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Transcript: Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam & CEO Joe Banner Press Conference

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(Photo by John Reid, courtesy Cleveland Browns/NFL)

(Photo by John Reid, courtesy Cleveland Browns/NFL)

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BEREA (92.3 The Fan) - Monday morning the Cleveland Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert.

Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner held a press conference to discuss the dismissals and their decision to go in a different direction.

Below is a transcript of their comments courtesy of the Cleveland Browns media relations department.

Jimmy Haslam
(Opening statement)- “Good morning and thanks for coming. I think everybody has read the press release and is well aware of why we’re here today. Joe (Banner) and I did meet with Pat (Shurmur) and Tom (Heckert) this morning and had what I would describe as a very professional meeting, as you would expect, with the both of them. We told them that we were going to make a change in both of their positions. As I said, we had very professional conversations and both of them are now ready to move on and, candidly, we’re ready to move on. I know there’s going to be a million questions about this person and that person and let me just make a few remarks. Let me start by saying we want to thank both Pat and Tom for their service to the organization. They’re people who, particularly in my case Pat, I’ve gotten to know well over the last few months and think a tremendous amount of him as a person. I think that both of them left the organization better than when they came. We just felt like it was necessary – to get to a championship level – to make these changes, but we do want to thank them. We certainly wish them and their families the very best going forward. Joe and I are going to begin, very quickly, to look for a new head coach first and then a GM/player personnel-type second. There will be a million rumors out there. You all have done this before, about this person and that person. Much like when we spoke on August 3, we’re not going to comment on any people, specifically for either of the two searches. There are only two people who know who the candidates are and you’re looking at both of them. Although we only made the decision with Pat and Tom in the last week or two, I think any responsible person does succession planning and, candidly, we’ve been doing succession planning for the last two or three months. We think this is a great organization despite the changes that have occurred in the past. We’re well aware that this has been a carousel and as I’ve said before, it’s Joe and I’s job to find the right coach and the right GM and bring stability long term for the organization. That’s our role and we take it very responsibly, very seriously. We’ve researched a lot of people and we’ll be talking to some of those people here over the next few weeks. Our goal is to get the best person and if we happen to find that person within a week, that’s great and if it takes a month, that’s great also. I mean that for the best person for each of the two jobs. I just want to reiterate again, I don’t think it does any value or good to either the Cleveland Browns organization or those people to comment on any names so we’re not going to. As soon as we sign up somebody to be our head coach, you all will be notified and we’ll have them in this room. You’ll get the chance to talk to them and ask them a lot of question and the same with the GM/player personnel guy. I think before we answer any questions, Joe wants to make a few comments, particularly about Pat and Tom and his relationship with them and we’ll let Joe do that now.”

Joe Banner
“Jimmy’s covered it well, but I just wanted a chance myself knowing Pat and Tom for a long time, I’ve worked with both of them for years. I think they deserve a lot of credit for, as Jimmy said, this organization, they leave it better than they came. They’re both good people, they worked hard and they made a difference. It was a very tough decision, it was an emotional decision and we just want to make sure we appropriately thank them for what they did. As Jimmy said, we just felt like in the terms of the ultimate goals we have as we look down the road, a change gave us the best chance to do that, but that wasn’t an easy decision and time will tell whether it was the right decision. Those are good guys and they did a real good job here and we appreciate them as people and the work they did for us.”

Jimmy Haslam
“We’ve also met with the coaching staff. They, of course, are all under contract. We will be very liberal in granting them permission to talk to other teams. We have asked them that they follow the normal process in notifying us first, but we’ll do everything we can to help them get jobs. As the same time, when our new head coach comes in, he may want to hire some of those individuals himself and they’re well aware of the approximate timetable and we had almost identical conversations with them that we just had with you all. We also met with the scouting staff. They all will be retained. They’re all under contract. They’ll all be retained. We will go to work immediately in preparing for the free agent time period and the draft.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if the large amount of teams that will looking for a new head coach after today is a concern)- “That’s a great question and it looks like there are going to be a lot of coaching vacancies. We feel really good about this opportunity here. We think we have a good young team in place. As you all have taught me, this is a great football town. We think the person that can come in here and make the Cleveland Browns a winner will be recognized as one of the great coaches of all time, will be beloved in this area so I think we’re confident this is a good situation. We’re not going to worry about who else is out there looking for a coach. We have our people in mind and we’re going to work hard to bring the right person here to Cleveland.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if the new head coach has to have NFL head coaching experience)- “We’re going to explore all avenues, college coaches, coordinators and head coaches. The key is to get the right person.”

