Haslam makes move, then calms staff
CHICAGO — Jimmy Haslam's first move as owner of the Cleveland Browns will be his last until the season ends.
But the first move is a whopper.
On Oct. 25, former Eagles executive Joe Banner will take over as the Browns CEO. Haslam said Mike Holmgren will step down as "de facto owner," but will remain with the team until the end of the season.
Haslam, who was approved as Browns owner by a unanimous vote by the league owners Tuesday morning, said over and over that he will make no more personnel decisions in Berea, Ohio, until after the season.
But the move with Banner moves the earth toward a(nother) new era in Cleveland.
"It's all about people," Haslam said after he bought the team from the Lerner family.
Those who know Banner credit him for his savvy in business affairs, in handling contracts and the salary cap. He helped bring a new stadium to Philadelphia, and was involved in making it viable for more than eight games a season.
He handled contracts for the Eagles for years, and attacked negotiations with the same competitiveness a team would have. He wanted to win, and was not exactly patient with agents (that alone may be a selling point).
But his desire to win didn't always prove popular, and the breaking point came prior to last season when discussions with standout receiver DeSean Jackson turned bitter. Jackson let the contract issue affect his play, and after the 2011 season the Eagles gave those responsibilities to general manager Howie Roseman, who has a kinder, gentler approach — or at least is perceived that way.
Banner is direct, and will bring a different feel to the Browns' front office, which is used to the warm side of Holmgren. Banner can be … well … challenging.
Haslam provided few details of how the two came together, except to say he talked to several people.
It's generally believed that the league somehow united Haslam with Banner, though commissioner Roger Goodell said "no" when asked if that happened. Because the league wanted a more active owner with the Browns, it reached out to Haslam, who wanted more than the partial ownership he has with the Steelers (which he is selling). Banner was president of the Eagles from 2001-12, but left in June with the stated desire to build another organization. The partnership seems perfect.
"I like people who are smart, intense, focused and work hard," Haslam said. "That sums up Joe Banner in a word. There's no BS. He comes to work every day. And Joe is firmly committed to building the Cleveland Browns like we are."
The ripple effect remains to be seen. Haslam said he assured coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert last weekend that he was doing this to assure a smooth transition.
That will calm the waters a bit, but it won't end uncertainty. Most in the league believe a new owner and new CEO would want his own guys. It usually happens, and Haslam admits that in any business "personnel changes are a part of life."
Haslam said he's done his best to assure the coaches and front office that they are not lame ducks.
"I just looked them in the eye and told them that," Haslam said. "I told Pat that. I said no decisions have been made. I'm very comfortable saying that. These men, they're big boys. They understand the profession they're in. They've been through it before, and they understand it."
He would not put a number of wins for Shurmur to keep his job, but did say he wants to see improvement and "positive direction."
"I would never stand up here and say we have to have ‘X' amount of wins or whatever," Haslam said.
Heckert's status might be a little more tricky. He and Banner worked together in Philadelphia. Their relationship is not certain, but it's not believed to be overly cuddly. Many in the league expect Heckert to be with another team in 2013, but timing is tough because the front office usually does the preparations for the draft, which is in April.
Haslam, though, said that Banner will be involved in football, that football operations will report to Banner.
That could affect Heckert's thinking. Presently he reports to Holmgren, a football guy. Banner is viewed as more of a business guy.
Haslam said he'd spent more time with Holmgren than anyone since his purchase was announced. But with a more active and involved owner, Holmgren's role would change and Holmgren agreed to step aside. He and Haslam worked out a settlement for the final two years of his contract, a settlement Haslam called "amicable."
Holmgren no doubt will move to Seattle full-time once the season ends.
Haslam will introduce Banner at a news conference in Berea at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Haslam became an official owner about mid-morning when all 32 owners approved him. He then was ushered into the room to applause.
"It's exciting and it's fun," Haslam said. "On the other hand there's 100 people in the room and they're all looking at you and you're not sure whether to smile or look up or look down.
"But it's exciting. I can't say any different."