PITTSBURGH -- Jimmy Haslam made it clear in multiple instances Sunday there are few, if any ways to sugarcoat a 1-15 season, calling it "unacceptable," but the Browns owner reaffirmed his belief in the organization's direction after one of the toughest losses of the year.
In the moments after Cleveland's 27-24 overtime loss to the Steelers, Haslam praised the work he's seen from Hue Jackson and his coaching staff along with the work of the team's personnel department, which is spearheaded by executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and vice presidents of player personnel Andrew Berry and Ken Kovash.
"I could not be more pleased with the job Hue and his staff are doing. You wouldn't think this was a team that was 1-14 and out there battling and playing 70-plus minutes of football. And I'm really pleased with our personnel group," Haslam said. "I think we have the right people in place. It took us a while to get there and I'll take all the responsibility there as I've said in the past. I think this time last year I said this is going to be a multi-year rebuild. It is.
"Has this year been harder than we thought it would be? Yes. I promise you this: We will work hard, we've got the right people in place."
The message echoed a similar sentiment from Jackson, who urged fans to hang with the Browns after a 1-15 season that, on the surface, may not give off the appearance of an organization headed in the right direction.
The team's top veterans, including all-pro Joe Thomas, tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, laid out their excitement for 2017 and beyond under Jackson in recent days and weeks. Jackson fought through the disappointment of another tough, last-second loss to do the same Sunday.
"I think that if people would look at our team, they'd see a young team that fights hard and some veterans that play hard, and a team that's together," Jackson said. "I don't think there's any faction within what we do or how we do it. We just need to continue to get better in all areas. For me, I'm going to go back and look at everything from top to bottom. We'll do that and take our time in doing that, because my charge is to get this organization and football team where it needs to be along with our executive group. I know that's their charge. That's my charge. That's what we're going to do.
"It's not going to be easy decisions that we're going to have to make but there will be some that we have to make to get this organization up to where it needs to be. I feel comfortable that the support is there and that's what we'll do."
Haslam broke the offseason path toward consistent winning football into three steps.
"We have to execute," Haslam said. "No. 1, we've got to re-sign our key players. No. 2, we've got to be appropriately aggressive in free agency and No. 3, we've got to have a great draft."
The Browns are projected to hold double-digit picks for a second consecutive year and clinched the No. 1 overall pick by finishing with the worst record in the league. Cleveland also holds another first-round pick, acquired in a trade before last year's draft with the Philadelphia Eagles, that is expected to fall in the top 15 and multiple second-round picks.
The Browns will hold five picks in the top 65 and be the first team on the clock on all three days of the draft.
"It's good but I'll say this: We wanted to win the game today," Haslam said. "We obviously have the No. 1 pick and we need to use it wisely and make good decisions. The reason we're (having seasons with 3-13 and 1-15 (records) because the Cleveland Browns, including on our watch, have not made good decisions in the draft. It's real simple. It's not complicated. We've not made good decisions and we need to reverse that and reverse that this year and we've got a good opportunity."
Haslam said he reflected on his time as Browns owner on his drive from the airport Sunday to Heinz Field. Ultimately, the losing has been tough to stomach but his encouragement about the direction of the organization continues to power his belief the Browns' fortunes are due to change soon.
"We're not giving up," Haslam said. "Has it been fun? No. Has it been discouraging at times? Yes. Are we going to give up? No. We're more than ever determined to get this right."