Joe Banner
(On why they will choose the head coach first)- “We think that the head coach is going to play even a bigger role in where we go from here. That will create a better situation for us to identify what role the GM, potentially director of player personnel, whichever it ends up being, exactly what qualities do we need in that person so when we fit everybody together we’ve got real strength in every area that we think we need to be strong in.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On the top attribute he is looking for in his new head coach)- “Strong leadership.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if there are any coaches on his list that are off limits or that have made it known that they won’t come to Cleveland)- “I think we’ve made it clear that we’re going to explore every possible option and the goal is to bring back the best possible person to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if that means that nobody is off limits and they are going to chase whoever they would like to have)- “We’re not going to get into any specific names. I think this is a very attractive job.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if it is an important ingredient for the head coach to be involved in roster and player personnel decisions)- “I think the head coach, I think Joe said this before, will have all final roster decisions.”

Joe Banner
(On how he accesses Brandon Weeden’s season)- “I don’t think it’s our place and I don’t think it’s the right time to start doing player evaluations. I think the focus right now is first, getting the right head coach in and then supporting him with the right player personnel support staff and structure. That’s what our focus is. I just want to make one comment because it’s come up a couple of times. We don’t believe that there’s any job in the league that’s going to be available that can tell a better story about why you want to come to this particular team, this particular city and take a job. We go into this extremely confident that we can go after the top people available, at least the top people in our opinion, and that we have a very good chance of being successful in convincing them that this is the right situation. Most of these top coaches are focused on finding a place where they think they can win and we think we can make a very good case why this is the best opportunity in the league right now.”

Joe Banner
(On why Heckert and Shurmur were not the right fit going forward)- “Jimmy just answered that the top quality in a coach that we’re going to look for going forward is somebody with some really strong dynamic leadership. I think there was also an element of feeling the need to kind of maybe create a fresh energy and a fresh start. Sometimes something new, even if it it’s not any better, can create that kind of momentum and energy so I think it was things like that.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how important it is to have a winning team next year)- “We’ve said it all along and I think I said it back on August 3 and I know Joe’s said it several times, our goal is to build a consistent championship level team. We have two role models in our division, who have been good consistently for a long period of time. Our goal is to be good for a long period of time. Not to knee jerk and get to where we’re 9-7 next year and we feel good, but we all know it’s built on a house of sand. There’s nobody that wants to have a winning team more than the two of us, okay? But we’re going to do it in the right way and we’re going to build it in the right way and we’ve got the core foundation. There were some good young players and we need to add to it.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if the team has the personnel to be a playoff team next year)- “It might be a little unfair for me to put that pressure on that new coach already. Let’s face it, the way the NFL operates, there is relative parity, and you can turn things around quickly. You’re looking at two of the most impatient people in the world up here on stage, but I’ll reiterate what I said. The key is to get it right, where we’re good over a long period of time and where people expect the Cleveland Browns to be in the playoffs every year. We want to still be preparing for games in January and not packing up and sending everybody home. That’s the goal to do it that way.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how much he’s relying on Banner’s NFL experience and how much he is going to be involved)- “Hopefully it shows by the fact that we’re up here together, and you can see that we’re very comfortable. I’m relying tremendously on his NFL experience. The two of us are going to do this search together. We’re both going to agree on who that head coach is. Joe and I are a lot alike, and we’re a lot different. I think we’ll work extremely well together. We’ve been working together for about three months now. Do we get into disputes and arguments? Yeah, but strong personalities always do, but it’s done with respect. I can’t speak for Joe, but I would not want to do this search without him, I’ll say this, at my side.”

Joe Banner
(On the reason for having the head coach control the roster rather than the general manager)- “I just want to be careful that we’re speaking the same semantics. What Jimmy’s referring to and what our plan is, although it could change depending upon the people, relates to when you guys use the term 53-man roster. We’re talking who makes the team at the end of training camp and who is on the team during the season, and then the 46 who dress. That comment shouldn’t be taken as if it necessarily includes who has the final say on the first round draft pick, on free-agent signings or cap related decisions. Those are the decisions in which our expectation going into this, that we think in most scenarios depending upon the personalities, are better handled by the coach, who at that point knows better exactly who we’ve brought in, who has the skills to do the things that he needs to do, which people fit together to fill all the different roles that he needs to fill in the different schemes that he may be planning on.”

