WESTLAKE, Ohio — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addressed the crowd at the Northeast Ohio chapter of the National Football Foundation’s annual scholar-athlete dinner on Tuesday night.
He addressed the media, too, but he didn’t take questions because of the ongoing FBI investigation into Haslam’s company, Pilot/Flying J. The comments were Haslam’s first in Cleveland since the FBI and IRS used warrants to enter Pilot/Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15.
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“I apologize to the city of Cleveland, Northeastern Ohio and all Browns fans because the last thing we ever wanted to do as a new owner was detract from football and the Browns and just what a great football area this is,” Haslam said. “So, I apologize for that. We feel badly about it and we’re very comfortable we’ll work through this situation. I did want to say that publicly.”
Haslam said he did not address the situation while in Berea for the draft two weeks ago because he did not want to detract from the Browns and the draft.
He expressed regret to all potentially affected by any illegal activity that may have occurred and vowed to repay — with interest — any amount that was unlawfully kept. Haslam expressed confidence in his own people and re-outlined the steps the company has vowed to take to clean things up.
“I’ve been out calling on trucking companies, first of all apologizing and second of all asking for a second chance,” Haslam said. “Because like I said, this is not how we act, not how we treat people and we’re going to begin to rebuild our reputation. We understand it will take a long time to do, but hey, we’re big boys. We’ve been in business 54 years and I hope we’re in business another 54 years, candidly.”
As for the business of the Browns, he addressed that, too — and again without taking questions. He seemed sensitive to criticism of the Browns draft but excited by what he’s hearing from those in the building.
While addressing the crowd he called new Browns coach Rob Chudzinski “one of the bright young minds in pro football” and said he likes the attacking style that both coordinators, Norv Turner and Ray Horton, plan to employ.
“I went to practice the other day,” Haslam said, “and we’re not throwing 3-yard dinks.”
Decide for yourself whether that was a shot at ex-head coach Pat Shurmur or not.
Here’s what else Haslam said about the Browns and their football business:
–“I think we’ll have a better football team this year, as I’ve said on several occasions. We’re going to do this the right way. It’s not going to happen overnight. You don’t go from winning 14 games in three years to winning 14 games in one year. But we will have a better team this year and we’ll be better in 2014. I think Joe (Banner) articulated it very well after the draft. There’s no throwing this year away. I think it’s very important we have a good team. We’ve put together a really coaching staff. The intensity in the building, several players have remarked to me that the intensity in the weight room and on the practice field is definitely amped up and the result of that will be a better football team.”
–“I’m very excited about the guys we picked up. . . . We’ll have everybody here (for rookie minicamp) Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m real excited about our schedule as I remarked in there. I think we have a great home schedule opening up with the Dolphins at home and having a Thursday night national TV game which I don’t think has happened in Cleveland since ’09. It will be great for our fans.”
–“I had the privilege of sitting in the draft room Thursday night, Friday night and all day Saturday. There were periods where it’s really boring but there are periods where it’s really interesting. I had the opportunity to watch Ray (Farmer) and Mike (Lombardi) and Rob and Joe (Banner) interact, and I know there have been some comments that maybe it’s not great teamwork but I’ve never seen four people work together in a positive manner better than those guys did. It was great to see it. And it wasn’t all agreement. There was a lot of disagreement, a lot of conversation going back and forth. I’m very excited about the draft we had. I think people forget we got Davone Bess, who I think is a hell of a player and the kind of player that makes a big difference — the kind of guy who knows how to get first downs on third down.”
–“I think we had a good offseason, and if you look at the teams that have been good in the NFL for the past few years you’re talking about the Giants, the Ravens, the 49ers, the Steelers, etc., all of them begin with those guys up front on defense. I think that was already a pretty good part of our team, and I think when you add in Paul Kruger, you add in Desmond Bryant, you add in Quentin Groves, and then our No. 1 draft pick who you’re going to love in KeKe Mingo, who’s not only a great player but a great guy. I think we’ve got some real studs up front.”