Steven King

Browns Execs Who Could See Make Fans See Red In 2013

Created on Apr. 05, 2013 2:00 AM EST

It’s not hard to figure out which of the Cleveland Browns’ power brokers are on the hot seat going into 2013.

Aside from CEO Joe Banner – who has made a lot of bold moves since taking over in earnest five months ago – the man on the hottest seat is clearly GM Mike Lombardi. No one else on that top tier is even close.

It may be one of the first times – if not the first time – in NFL history that a general manager has stepped into the pressure cooker before he has even had a chance to get to work.  

Lombardi is so much on the hot seat, in fact, that Banner has called him “a lightning rod” and as such has not permitted him to do any media interviews since he did his introductory press conference back on Jan. 18.

Lombardi loves to talk – he worked in the media for five years before being hired by the Browns – so this has got to be killing him.

The Browns are wrong – oh, so wrong, in fact – for keeping Lombardi secluded from the media, for the main rule of Public Relations 101 is that the only way to break down stereotypes is to put the man out there in the limelight and let him answer questions so he can shed his “bad-guy” image. The longer Lombardi is muzzled, the more that image – that 800-pound elephant in the room that everybody’s trying to ignore – will grow.

But with that said, it’s understandable why Banner has put Lombardi’s mouth under lock and key.

For months before he was hired, Lombardi was the man that most Browns fans – and most members of the Cleveland media – absolutely did not want to have anything to do with the team. His hiring may be the one that got the most negative attention in club history. It is possible that only the return of the late Art Modell – if he was still alive – would elicit a stronger reaction.

Lombardi did not make many – if any – friends during his first stint in Cleveland from 1987-95 in scouting and personnel. He was one of the people fingered prominently for the earthshattering release of iconic Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar halfway through the 1993 season with the team in first place in the AFC Central.

And he will never completely live that down.

As such, there will be no honeymoon period for Lombardi. Everything he has done in the short time he’s been in Cleveland has been heavily scrutinized from the moment he has done it.

The biggest of those moments came when the Browns made no real effort to retain the best kicker in franchise history, Phil Dawson, and allowed him to sign with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency. Although Banner’s fingerprints are all over that – beginning with his days with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he valued kickers as much as he did a bad head cold – Lombardi is also taking that avalanche of criticism.

And that criticism will only get worse the first time that Dawson’s replacement shanks a kick at the troublesome, windy east end of FirstEnergy Stadium.

Really, Lombardi – and Banner – will take heat when any of their best-laid plans go awry. Watching that play out will be one of the biggest and most interesting storylines of the 2013 season.

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