Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam Press Conference 10-16-12
(Opening statement)- “It’s obviously, a very exciting day for our family and I guess like a lot of families, it’s one that we have dreamed about for a long, long time. What we’ve come to understand since August 3 when we were introduced in Berea, Ohio is that’s it’s made even more special by the fact that it’s the Cleveland Browns. I had always heard what a great football town and football area Cleveland and Northeast Ohio is, but what we’ve experienced since August 3 has been nothing short of phenomenal. This is truly one of the great, iconic NFL brands and if you think back to Paul Brown and of course arguably the greatest NFL player of all time, Jim Brown, it’s a very special place. As we have said on numerous occasions we’re going to do everything we possibly can and work as hard as we possibly can to bring a winning team to the fans of Cleveland whether they’re in Cleveland, Northeast Ohio or one of the many Browns Backers around the country. We’re going to work hard for them. Somebody asked me if I was excited to win the first game and I said, ‘Well of course we were, it’s a relief.’ and I was excited for the players and the coaches who work hard, put a lot of time in and candidly, catch all of the grief, but I was really most excited for our fans. As we left the stadium an hour or so after the game there were still thousands of people around and if I didn’t know better I would have thought we just won the AFC Championship instead of winning our first game in 11 months. It’s a great town, it’s a great football community and we feel very privileged to now own the team, it’s really an asset of the community and we’re going to do everything we can to increase the value of that asset and candidly, the way you do that is you put a winning team on the field.
“I want to comment on three different people, I’ll start with a family group. The Haslam family owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Lerner family. If you think back to, first of all the late Al Lerner, who worked so hard to bring a team back to Cleveland. We wouldn’t be standing here today if he hadn’t done that. Secondly, his wife Norma who has become a great friend of my wife and I and who has been very gracious at introducing southerners to the Cleveland community. It’s been outstanding. Then lastly to Randy Lerner who I met for the first time on July 2 and he’s worked very closely with us during this transition process. It’s been a great experience with the Lerner family and we look forward to continuing to work closely with them into the future.
“The next person I want to comment on is Mike Holmgren. I’ll be honest, I had never met Mike until Thursday night, August 2. Of course I knew of him, knew the famous Super Bowl winning coach, etcetera. On Thursday night, August 2, my dad, my wife and I had dinner with Mike and it was suppose to be a hour dinner and it ended up being about three hours. We quickly found out we had two things in common, and I want to get this right because my wife is probably listening, family and football. We talked for a long time and had a great visit and since that time we have spent hours and hours together. Candidly, I’ve spent more time with Mike than anyone in the organization. He’s been kind enough to answer hundreds and hundreds of questions about the NFL and pro football and how you do this and why you do this, etcetera. Mike has decided with our becoming the owner that his role would obviously change a lot. Mike was brought in to be the President and I think in a lot of ways the de facto owner and with us coming in and taking a more active role, Mike has decided to, effective at the end of the year, to leave the Cleveland Browns and to retire. Mike will work very closely with us over the next three or four months to ensure that this transition goes as well as possible. Mike and I have had numerous long talks and I know that he has been and still is committed to doing everything he can to help make the Cleveland Browns a better football team.
“To assist with that transition, and I think that the Browns are a big organization, I don’t think a guy walks out the one door one day and somebody takes his place the next day. I don’t think that’s necessarily the way to do thing so we are going to bring in Joe Banner. Joe will be the CEO of the team. That will be effective on October 25. Joe and Mike will work together over the next three, three and a half months until the end of the season to transition, in what I would call a seamless fashion, to do everything we can to bring a winner to the Cleveland Browns. You think about the experience that the two of them have, it’s probably over 50 years of experience in the NFL and I don’t think we could have two better people help us turn this transition around and we’re very excited about that. I know there will be a lot of questions about personnel and what about this and what about that, there’s always questions about the head coach and I will tell you exactly what I told Pat Shurmur on Saturday night and the other key people of our organization. This is the only personnel change we’re going to make until the end of the season and I’m not at all saying that we’re going to make changes at the end of the season, but this is the only personnel change we’re going to make. Candidly, we thought with Mike deciding that the role no longer fit him, we thought it was important to bring somebody in so we do have a good transition and we’re able to hit the ground running after the end of the season.
“We’re a young team, we’ve played six games, we’re 1-5, but if you’ve followed us we could easily be 3-3. We have a lot of football left to play. We played our best game the other day and we’re going to do everything we can to support Pat and his coaches and his team for the balance of the season. At the end of the year we’ll evaluate everybody in the organization just like we will at the end of every year, whether we win the Super Bowl or we win two games. That’s our philosophy and that’s what we’ll do.”
