Posted February 11, 2014

Cleveland Browns’ change at GM the right call, even if timing is off

AFC North, Cleveland Browns
A little less than 13 months after this picture was taken, Joe Banner (left) and Mike Lombardi (center) are out in Cleveland. (Mark Duncan/AP)

A little less than 13 months after this picture was taken, Joe Banner (left) and Mike Lombardi (center) are out in Cleveland. (Mark Duncan/AP)

What’s going to be lost in the recent news the Cleveland Browns fired CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi is that in a vacuum this move was actually a good one. Banner showed bad judgment in his last years in Philadelphia, and that didn’t stop when he got to Cleveland. He whiffed on trying to hire now-Eagles coach Chip Kelly. He gave Rob Chudzinski a big contract, but never seemed to give him enough rope to operate autonomously (and he was fired just over a year later). And he hired a retread like Lombardi who was never going to be successful in Cleveland in the first place.

In cleaning out the front office Tuesday, the Browns admitted they displayed that same bad judgment by pairing Banner and Lombardi in the first place a year ago, but Haslam is still figuring things out as he goes along. As he said in his press conference Tuesday, “There is no primer for being an NFL owner.” New owners get their advice from all over the place. They don’t typically have the experience of knowing just what goes into running a successful franchise. They buy a team, say “we want a winner” three times in front of a mirror hoping “culture change” will come up behind them and give them a big hug.

There’s a big disconnect between new uniforms or stadium improvements or renaming your field and actually bringing about success. Especially if you’re a team as dysfunctional as the Browns.

Look up and down that roster and you’ll see shell shock. These are guys who aren’t necessarily bad players, but ones who are used to losing and watching off-field issues from the ones in charge transcend the games themselves. To be a coach in Cleveland means you rent, you don’t buy. You get carry-out, you don’t become a regular. You invest in satellite radio because local sports talk will never give you the peace you want when you’re traversing roads that haven’t been plowed well enough.

There’s little doubt that Haslam wants the Browns to win football games. You don’t make an investment like that and fulfill some sort of dream of owning a pro sports team just to hope the team you buy makes you some cash and you get to shake hands with other rich people. There are plenty of other businesses that are easier and less scrutinized. But coming from a tiny stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the sheltered college world in Knoxville didn’t prepare Haslam for what Cleveland really is.

That’s not to say there isn’t a proud tradition in Northeast Ohio. There is. But there simply being devoted fans and a storied history doesn’t make this an easy fix. And that might be something Haslam wasn’t really prepared for. Putting Banner and Lombardi in place was evidence of that. In theory hiring a guy who understood the business of football and wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions and a “well-connected,” “well-liked around the league” general manager may have made sense on the surface, but those two were never going to see eye to eye. Whether he deserved to be there or not, you can’t hire a GM then tell him he has no power. It’s going to make him mad. It’s some kind of Milgram Experiment gone terribly wrong.

Had Haslam cleaned house after Rob Chudzinski was fired in the first place, people wouldn’t be laughing about the Browns (okay, they would still be laughing, but not as much in the middle of February). This move, coming right after a coaching search that looked like a punchline, screams disaster and impatience. Which takes away from the fact Haslam might finally have a streamlined operating staff — a bright up and comer in president Alec Scheiner and a general manager in Farmer who turned down the Dolphins to stay with Cleveland — to finally go along with all those precious picks and cap dollars Banner and Lombardi were stockpiling.

What the Browns lack, and what they’ve continued to lack, is a cohesive vision. You can’t turn a franchise around on hopes, harkening to the past and wanting something really badly.

The timing of this move isn’t ideal, but that’s common with bad football teams. And the Cleveland Browns are a bad football team. The good news is firing Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi doesn’t make them any worse.

16 comments
pdw3332
pdw3332

(Boston Globe 2/14/14...browns blow it again getting rid of Lombardi!)

Lombardi who will join the Patriots, was replaced by the Cleveland Browns as general manager this week after just a year on the job, is a longtime confidant of Bill Belichick, and hiring him now formalizes the relationship the two had for years before Lombardi went to the Browns. The relationship goes back to the mid-1990s, when Belichick was coach of the Browns and Lombardi served as director of player personnel.  After brief stints with the Rams and Eagles after his first tenure with the Browns, Lombardi spent almost a decade with the Raiders, working closely with late owner/GM Al Davis.  Let go by Oakland in 2007, Lombardi went into media, eventually working for the NFL Network, but all the while he was in close contact with Belichick, consulting on personnel matters and game plans. Lombardi was influential in particular during the Patriots’ 2010-12 drafts, which have proven to be more successful than the two or three draft classes immediately preceding that period.

pdw3332
pdw3332

what a dumb article.  As a writer you can't make statements like "retread like Lombardi who was never going to be successful in Cleveland....".  i'm not saying Bill Belichick is perfect, but anyone who is plugged into the NFL (like this joke of a writer claims to be) knows Lombardi past and current relationship with BB.  So excuse me if I tend to believe BB does not waste time with "retreads", so that alone give Lombardi some sort of credibility in my eyes...much more so then some hack blogger with stupid haircut..  

Kopernicus1967
Kopernicus1967

Haslam is a crook, and yet people trust him to build a good team in Cleveland?  Good luck.

ConradWesleyClough
ConradWesleyClough

bad timing, but I think that this was the right move by Haslam, Banner/Lombardi were not doing anything to help the Browns get better.


Dawgfan2002
Dawgfan2002

If the owner knew these weren't the right guys then he made the correct decision. The Seahawks took a lot of flack for canning Jim mora after one season and then immediately hired Pete Carroll, that worked out ok.

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

Well, it's ugly, but it seems like the right moves were finally made.  Maybe Haslam should've fired these guys and actually given Chud a legitimate chance?  



OK
OK

The only bigger bum in Cleveland than its Criminal Owner was Mike Lombardi.

CharlesTerrito
CharlesTerrito

Well, well, well, Mr. Pettine, I think you will agree staying Buffalo was your best shot? Ha HA, too damn bad for you.Cleveland the place where Head Coaches go to die!! GO BILLS!!

SouthWestYankee
SouthWestYankee

Rooney rule stikes again. Haslim is a moron and will get what he has built, basically squat.... 

Matthew W
Matthew W

@pdw3332  

It begs the question, why would Belichik associate himself with a career LOSER? Cleveland, Rams, Iggles, and the Raiders....

tonybot3
tonybot3

@Kopernicus1967  and you are a slanderer.   Last i checked, he hasn't been charged with anything.

tonybot3
tonybot3

@AF Whigs  Why?  Because Chud is a nice guy?  Nobody cares about that in the business world, nor should they.

pdw3332
pdw3332

@OK  ...yeah that is why he is one of Bill Belichick trusted confidants and why pats are hiring him right now.  Typical dumb Browns fan who still can't admit they ran the best football mind out of town back in 1996, all because he cut Kosar who was washed up.  

ClevelandSpyder
ClevelandSpyder

@CharlesTerrito Yeah, cuz head coaches sure do thrive in Buffalo. Pettine is the seventh (actually the eighth if you count Terry Robiskie who was an interim coach) Head Coach the Browns have had since they came back in 1999. Since Marv Levy left in 1997, the Bills have had...seven. Stellar job, Buffalo. Way to show everyone how it's done. 


Great point, dude.The breadth of your football knowledge is staggering.

eddie767
eddie767

@SouthWestYankee  What does Rooney have to do with this? Haslam has no idea what he's doing,but at least he hired who he thought was the best "man",but I see you don't think a person of color can do it. So I guess you'd quit your job if you had a black supervisor. Oh well, it's your right to be an idiot.