Steven King

'Twas A Week To Remember For The Cleveland Browns

Created on Feb. 16, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Whoa, what a week for the Cleveland Browns.

While the rest of the teams in the NFL were doing whatever, getting ready for the upcoming Scouting Combine during what is otherwise a quiet time in the league’s calendar year, the Browns were making national news by blowing up their front office.


Owner Jimmy Haslam got rid of CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi on Tuesday, which was not only the right move to make but one that should have been done eons ago. In just a little over a year on the job, Banner and Lombardi, who had replaced Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert, did damage to this franchise that will take quite some time to repair.

Haslam replaced Banner with, in essence, Alec Sheiner, who added to his team president duties that of being in charge of all business operations. He replaced Lombardi with Ray Farmer, who had been assistant GM.

Haslam said in the press conference to announce the news that there would be no more major moves in the organization. There would be status-quo for the foreseeable future.

You had to chuckle when your heard that. After all, what more is there to change?

Anyway, here are some more notes on the news of this busy, busy week in Browns history:

CLEVELAND, WHERE DIVERSITY HAS LIVED FOR A LONG TIME: Although it seems insignificant now, the news stream actually began on Monday when Haslam said the Browns would have no problem selecting Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end whose coming out makes him the first openly gay athlete to be eligible for the NFL Draft. It was just 24 hours later that Haslam hired Farmer as the team’s first African American GM. The fact the Browns exhibited this type of diversity in both cases is hardly a surprise. The team, and the city overall, have always been way ahead of the curve in that regard.

MG Bill Willis and FB Marion Motley, both of whom ended up being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, became the two players to permamently break the color barrier not just in pro football, but also in pro sports overall, when they suited up for the Browns in their first game on Sept. 6, 1946 in the All-America Football Conference. Jackie Robinson, the first African American in pro baseball and the person who is wrongly credited with being the first in all of pro sports to do so, did not debut with Brooklyn Dodgers until eight months later, in April 1947. The first African American player in the American League was the Cleveland Indians’ Larry Doby just three months later in July 1947.

The Browns had one of the first African American assistant coaches in the NFL – really, one of the first African American coaches in any capacity since there had been no head coaches to that point -- when Ernie Green was hired in 1969 as running backs coach. It came a year after he had finished an outstanding seven-year career in Cleveland at that position.

There still hadn’t been many African American assistants in the league when the Browns hired Al Tabor as one of the NFL’s first special teams coaches in 1972.

In 1967, Carl Stokes was elected in Cleveland as the first African American mayor of a major American city.

And finally, eight years later, in 1975, the Indians’ Frank Robinson became the first African American manager in the major leagues.

So, considering all that, then, the news concerning Sam and Farmer, while it seems so forward-looking now, has to get in line behind everything else the team and city have done for the last 68 years.

WRONG IN BOTH CASES: Haslam is taking a lot of heat for supposedly being disingenuous when talking about the reasons why he got rid of Banner. He took the high road and said the decision was reached by both men after they had had lengthy discussions, and then went on to praise Banner for his contributions to the team. That’s the public relations-wise thing to do for a team and owner in desperate need of some good PR. No use getting down in the mud and wrestling around, getting yourself dirty. Nothing could have been gained from that. It’s better to stay above the fray.

What Haslam could have said, which would have been true as true can be, but, as mentioned. really wouldn’t have served any purpose at this point, was, “Look, you know, just as I know, that those two knuckleheads, Banner and Lombardi, were ruining the franchise and had been doing so from the day they walked in the front door. I’ve heard all the rumors of all the things they did, and didn’t, do, but it’s a lot worse than that. I could tell you things – things you’ve never heard among any of these rumors -- that would floor you. I’m not going to do that, though. They’re gone. Good riddance. I made a mistake in hiring them, but I can’t go back in time and undo it. So we just have to take a deep breath and move on.”

Better yet, Haslam also took the high road in explaining why Lombardi was canned. Again, another smart – and professional – move.

Coversely, Banner is being praised in some circles for being so instrumental in renovating Browns Headquarters in Berea, and for helping to secure the funds for, and then orchestrating the ongoing renovation of, FirstEnergy Stadium. Yes, that’s  true – he did indeed do that --  but he hardly deserves kudos for it. Anyone with construction superintendent experience, especially the financial aspects of it, could have done the same thing without all the rhetoric, controversy and negative disposition that Banner brought to every endeavor he handled. In fact, Banner actually set the stadium project back greatly when, for financial reasons, he fired Todd Argust, one of the two men who were in charge of the day-to-day operations of the stadium.

Why in the world would Banner, just as a $200 million investment was beginning, do something like that? If anything, he should have been hiring people, not firing them. If problems arise because there is simply too much for one man, new Stadium Operations Director Steve Eyerman, to do, then the fault for that has to be laid at the feet of Banner, wherever he is by that point, for being petty-wise and pound-foolish.

And, by the way, Banner is already gone – physically – from Browns Headquarters, never to return, even though Haslam said he would be around for the next several months.  

CONSIDER THIS, TOO: Just to show how inept Banner and Lombardi were in their talent evaluation, they were oh, so close to dealing WR Josh Gordon right before the trading deadline last season. Yes, that would be the same Josh Gordon who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013 and had the most prolific season ever for a Browns pass catcher. It’s true that, because of previous transgressions, Gordon is one misstep away from being banned for a year by the NFL. But can the Browns, whose other wide receivers couldn’t make the practice squads of the rest of the league’s teams, afford to give away talent like that without first pulling out all the stops to keep Gordon on the straight and narrow?                 

AND FINALLY, THAT’S HIS IDEA OF BREAKING NEWS?:  A so-called well-respected NFL writer, who shall remain nameless so as to keep from embarrassing him to the nth degree, came out with a story this week that QB Brandon Weeden wanted out of Cleveland. Huh? Weeden wants out of Cleveland? Not as bad as Cleveland wants him to get out, and stay out. The first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has been a complete bust. He’s one of the worst first-round selections the Browns have ever had. They will jettison him ASAP. They would try to trade him, but, in reality, it would be fruitless since he wouldn’t garner a seventh-round dradt pick in return.

Don’t lay that at the feet of Banner and Lombardi, though. That has to be placed at the feet of Holmgren (then team president) and Heckert (GM), who drafted him without ever seeing him work out.

With stories like that and all the others about dysfunctionality and incompetence, is it any wonder, then, that the Browns last year finished 4-12 for their sixth straight losing season?   

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