(On what non-personnel changes might be made right out of the gate)- “You know Tony (Zarrella) we’re taking over the team in the middle of the season so I think what you’ll see is you’ll see us with a very visible presence. I think you’ve seen that already. We’re going to be in Cleveland and we’re going to be in Cleveland a lot. I think for two reasons, one, this is the second largest investment that our family has, our main one being our primary business Pilot Flying J and the second is we think it’s important for ownership to be present and to be involved. Like I said and I’ve said this a thousand times and will continue to say so, we’re going to do everything we can to bring a winning team to the Browns.”
(On if there was any discussion with Mike Holmgren to modify his role so he could stay)- “I think Mike was brought in to do a certain role and that’s the kind of guy Mike is and I don’t think he wanted to do a different role. I can’t stress enough what a good relationship we have. Mike will not be in Cleveland everyday like he is now at the end of the season, but I think he’s a guy that a year, two years or three years from now if I have a question about football or a question about how to do something, I’ll feel very comfortable and hopefully he’ll do the same.”
(On his reaction when he first walked into the owners meeting)- “It’s exciting and it’s fun. On the other hand there are a hundred people and they’re all looking at you and you’re not sure whether to smile or look up or look down. It’s very exciting, I can’t say any different and our entire family is very excited. It’s a great opportunity.”
(On if he and Joe Banner will decide what changes will be made)- “Joe’s going to be the CEO. He’ll be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company, but any big decisions we’ll be heavily involved in.”
(On how he became affiliated with Joe Banner and how long has he known him)- “Once it became apparent in late July that we might have a opportunity we started talking to a lot of people who have been involved in football for a couple reasons. Primarily to get up the learning curve. We’ve been in business, done relatively well in that and been around football, but it’s a lot different when you have the responsibility we now do. One of the people that we talked to early on was Joe. We talked to all kinds of different people, some of them very well-known and very famous if you will and other you’ve probably never heard of. I’m not going to go into naming any of them, but Joe was one of the ones we talked to early. I’ve talked to Joe lots of times since then. His track record with Philadelphia is outstanding, his commitment, work drive, passion and intelligence to help make the Browns a winner is something that we’re very excited about.”
(On if Banner will have a role on the football side)- “Football will report to Joe. We haven’t worked out all of the final details, but football will report to Joe as the CEO. We will, as I mentioned earlier, be heavily involved.”
(On why he hired Banner and what went into that process)- “Well I think we’ve developed a pretty good personal relationship, candidly, over the last three or four months. We did a lot of checking, a lot of background checking. This is key hire, right? Of course in our current life now running a company like Pilot Flying J, we’ve hired a lot of seasoned senior executives. I think we know that process, know how to understand it and go about it and we feel very excited about the hire of Joe.”
(On if he tried to talk Holmgren out of his decision to retire)- “If you know Mike, he’s a pretty strong personality. I think Mike had in is mind exactly what he wants to do with the rest of his life and like I said, we’ve had numerous conversations on the subject as late as Sunday night. They’ve all been very positive and I think Mike would say the same if you checked with him.”
(On if Holmgren told him his decision on Sunday night)- “No, that’s something we’ve been working on for the past several weeks. All I’m saying is we had a long conversation Sunday night to work out some of the logistics. Let me say this, Mike is a first class professional that I’ve enjoyed working with and with my truck stop terminology, if you will, he’s a really good man.”
(On what criteria will be used to evaluate the coaching staff at the end of the season)- “I don’t know that. I would never stand up here and say we have to have x amount of wins or whatever. I think you want to see a positive direction. It’s been a tough year for our coaching staff and players because, let’s face it, arguably our best defensive player, one of our best players missed four games. Joe (Haden) has two interceptions. If Joe played all four of those games, would we have won a couple more? It’s purely speculator, I don’t know. It’s a young team, it’s getting better. We’re the youngest or the second youngest team. I think you want to see continued improvement. You want to see them play hard, and if you’ve seen our team, we’ve played hard every game. The Cincinnati game, Trent (Richardson) gets hurt, we faced adversity, they hang in there tough, and actually played their best football of all year in the fourth quarter the other day, which was great to see.”
(On how he assures the present coaching staff and front office that they’re not lame ducks)- “I just looked them in the eye and told them that. I told Pat (Shurmur) that. I said, no decisions have been made. I’m very comfortable saying that. These men are big boys. They understand the profession they’re in. They’ve been through it before. They understand it. I had a great talk with Pat in his suite Saturday night for about an hour and a half. I think Pat and I have good relationship. He knows what he has to do. The timing of us coming in the day of training camp was not the best in the world, but it is what it is. I’ve said all along, we don’t want to be a distraction. I’ve told Pat, that if there’s anything we can do let us know, otherwise you go out and coach the football team, get the guys ready to play hard. Let’s win as many games as we can.”
