BEREA — Browns CEO is very optimistic that the Browns are poised to turn things around for the long haul. In a meeting with the local media on the Browns practice field in Berea, Banner answered questions for over 20 minutes regarding the Browns this year and the future. He also talked about the lawsuits against Pilot Flying J and his perception on how that will affect Jimmy Haslam and the Browns moving forward.
Banner said he is excited as the Browns take the field to start training camp on Thursday at 4 p.m. for the first official practice of training camp, which is open to the public.
“I think it’s the effort, the quality of the coaching staff, the caliber of the people we added,” Banner said. “I think you start with the minicamp. There’s a real pace, energy and work ethic and that makes a difference. That’s the culture that Chud (Rob Chudzinski) has instilled, along with the scheme, those are the types of things that will help us.”
Banner was asked about what type of season he thinks the Browns will have in 2013, but he didn’t want to give a number of wins or losses, rather choosing to focus on the bigger picture.
“My focus is really on wanting to see the shift in the culture that we’ve talked about, the effort, wanting to see the schemes that the coaches are putting in,” he said. “That the players get better as the season goes in what we’re doing. Seeing the young players develop that we’re talking about and hoping that they are all what we think they could be. That’s really my focus, wanting to see the work ethic and the pace that you saw in the spring stay through the whole season. So I think if we see those things then we’re on the right track.”
Despite, the legal problems with Haslam and Pilot Flying J, Banner said he feels the Browns have been able make solid strides in the team’s perception.
“We’re about where we thought we’d be,” he said. “It’s been a little overlooked, but we got two free agents that a lot of teams were interested in. The fact that they chose to come here is an important message to our team and around the league. The fact that we signed John Greco yesterday and the fact that players don’t sign early unless they are optimistic and it’s a place they want to be. I think that was bigger than the fact that he was from here, although that helped. I think those things kind of feed on themselves and if you want to be a winning organization and a place where teams want to come to that means they feel good about the people who are going to coach them and that they are optimistic about winning. There is an economic component, as well, but those other factors are in there when you’re competing for those types of players.
“I think that is a really good sign on how the league is adjusting their thinking about what it would be to come and play here or coach here,” he said. “That’s a thing that will help us in the long term.”
Banner knows that regimes have come and gone with the Browns since 1999 and all have said they were going to turn things around. Banner was asked why he feels his regime will succeed.
“I don’t want this to sound the wrong way, but I think the key to the answer is the people leading the organization really have to sell that message and vision, and just sell it hard enough for people to believe us,” Banner said. “I mean, I come from having a track record, worked with Andy Reid for 14 years. That’s about as long a partnership is during the league and had Howie Roseman, who’s the general manager there, 14 years.
“Don Smolenski, who became the president when I left, was there 14 years,” he continued. “Our directors of revenue were there seven or eight years. One of them, Len Komoroski came here and became President of the Cavaliers.
I think the fact that they’ve seen that my belief, and it may be kind of cliché-ish, is you don’t want to have continuity until you’ve got the right people in place because that’s the fastest way to really (do it), but once you have the right people in place, continuity is the most important, valuable thing that you can do.
“We just have to sell that vision,” he said. “We’ve got to get them to buy it and trust it. I think we’re in very good shape with that. We’re starting to re-sign some of our own players, the kind of people we brought in here helps with all that, but some of it is just they’re just going to have to see it in action.”
Banner knows the Browns weren’t able to address all of their needs in this past off-season.
“This is actually the hardest part of where we’re at,” he said. “Because whether it’s Jimmy or Chud or myself, we’re really impatient and we’re really competitive. So to have the discipline to do this the way we think you’ve got to do it if you’re going to sustain success is really, really hard right now. We’re trying to stay very disciplined about taking steps forward as opposed to fooling ourselves into trying to do everything at once, frankly signing too many free agents that are hard to integrate.
“The track record on free agents, in terms of the success rate isn’t as high as you’d like, so you’ve got to be really selective and careful,” he said. “I can’t wait till we get to the point where we go into a season feeling like we’ve at least got solid players at every position, and hopefully some really dynamic difference-makers at some positions. It takes a lot of discipline, but having studied the teams that have done this well, having been part of a turnaround in Philadelphia, it’s really clear that the teams that have done this and sustained the success have taken the approach where for the first year or two they go into it knowing there are still some things left to do in terms of the roster, but been willing to build it that way on the way in so once they get there they can keep it there.”
Only time will tell if Banner’s vision for the Browns will pay off, but there’s no question he has a plan.
Other questions that Banner addressed:
Q: How have Haslam’s legal problems affected the Browns front office?:
Banner: “It really hasn’t affected us at all. We have a team we put together here of really, really good people, whether we’re talking the coaching staff, the business side, even our foundation. We’re really excited about the team we put together.
Jimmy really had a vision. He spoke hereabout what his priorities were around creating a phenomenal fan experience and being focused on winning fans again. He hired me. We put together a team on a day to day basis to accomplish that. We’re free and clear to do all that. Nothing has happened to impact our ability to do that or frankly given us any reason not to be successful.”
