BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Michael Lombardi knows his return to the Browns was wildly unpopular with many Cleveland fans.
All he can do to change their minds is help build a winner.
“I have thick skin,” Lombardi said Friday after being introduced as the team’s new vice president of player personnel. “I worked for Al Davis. I’ve been ripped before.”
Lombardi, who spent the past five years as an analyst for the NFL Network, is back for a second stint with the Browns. He was with the team from 1987-95 as pro personnel director, working alongside coach Bill Belichick. It was during his tenure that the Browns released popular quarterback Bernie Kosar, a move that infuriated some Cleveland fans who continue to hold a grudge against Lombardi and Belichick.
After being welcomed by owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, Lombardi said he was humbled to return to Cleveland.
“When we left and the team moved it was heartbreaking for me,” Lombardi said. “We’ve all grown from those days. I stand before you different, both professionally and personally.”
Lombardi said he received a congratulatory phone call from Kosar.
“That was huge,” he said.
Lombardi previously worked in Philadelphia with Banner and the two have maintained a close relationship. Last week, Banner denied Lombardi was assisting him in the club’s coaching search.
Haslam said he had no concerns about Lombardi’s past in Cleveland.
“We didn’t worry about that at all,” Haslam said. “I’ve said every decision we make is not going to be popular. I have the utmost confidence Mike is going to help us put together a winning team.”
Lombardi has also worked in San Francisco and Oakland, where he spent eight seasons (1999-2007) under Davis’ heavy thumb.
The Browns had been looking for a general manager or personnel director since Tom Heckert was fired following a 5-11 season. Heckert overhauled Cleveland’s roster in three seasons.
Last week, the team hired former Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as its sixth coach since 1999.
Chudzinski hired former San Diego coach Norv Turner on Thursday and said he’s getting close to naming a defensive coordinator.