(On his vision of how an NFL owner does his job and if there is another he will model himself after)- “There’s a lot of good franchises out there, but I think at the end of the day, we’ve talked to a lot of owners as you’ve heard us say, I think you have to take what works well for others, but still be yourself. We’re going to be involved, but I think involved in the proper way. I’ve said this publicly, I had five people that reported to me at Pilot Flying J. They’re all smarter than I am and they’re all better at their role than I am. We let them do their jobs, but on the other hand, we question them, we push them, we challenge them, we hold them accountable. I think we’ll use that same managerial style at Pilot Flying J. Several people, including one very prominent owner this morning said, just use the basic instincts you’ve had that have been successful in helping build your business and do the same when you’re running an NFL franchise. That feels right to us. Let me say this, we will make mistakes. We’re going to make some mistakes, we’re going to make some bad decisions, hopefully they’re not fatal and hopefully we can correct them quickly.”
(On how long it will take him to unload his stake in the Steelers)- “I hope not long. We’re really close to selling the majority of it, and I think that’ll happen by the end of the month. I would hope that the balance would happen by the end of the year. Art Rooney and the Steelers want to see it happen, and we want to see it happen. Once I told Art we were negotiating with Randy (Lerner), I completely divorced myself from the Steelers, so it’s just a matter of getting a financial transaction done. Like I said, we hope to have that done by the end of the year if not sooner.”
(On defining the line that owners walk when running a team)- “I don’t know. I think that’s a good question. I haven’t ever done this before, so I don’t want to pretend to be an expert. I think you’re right. I was talking to another owner this morning, and it’s how involved do you get in what coach should do and what the players should do. I think we’ll just have to learn as we go. I don’t have anything set in mind because I’ve never done this before.”
(On if he will make any other noticeable changes to the Cleveland Browns)- “I think short term Tony (Grossi), no. We have 10 games left. We’re not going to change anything now. I think we’ve been very public in Cleveland that we’ll look at everything except the helmet. We’re going to look at the uniforms, we’re going to look at the stadium, but listen, it’s all about putting a really good team on the field. If you have a really good team, I don’t think people care too much about your uniforms. We do want to enhance the stadium and make a great experience for the fans. What that looks like, I don’t know, I’m not a stadium guy. I do know we’re going to look at it because it’s all about the fans.”
(On if his agreement with Mike Holmgren includes any type of settlement)- “Sure and I’m not going to talk about that, but I think it’s been a very amicable situation with Mike.”
(On if Joe Banner will have any percentage of ownership)- “No.”
(On if there have been any conversations with Randy Lerner and if Lerner gave him any advice)- “Randy and I have talked a lot, but Randy’s a gentleman and just like if, I hope we never sell the team, I hope it’s an asset of our family hopefully forever, but I don’t think he’s that kind of guy. If I were passing the team onto somebody else I wouldn’t either. It’s do the best you can and enjoy it. I will say this, what Randy reminded me the first time I met him is remember this is really an asset of the community and I think that’s good advice and in our opening remarks we talked about that.”
(On if he anticipates any family members joining the organization)- “I doubt it, but we have a large family so you don’t know. As you’ve seen we have a big family and there were a lot of people at the game, but everybody also has full-time jobs or is a full-time family person so we’ll see over a period of time.”
(On if he expects the sale of the team to close on October 25)- “We do.”
(On if he will be introducing Joe Banner tomorrow in Berea)- “Yes we are, thanks for the heads up. Two things that I know you all will be interested in, we are going to have an opportunity to introduce Joe tomorrow at 10:00 at Berea. Mike is also going to be available sometime this week. It won’t be tomorrow. We’ll let you all know whether that’s Thursday or Friday or when that might be.”
(On if being a minority owner of the Steelers helped pave the way for him to be a majority owner)- “You all know because you cover it for a living, the NFL is a big deal and it’s a lot of fun and exciting. As a limited partner, in particular with the Steelers where we won a Super Bowl and went to a Super Bowl, it’s a great experience. You have to look and say is this is something we would enjoy doing and the answer is yes. I’ve said on numerous occasions the Rooney’s are everything as advertised. They’re quality people, they do it the right way, they’re gentlemen so you can’t help but learn from that. I would consider Art and Dan amongst our family’s best friends. They’re great people.”