Reporting Daryl Ruiter
BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Dressed in a grey sport coat with an orange tie and Browns helmet lapel pin, Jimmy Haslamm III stood in front of a packed room and outlined his vision for the Cleveland Browns Friday afternoon.
A day after agreeing to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for $1 billion, Haslam was introduced by current team president Mike Holmgren and then he made a promise.
“I can’t tell you how excited our family is to be part of Cleveland and more important the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said. “I know there’s some people who think that maybe we might want to move the team out of Cleveland, and I can assure you there is zero chance of that happening.”
Standing for 27 minutes, Haslam spoke with enthusiasm and passion about turning the downtrodden franchise back into winners.
“We have one mission only: bringing winning back to Cleveland,” Haslam said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be a winning franchise. If we aren’t, I’ll accept the blame.”
The Browns have been a punchline and doormat of the AFC North and rest of the NFL since returning in 1999.
The team, which won it’s last championship in 1964 and has never been to a Super Bowl, has had 1 playoff appearance, 2 winning seasons, 10 double-digit loss campaigns and a combined 68-140 record in the 13 years since they returned.
Unfortunately, the fans have heard it all before as the presidents, coaches, and general managers have been hired, then fired a short time later.
So why will Haslam be able to turn the franchise around?
“I hate to refer back to our business track record but that’s all I know,” Haslam said. “If you look at our main company, Pilot Flying J, we’ve been in business 53 years. We have a very, very senior group of management, a very set culture, and that’s how we plan on doing it here. We’re going to devote whatever time necessary it takes to get things right in Cleveland.
“I believe we’re on the right path now. We’re going to take whatever steps necessary to bring winning football back to Cleveland.”
Haslam received some first hand knowledge of winning in the NFL – as a minority owner in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He has switched sides in a rivalry that has become grossly lopsided.
“Our main goal is to return that to a real rivalry,” Haslam said. “The Rooneys are everything you’ve ever heard and read that they are. They’re class people, they do things right. I take no credit for the four years that we were there, but two Super Bowls, won 1, playoffs 3 years, and they do things the right way.
“They have the Steeler way of doing things. We will now have the Browns way of doing things.”
Haslam made it no secret when he got involved with the Steelers that his desire was to own his own team.
“We’ve had a relationship with that other team down the road that wears black and gold that we used to be 1,000 percent for, but we’re not anymore,” Haslam said. “When we got involved with that other team, we let the owners of that other team and the league know that if we ever had the chance to become the majority of a team, we would have interest.”
He was told by the league in May that an NFL team was available and found out in late June it was the Browns.
It took him exactly a month to close the deal with Lerner.
Haslam would not comment on or speculate about the future of Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert or coach Pat Shurmur.
Throughout the press conference Haslam referred to Holmgren’s Hall of Fame credentials while admitting that he has a lot to learn about the Browns and the NFL.
“I sense there is a strong feeling here that Mike [Holmgren] and the team have things headed in the right direction,” Haslam said. “I think we have to listen, learn and observe.”
“I mean you’ve got a guy [Holmgren] that’s won a Super Bowl over there that’s gonna be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that’s a legend. We’re going to take some time to get up to speed before we get real involved in any football decisions. It’ll probably come a little quicker on the business side.”
One of the changes on the business side is a plan to sell naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The uniforms might get changed too. Maybe.
“Will we have naming rights? Probably at some time or could we change the uniforms? I don’t know,” Haslam said. “It is a marketing world we live in, and let’s be realistic about that. I don’t associate that with culture though. I think they are distinctly different. People may agree or disagree, but that’s our philosophy.
“In our business world, we changed our logo and our design of our stores multiple times over the years, but the basic culture and core beliefs – what we call Pilot Flying J values stay the same.”
The sale of the team is subject to NFL approval, which is expected prior to the owners meetings in October.
And the team is staying in Cleveland.