BEREA, Ohio – The morning after official clearance was given for the Cleveland Browns to become Jimmy Haslam’s Cleveland Browns, Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner met first with top team executives, then Browns players, and then the full staff. They’d already put in a full morning before their 10 a.m. public introduction.
The purchase is all but complete, but their selling is just beginning.
The Browns are going to be new. Again. And after the last cycle(s) of major changes brought the on-field product closer to its expansion-team roots than to where it needs to be to compete among the NFL’s elite, it’s fair to point out that we’ve heard these promises of change and prosperity before.
Browns fans, though, are very familiar with what it’s like to hope, to hold onto hope and maybe even have nothing but hope.
They really hope this time is different.
It is different this time around because absentee owner Randy Lerner is now the ex-owner, and because the new CEO has a proven track record in this job. For now, though, it’s the same story, the same promises, the same reset button and plan of attack.
Evaluate. Change. Build. Evaluate changes. Build some more.
They have to follow through and prove themselves, but there was plenty for a Browns fan to like about what Haslam and Banner said Wednesday. They’ve been digging, deeply and together, on a number of issues since the summer. They’ve been preparing for this, for next week when Banner comes on for all the grading and evaluating and planning and meeting they’ll do between now and January, when the new Browns will really be new. Again.
They seem to know that they not only need to sell their brand as different, but that it has to be different.
“I don’t want to be the next promiser,” Banner said at his introductory press conference. “We want to deliver.”
Further lines about chasing big dreams and putting the very best people in place might as well have been played on repeat from news conferences past, but Banner got Browns’ fans attention when he said Browns employees will be dispatched in and around the stadium as soon as next weekend and assigned to report back on what parts of the gameday experience need tinkering and/or a total revamp.
Whatever changes they make will be in place for the 2013 season. Based on what Haslam’s done and said so far, they’ll probably be bright and splashy.
Fancy, high-definition scoreboards are nice; they’re nicer when the home team outscores the visitor. That’s not lost on Banner, who spent 12 years as president of the Philadelphia Eagles and oversaw the team’s large, gradual leap into upgraded facilities, modern-day business deals and — most importantly — the NFL’s elite.
In a smaller gathering of reporters after the big news conference Wednesday, a five-year plan was mentioned as part of a timeline discussion. Banner mentioned he’d be in a “straitjacket” if that happened.
Browns fans feel like they’ve been wearing one for a decade.
The newest new guys won the news conference, which has also happened before. Haslam and Banner are eventually going to be evaluated, too, mostly by what happens on the field. Their most important decisions — head coach, general manager, organizational power structure — won’t come until January, and the results they want are probably years away.
Too many Browns employees — and a good number of players, too — have been in these re-start meetings before. They’ve started anew before, seen non-stop turnover and too many losses before. They’ve heard this happy-talk enough before, too, to know it’s all much easier said than done.
It was in a similar full-staff meeting in January 2010 that then-new and soon departing team president Mike Holmgren told employees the Browns were going forward with Eric Mangini as head coach. In that same meeting, Holmgren told a story about being given a cell phone when he was hired as head coach in Green Bay and being told that he’d have to give the phone back when he was either fired or quit.
It was that losing mentality, the almost habitual notion that the cycle would continue and someone else would soon be coming, that Holmgren said the Packers needed to defeat. They eventually did.
It’s that mentality that Holmgren promised the Browns employees he’d change.
Thirty-three months and 10 wins in 38 games later, the arrival of Haslam and Banner has Holmgren turning in his Cleveland cell phone. Holmgren got the Packers and Seahawks to the Super Bowl as a coach, but the Browns only finished near the top of the annual draft during his tenure as their president.
Haslam and Banner’s words about winning and vision and change mark the start of what’s next, another turning of another page.
Browns fans have heard it all before. Maybe this time, there’s more than just hope that it really will be different.
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