The four-time NFL Champions and four-time AAFC Champs Cleveland Browns are set to open training camp at the Browns Training Facility in Berea, Ohio on July 28. If you haven’t seen this magnificent complex, it is quite a gem for the players and coaches.
But, it hasn’t always been first-class/first-rate with training camp facilities.
One advantage with having training camp located at the Browns’ complex is that basically it is home and business as usual if you are a member of the club’s coaching staff, front office or a player on the 90-man roster. In the past, friends, wives, relatives, church members and neighbors were all able to come out on certain days and watch practices or able to visit with their player or coach. This year, however, the coronavirus has changed quite a bit of how the Browns and every other team in the NFL operates.
What is the unknown at this point is whether there will be a fans day as well.
Up until 1992, the Browns trained somewhere else. Make that, out-of-town somewhere else which had its good points and bad points. The good allowed fans of the franchise to see their beloved athletes and also offer the isolated focus of the player’s attention to strictly football. The bad, well, players were basically stuck for weeks on end in college dorm rooms without any of the comforts of home.
And unless you are Jim Brown or Bernie Kosar, coaches are always bringing in new guys to compete for your job – no matter how much tenure you have with the club or how many Pro Bowl notches are on your belt.
“I always felt I had to compete. Football is a business - no guarantees,” said Gary Collins, wide receiver for the Browns from 1962-1971 and a member of the 1964 NFL Champions. “I prepared well in off-season so I could go into camp strong, focused on staying healthy and getting better each day.”
From their inception in 1946 up until 1991, Cleveland held training camp at area colleges and universities just like other NFL clubs were doing.
Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), players are paid for training camp. Rookies are paid $1,150 a week per diem while veterans get $2,000 a week per diem according to the 2020 CBA guidelines. Playing in preseason games is included in their pay and does not increase nor decrease because of playing time. Also included is room and board during training camp and housing between the Tuesday prior to the team’s first actual game if any players haven’t already established a place to live.
Once the season begins and the athlete is a member of the final roster, players begin their actual contract and are paid every two weeks at the rate of 1/17 per week of their agreed contract amount. This does not include bonuses or varied incentives. Playoff money is also extra.
Browns to relocate training camp?
In 2011, a new CBA had rolled around for renewal. As with any agreement, both sides wanted new items added. The players wanted more, and the owners wanted to give less.
When the two sides reached an impasse, the owners imposed a lockout beginning March 12, 2011. Players were not allowed at the practice or training facilities nor were they allowed to see the team doctors. This meant weight rooms were off-limits to which many athletes had workout guarantees for extra funds and of course all of that was canceled. The lockout remained in place until July 25 on the eve of training camp openings.
In April during the lockout, a dozen Cleveland players participated in “Camp Colt” at the University of Texas, and then a month later at Kent State in Kent, Ohio. It was the brainchild of then-starting quarterback Colt McCoy and lasted three days each session. The reason was the impeding lockout that loomed over the CBA’s deadline. These players performed their own workouts and drills to get a leg up on the season in case training camp would be canceled.
With the Browns, the 2011 lockout mandated that going off to another location for training camp was not going to happen that one year and jeopardized where they would hold their future camps. Suddenly, they realized that staying closer to home wasn’t such a bad idea after all instead of investing into a new venture in a new city. The biggest reason seemed to be the medical facility that was already in place in Berea and the immediate attention that could be exercised with injured players and assorted ailments.
When Cleveland re-entered the league in 1999 as the New Browns, they began training camp in Berea and have remained there ever since.
Akron, Ohio was rumored to become the Browns new training camp in 2014. The University of Akron lobbied hard to get the Browns to use their facilities and had discussions with team officials. Then-head coach Mike Pettine was in favor of moving to a college setting and Akron checked all the boxes. On August 2, the Browns held their annual Orange and Brown game at Akron’s stadium that drew over 20,000 spectators.
The President of the Browns at the time was Alec Scheiner. He was quoted during this period as saying:
“We just started (the process). “We’re going to look very carefully at whether we can or should host training camp off site, and we’ll look at various options if we do. We haven’t ruled anything out, including staying in Berea.”
During this same time frame, Otterbein University in Westerville also had an interest in getting the Browns to move training camp to their campus as did Ohio Dominican University in nearby Columbus. But neither of these schools ever got into discussions with the franchise.
In 2015, the City of Columbus did make a pitch for the Browns to relocate and were considered as serious contenders at one point. A prominent Columbus businessman, Alex Fischer, had personal ties to Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman pitched the idea to the franchise which would allow them the use of Ohio Dominican University plus the city would build a new stadium which would later be used by Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, which now is owned by Haslam.
At the time, the Browns’ GM was Ray Farmer. He was quoted on cleveland.com about the possible move to Columbus:
“I definitely like the idea. Now, whether or not it makes sense, that’s a whole other subject – where you go, how far away is it, what the facility is like. There are a lot of intangibles that go into making that decision, but I do think there are positives and there are negatives either way with taking training camp somewhere else.”