Q: Is there anything you can say to fans to re-assure them concerning the Browns stability?:
Banner: “I don’t know what we can say beyond what we’ve said. And I understand why that doesn’t give everybody total peace of mind, believe me. But I don’t know what we can say more than we’re operating the team exactly as we would whether this had happened or not. Jimmy is here and incredibly supportive and a huge asset to us. I think he’s made it clear and I’ve tried to make it clear without any ambiguity at all that he’s not going to sell the team. But I understand why until that actually happens and this thing plays itself out that it’s a legitimate question.”
Q: Has he talked to you about this and said anything differently?:
Banner: “We’ve certainly talked about it privately. He’s been extremely open with me and felt it was appropriate I knew what was going on and reinforce the very same messages he said publicly. We certainly discussed it, but I know him. I have a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn’t say I had to be reassured.”
Q: Is there uncertainty in the Browns building?:
Banner: “I think when it first started people had questions about it, but I think fairly quickly they got answers and felt comfortable. They know me. They know Jimmy. I think they trust what we told them and we’re right back focused on exactly what we’re doing.”
Q: What was your reaction when Pilot got raided?:
Banner: “It was a surprise. Obviously, it wasn’t anything anybody was anticipating, so I was surprised. But I got the chance to know Jimmy and we talked about how we were going to run the Browns. The focus of his was doing things the right way, doing things with integrity from the first moment I met him. It certainly wasn’t anything I anticipated, but I felt comfortable with his responses. And as I said, we’ve been free to operate the Browns exactly the same way whether this happened or not.”
Q: Do you have more responsibility now that Jimmy is dealing with the legal issues?:
Banner: “No, as I say, the plan was for him to create this vision, for him to be involved in it, but to trust myself and the team we were going to put together to kind of implement it on a day-to-day basis, so we’ve continued to do that and I hope well. And as I say, I don’t think we’re doing anything differently here than we would’ve been doing if this had never happened.”
Q: The perception was that Jimmy was going to be a very hands on owner. Has that changed?:
Banner: “The vision he told me he had for how he wanted to be an owner, which included him talking about some of the other owners in the league that he respected and that he wanted to operate in a similar manner to, is exactly the way things have gone, so whatever terms may have been used in terms of being hands on, how he defined that to me and how we’ve operated are totally in synch.”
Q: Do you see a scenario where the Browns could be sold?:
Banner: “I don’t see that scenario.”
Q: Thoughts on Brandon Weeden?:
Banner: “I don’t know in terms of final answers, but we’re excited he has come in and met with Chud extensively. He has worked extremely hard and has done everything he has been asked to do. He obviously did a lot of work in the spring at the position. I think everyone is encouraged on how hard he is working and how badly he wants to do well.”
Q: Do you see all three quarterbacks here at the start of the season?:
Banner: “In terms of evaluating them and how they’re going to be used and stuff like, I want to leave that stuff to Chud. In terms of roster, we’ll see what happens and you’re always looking for any chance to upgrade any position on the team, so we’ll keep our eyes open, but I think we feel pretty good about those three guys.”
Q: What’s your assessment of Josh Gordon in light of his 2 game suspension?:
Banner: “He spent a fair amount of time talking to Chud and he’s got to do some work and he understands he’s going to be held accountable and he gets the rope that’s left isn’t long. In working with the coaches they need to see that commitment, that work ethic. Obviously, off the field he needs to make good choices.”
Q: Has there been any hesitation on sponsors’ parts because of the investigation?:
Banner: “Not that they’ve expressed, and I don’t mean this to say the wrong way but we’ve sold more season tickets than the Browns have sold since at least the return here. This offseason, more suites, more club seats, more new marketing partnerships. So there’s a lot of optimism and positive feeling about where the franchise is heading and I think it started with him taking over, leading the team and the vision he had and the team we’ve put together to run it.”
Q: Do you think part of that was your decision to do away with PSLs?:
Banner: “I think it’s a combination of things. But we did that because we view that as something that was very friendly. I know some people misinterpreted and didn’t get that, but it is actually a very fan-friendly decision. So it did open the door for some people. But I also think there’s a lot of energy, even increased energy and optimism about what things we’re doing now and where the franchise is headed. I think that’s the main reason you see that happening.”
Q: What is the renewal of last year’s season ticket holders?:
Banner: “I think we’re at 94 percent renewal rate. So season-ticket holders came back, which is an extraordinarily high number historically here. When I say that, a few percentage points actually makes a big difference. So that’s very exciting. Then as I say, we only direct back to 1999, and we’ve sold more new season tickets than has been sold in any year since 1999. For us, those are the tips of the iceberg where people are starting to feel optimistic and encouraged by what they’re seeing and wanting to be even more of a part of it than they’ve been.”
Q: Will cell phone service be better at the stadium this year?: