advice of scouts. Against Brown’s recommendation, Hue Jackson started QB DeShone Kizer in 2017. Then, Jackson complained that Brown had passed up on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, which “enraged the front office” given how he was insistent on drafting Myles Garrett, going so far as to taping pictures of Garrett all over Haslam’s office windows.
- Haslam fired Sashi Brown in December 2017 and was “frayed” after the meeting, knowing he went back on his word against him.
Dee Haslam’s Involvement
- Dee Haslam was upset that many people would refer to her husband as the team’s only owner, when she was running the business side of things.
- Around the time that Sashi Brown was fired, one report says that Dee could be heard uttering “We just don’t know what we are doing,” and “If we’d known how hard it would be, we never would have bought the team.”
The Firing of Hue Jackson
- The article mentions some of what we knew about Hue in 2018 — his role was converted to a “CEO” type of coach, delegating to others like Todd Haley.
- On October 29, both Jimmy Haslam and John Dorsey walked into Hue Jackson’s office and told him the team was moving in a different direction. Jackson asked why he was being fired. Dorsey told him the team quit on him. “Get the fuck out of my office,” Jackson replied.
- When Haley heard Hue had been fired, he thought he was going to be named interim coach. However, he told Freddie Kitchens that if the Browns offered him the interim role, that he was going to suggest that the team name Kitchens the interim coach instead. Haley was fired because the organization felt “he was inflexible” and that they needed to start over.
John Dorsey’s Show
- Lastly, the article dives in to John Dorsey and the fact that he has gotten his way. Freddie Kitchens was his choice to be the Browns’ next head coach. He also got his preferred structure, with the head coach reporting to Dorsey instead of the owner.
- From the article: As Dorsey privately told an associate: “I flexed my muscles and got what I wanted.”
- Dorsey “told an associate that he didn’t need ‘f---ing nerds’ to tell him how to evaluate players,” referring to analytics. However, the article then says that he “has since warmed up to analytics.”
Whew, that was a lot! Tell us about your favorite or mind-blowing parts of the story in the comments below.