One day before the Browns took the field for their first training camp practice, owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam stood in front of the entire team and delivered a message that left a lasting impact on players young and old.
"For them to come in there and really talk to us and let us know how they feel about the organization and what direction they want us going, I've never had that from an owner before," said Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, who is entering his seventh season with the Browns. "Just showing how passionate they are, telling us about their life and their family and just how much bringing a winning organization to this city means to them was special. Everybody loved it."
Said rookie quarterback Cody Kessler: "I haven't heard many other owners' speeches, but for me, it was amazing. They're such good people and they come in, and they were just real with you. They came in and sat down and started talking as if we were their own family."
The speech was not an idea of either Jimmy or Dee Haslam. It was a request from coach Hue Jackson.
"Matter of fact, we pushed back. 'Are you sure you want us to do that?'" Jimmy Haslam said Sunday before the team's third practice of training camp. "So we had a good conversation. There were two basic messages. One was preparation and two, this is our expectations of you as a Cleveland Brown both on and off the field. We listed three or four things that were important in preparation and one of them is eliminate all the distractions from your life."
The focus on football has increased dramatically over the past week in the cities of the NFL's 32 franchises. In Cleveland, Haslam enters his fourth full season as Browns owner, and his excitement for not only the upcoming season, but also the years to come stems from the people he's surrounded himself with at all levels.
"I can tell you and I think you all sense this that you're at practice and around enough to see there is a noticeable difference in our building both in terms of energy level and I think equally as important in terms of collaboration and how well everyone is working together," Haslam said. "We're excited about it. At the same time, we're realistic. We're realistic that last year we were 3-13. This is a franchise that has not drafted well over the years and that of course is how you build a good football team.
"We're cautiously optimistic but the same time realistic about where we stand."
Haslam said his goal for a head coach is to be the "pacesetter" of the franchise, and that's exactly what Jackson has become in the seven months he's been on the job. How he's energized the players, assembled an experienced coaching staff and collaborated with a reorganized front office led by executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta have stood out to the owner.
Now, it's about getting better on the field. It's something in which Haslam won't assign a specific win total but it's a quality he expects based on what he's already seen.
"We have unbelievable fans," Haslam said. "I can't guarantee that we're going to have a winning season after going 3-13. I do think we'll be a better football team. I know we'll be a better football team.
"We're directionally correct and I think we have pretty good fans who will understand that this is a team … We'll play hard, and I think fans appreciate that. Off what we saw in the spring and what we've seen these first two days, obviously we have a long way to go, but I think these guys will work hard and play hard and I think our fans will appreciate that."
Just a couple of weeks ago, Haslam hosted Cavs owner Dan Gilbert at his house. Haslam said he "couldn't be happier" for the Cavs, who ended a 52-year title drought for sports franchises in Cleveland when they stunned the Warriors by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals in seven games.
The motivation to bring a winning football team back to Cleveland was already maxed out, but it went to an even higher level after seeing how the city reacted to a championship.
"When the Cavs won on that Sunday night, the first text was from my Dad, and before I read it I had one from Hue," Haslam said. "I think all of us, when you see the love of sports from the fans, and you all appreciate this much more than I do since you all have lived here longer, it makes us want to win even more for these great fans."