The Browns’ Orange and Brown game was held at Ohio Stadium in Columbus in consecutive Augusts in 2015 and 2016 with attendance over 50,000. A $5 million study paid for by the Browns was performed to see if a relocation to Columbus for two months every year for training camp would be beneficial. Legislation was also introduced at the time which would finance most of the costs of moving the team, equipment, players, coaches, front office, medical staff and trainers.
The City of Columbus has significant historical ties to professional football. The Panhandles were a charter NFL club in 1920 and date back to 1901. The Columbus Tigers replaced that franchise in 1922 and played four seasons. Also, when legendary former Browns’ head coach Paul Brown was awarded an American Football League expansion team beginning in 1968, he contemplated placing that club in either Cincinnati or Columbus.
The matter of where training camp would remain was resolved in December of 2016 when the club issued a statement that the Browns would remain in Berea. A huge investment had been made to the Berea facilities and the team decided to remain close to home. Since then, there have not been any rumors of a Cleveland relocation involving training camp.
Since training camps are no longer a vehicle to get players back into shape, clubs have OTAs that keep players relatively close to their facilities year-round. Over the years, the transition to remain close just came about. And back in the day, teams also used medium-and-small cities within their geography to increase their fan base into areas that would normally not become fans of that team.
And yes, there were significant costs involved in the relocation of an entire football team, their coaches, support staff and the like, from one location to sometimes a whole other location. The housing, the food preparation, equipment, laundry and on-and-on has made more sense to remain where they have always been. Usually, an NFL club will pay to have upgrades made to the host college either in their practice facilities or dorm areas as a good neighbor symbol.
Add to this, nobody actually likes to move for two solid months. The Browns decided to keep their training camp regiment local beginning in 1992.
Browns training camp locations
The Browns have used five different sites for their training camps: Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, Ohio), Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio), Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lakeland Community College (Kirkland, Ohio), and the Browns Training Facility (Berea, Ohio).
“It was hard in the beginning of my career being away from everyone. But after a year or two, you realize it’s for the best,” Collins offered. “To stay focused and better yourself as a player. It’s good to have that time away. You can just put all effort in football.”
Here is a capsule of each training camp site:
United States Military Bases
In the case of the Cleveland Browns being formed, the process began in 1945 while newly-hired head coach Paul Brown was already a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Coach Brown was still in the Navy drawing a paycheck with his acceptance of the Cleveland head coaching position. At the same time, his pro football club was in its infancy without any players, front office, assistant coaches, equipment, colors, uniforms or even a team name. And he was being paid for that, too.
Since Coach Brown had coached at Massillon (Ohio) High School, Ohio State University (OSU) and the Great Lakes Navy team that played major college teams, he knew of his own former players, plus had the advantage of knowledge of every player that his teams had played and what their skill levels were. This was a huge advantage; not to mention the fact that he was an officer in the military and had access to information of former NFL players now in the service. Plus, there were scores of former college players that would still be playing if it wasn’t for being inserted into the war effort. Coach Brown knew were each athlete was currently stationed, which branch they were in, and how to contact them.
Coach Brown compiled a list of targeted athletes. Unknown to most, a lot of Browns’ players were signed while still in the military (just as Brown had been) and paid monthly retainers. Coach Brown sent out in the standard military mail to prospective players a personal letter, an offer of $250 per month until the war ceased, a signing bonus of $2,500 and when they arrived at Cleveland’s training camp, and finally a $7,500 salary to play professional football with the new Cleveland ballclub.
Coach Brown contacted Otto Graham who was stationed in the Navy’s V-12 flying program. OT Lou Groza and OG Lin Houston had played for the freshman team while Brown was head coach at OSU. The following year both players enlisted and missed their final three years and now were in the Philippines when the coach contacted them. After signing, Groza, also a kicker, was sent two footballs in the mail to begin practicing.
WR Dante Lavelli had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was serving in the 28th infantry division when he signed. WR Mac Speedie was seen by Coach Brown when he was playing for a Marine Corps team. DB Al Akins was serving in the Pacific when he got Brown’s letter. Coach found OG Ed Ulinski who he remembered playing at Marshall University and now was in the Air Force. In all, 26 of the players signed to the 36-man roster had played in the NFL or have been drafted by an NFL club prior to enlisting in the military.
Each player signed while still in the military were given detailed exercise instructions with daily running routine procedures to follow. This essentially became the Browns’ first unofficial training camp.
Bowling Green State University: 1946 - 1951
Once World War II was over and the Browns’ coaches and players could finally get together as a formal team, the first official training camp was held in Bowling Green, Ohio at Bowling Green State University. Coach Brown felt at home here because of the University’s V-5 and V-12 Navy training programs. The school had also just built 15 metal buildings to house students close to their football stadium which was a perfect setup.
Student population hovered around the neighborhood of 4,000-5,000 and was mostly vacant during the summer months during the period that training camp would be held which was perfect conditions for classroom sessions. Into the 1960s numerous new buildings were constructed on the campus which brought forward more modern facilities for the Browns.
The campus sits just about two hours west of Cleveland and was considered a lucky charm for the team as players loved going there. Dorms and other buildings were all nice with then-modern amenities. While training here, the Browns won four AAFC titles, plus the 1950 NFL Championship followed by their very first defeat in a league title game with a 24-17 loss to Los Angeles in the 1951 NFL Championship Game.
