Browns Owner Haslam Says He's Sorry
By Steven King
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam spoke to the local media for the first time since his Pilot Flying J corporate offices in Knoxville, Tenn. were raided by agents from the FBI and IRS a month ago, and fans got exactly what they wanted to hear.
Speaking Tuesday night after giving the opening remarks at the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Banquet in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, Haslam apologized profusely to fans for the way the controversy has placed a negative cloud over the team and his ownership.
“I apologize to the city of Cleveland, Northeastern Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was detract from football and the Browns and just what a great football area this is,” Haslam said during a six-minute session in which he respectfully declined to answer questions. “So I apologize for that. We feel badly about it, and we’re very comfortable we’ll work through this situation.”
To that end, the fact that it could possibly detract even more from football, Cleveland and the area’s football flavor is why Haslam said he refused to address the media during the NFL Draft nearly two weeks ago.
He also said he liked the Browns’ draft, especially first-round pick OLB Barkevious Mingo. He also dispelled rumors that there was discord in the team’s draft room. He was in the room all three days of the draft with the club’s big decision-makers in CEO Joe Banner, GM Mike Lombardi, assistant GM Ray Farmer and coach Rob Chudzinski.
“I know there have been some comments that maybe it’s not great teamwork, but I’ve never seen four people work together in a positive manner better than those guys did,” Haslam said. “It was great to see it. And it wasn’t all agreement. There was a lot of disagreement – a lot of conversation going back and forth. I’m very excited about the draft we had.”
In addition, Haslam addressed the club overall, saying, “I think we’ll have a better football team this year. But it’s not going to happen overnight. You don’t go from winning 14 games in three years to winning 14 games in one year. But we will have a better team this year and we’ll be better in 2014.”
Haslam praised defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
“You’re going to really like the way he plays defense,” he said. “He plays defense the way I like to play defense. He gets after them.”
The owner also had kudos for offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Norv Turner. In doing so, he took a little shot as well at previous coach Pat Shurmur and his offensive scheme.
“I went to practice the other day, and we’re not throwing three-yard dinks,” Haslam said. “We’re throwing the ball down the field. That’s the way Norv likes to play.”
That’s the Haslam that Cleveland fans liked so much when he bought the team last year. It’s also the hope-inspiring voice they’ve missed so much in the last month because of all the issues going on at Pilot Flying J. There will no doubt be a lot of peaks and valleys as the situation drags out over the coming months. What comes of it is anyone’s guess.
But, at least for one night, Browns’ fans got a chance to feel better about their team and their owner.