Key players during this time included Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Frank Gatski, Dub Jones, Ara Parseghian, Ollie Cline, Cliff Lewis, Abe Gibron as well as the aforementioned Graham, Groza, Speedie and Lavelli.
Hiram College: 1952 - 1974
Located just 41 miles east of Cleveland, Hiram College provided fans a quick trip to watch practice sessions. This would become the longest tenured site for the Browns to hold training camp. Coach Brown would spend 11 years here followed by head coaches Blanton Collier and then Nick Skorich.
Hiram was strictly a country town with only the college to make it seem larger than it was. The practice fields at the college seemed to be mostly dust with only a handful of bleachers for spectators. After some practices, most fans had access to the players with a few photo opps with a Coronet Button camera or one made by Kodak.
During this period, the Browns won three NFL titles, one coached by Blanton, and was the runner-up in another six championship games. The franchise also captured 12 division crowns while training at Hiram.
Graham would retire after the 1955 season in which Cleveland won their second championship in a row and had played in six consecutive title games, winning three. Other key players included Jim Brown, Milt Plum, Chuck Noll, Mike McCormack, Bob Gain, Walt Michaels, Bobby McNeil, Ray Renfro, Frank Ryan, Paul Warfield, Gary Collins, Dick Modzelewski, Bill Glass, Galen Fiss, Monte Clark, Ernie Green and Vince Costello.
Kent State: 1975 - 1981
The Browns used Kent State University from 1975 until 1981. Located 37 miles southeast of Cleveland in Kent, Ohio, this 866-acre campus is designed for undergraduate degree programs with a strong teaching-training lineup. When Browns’ owner Art Modell hired Forrest Gregg as head coach, Cleveland used this facility followed by new head coach Sam Rutigliano.
Popular players during this time-period include Mike Phipps, Jerry Sherk, Clarence Scoot, Don Cockroft, Greg Pruitt, Reggie Rucker, Brian Sipe, Paul Warfield, Gerald Irons, Thom Darden, Barry Darrow, Mike Pruitt, Ozzie Newsome, Lyle Alzado, Calvin Hill, Clay Matthews, Joe DeLamielleure, Charles White, Hanford Dixon and Cody Risien.
Lakeland Community College: 1982 - 1991
Modell was looking for a location after leaving Kent State, and several areas came to mind such as Columbus or Akron. Ultimately, Lakeland Community College in Kirkland, Ohio offered the best accommodations in terms of housing, practice and meeting facilities. Their effort to get the Browns was really a community effort with the city and school partnering up to make it extremely attractive for the club in general as well as for the fan experience.
Lakeland had 400 acres and was a school with only about 5,000 students at the time. A time-period that was the end of the “Kardiac Kids” era of Cleveland football, almost every day at training camp the atmosphere was like a festival for the over 10,000 daily spectators. This was also the birthplace of the franchise’s usage of the “Dawgs” attached to the defense which later relocated to the east end zone of Municipal Stadium in what would be coined the “Dawg Pound.”
Lakeland was also the Bernie Kosar years. Head coaches included Rutigliano, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson and the first year of Bill Belichick’s short rein.
Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex: 1992 - 1995; 1999 - present
When Belichick took over as head coach in 1991, the Browns began what would become a trend in the NFL with clubs having their own facilities in which they would have everything they need at their fingertips all year round. The training complex is located in Berea, Ohio on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College. The City of Berea built the complex in 1991 and still owns the facility.
In past training camps, there would be a mountain of equipment, staff, apparel, trainers, front office personnel, and medical equipment to crate up and relocate. Now, everything was in-house and never had to be moved.
The main building has gone through changes in 1999 and 2009. In 2013, the city went through $3 million in improvements. The city council approved a new agreement in 2015 to contribute $4.6 million on gradual annual upgrades through the year 2028. This was the same time-period when the City of Columbus was making a push to have the Browns relocate their training camp.
The current building is 37,000 square feet.
The Browns are excited about this year’s training camp roster. They have attempted to build QB Baker Mayfield a team that can hopefully give the offense the weapons he can work with that exude talent. The Achilles Heal from last season, the offensive line, should be much improved. There will be some close position battles because after all, camp is where jobs are won and future game checks are secured.
Gone are the dog days of wearing players out in practices without adequate hydration.
“Modern players train year-round and most are already in peak physical condition or close to it,” suggested Scott Wright, founder of the draft site DraftCountdown.com. “Plus, in today’s game the players are such valuable commodities. I certainly don’t see the wisdom of running them into the ground before the season even starts.”
Being away from a player’s family, friends, church, and home environment, these athletes don’t need all those distractions. It’s best to prepare for camp beforehand and make sure all is in order so they aren’t bombarded with calls during camp. Especially for young guys.
Particularly this season when there is so much uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 situation. The Browns are going to need everyone to remain healthy.
Which training camp was your first to attend in person?
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Berea complex 1992-1995
Berea complex 1999-present
Never been to a Browns training camp practice