Joe Banner
(On who will handle free agency under his business model)- “If we end up with a coach that we thought was extremely strong in player personnel, he’ll have a larger role, potentially even to the point of final say. If we think the coach is going to be more effective, if he’s really, really focused on just coaching the team and participating in player personnel then we’d probably look for somebody even stronger on the player personnel side to complement him. That’s why we think the skill set of the coach should drive the eventual structure.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On who sets the vision for the kind of team they want)- “I think it’s collaborative. We want an individual who is a head coach, who is a strong leader, who’s tough because this is a tough business, but also is smart, very organized, has great attention to detail and is aggressive. That’s the kind of football team we want to have, and candidly, I think it’s the kind of individuals we are.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if they have a list now and how confident are they that they will get the head coach at the top of their list)- “There’s really not. I can’t speak for Joe, but there’s really not. I think we have a good group of individuals. I have personally not spent an extended amount of time with them. I’m looking forward to doing that over the next week or two.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On what are they doing to make this an attractive job)- “This is going to sound self-serving, but I think you’ve got a stable leadership, ownership here now that I think is involved at the proper amount. I think you have a real NFL veteran in Joe. I think as you all know this is a tremendous football town that yearns for a winner. I think all of that makes for this to be a job that a lot of people would have interest in.”

Joe Banner
(On if they have ruled out assistant coaches who have previously been head coaches)- “No, we haven’t ruled out anybody. We view everybody out there, as we’ve got a full pool of people to look at and determine who we think will be able to win the most games going forward.”

Joe Banner
(On his role with being involved in the draft)- “As we’ve said before, we’re going to put together a team. It’s going to include Jimmy and myself, the head coach, again either director of player personnel or general manager. We’re going to work collaboratively. We’re going to have primary responsibilities with different people depending upon their strengths and weaknesses. Our goal will be to generate consensus on as many decisions as we possibly can. Frankly sometimes we can’t generate consensus. ‘Should we go after that player?’ If we don’t have consensus, maybe that means we shouldn’t. Our odds of being right are probably when most of us are on the same page or agree that that would be a really good move. The final detail of that frankly is something we’ll probably never get into a lot of detail about publicly, but won’t really even be determined until we see the strengths and weaknesses of all the different people that we’re going to put together.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if the decision on Heckert and Shurmur was made individually)- “They were individual decisions.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how important it is that the person they hire be instantly embraced by the fans)- “It would be nice, but we want somebody who’s going to win. If we win, they’ll be embraced.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if he has a timeline in mind about when they want to have everyone in place)- “I think the sooner the better, but I think we said in our opening remarks, the key thing is to get the right person. If we happen to find the right person this week, we’ll have him back here in a week. If it takes a month, we’re going to take a month because we’re very sensitive to getting this right. I think I said on August 3, when we were associated with the Steelers, they’ve had three coaches in 30 years. Joe came from the Eagles, they are making a change today, but they’ve had tremendous stability. The organization that I’m part of on a day-to-day basis, Pilot Flying J, we have tremendous stability in the organization. We want to have that here.”

Joe Banner
(On how quickly the interviews will start and if there is a preference for someone either offensive or defensive minded)- “The interviews will start as quickly as we can get permission and get together and everybody’s schedules fit so hopefully immediately. No, we’re going to into the thing open minded. We’ve studied the league, we’ve studied the history of the guys that come from a defensive background, an offensive background. It’s really about the person as opposed to some program he could just fit in and know the name.”

Joe Banner
(On what about Heckert’s merits justified him being let go)- “I don’t think to dissect it is really going to be a constructive purpose. If I even gave you an honest answer with even the smallest amount of criticism, I think it would be an unfairly negative portrayal of Tom. I just think as we looked forward and where we want to be two or three years from now, that we felt a change is what would put us in the best position to get where we want to go.”

Joe Banner
(On how he feels in general about the roster they have now)- “I think we have a foundation here to move forward. I think the team is better than it was. I think it’s got a ways to go. I hope with the right hires here, we’ll be able to accelerate the process of getting to where we want to be. As Jimmy has said, repeatedly, and it’s very fundamental to all the conversations we have privately. We want to do it in a way that’s sustainable. We could if we just made whatever sacrifices we need to be the best possible team we could be next year, we probably could make the playoffs. In fact, I’d be massively disappointed if we didn’t. If you factor in the long term sustainable success we have, that may or may not be what happens next year in order to achieve that goal.”

Joe Banner
(On if there was any discussion with Heckert about staying and having responsibilities)- “No, I’ve worked with Tom and Tom’s a great collaborator. He looks out for the best interest for the organization. If we had decided we wanted to stay and then discussions necessary in that area, I don’t think that would have ever been a problem.”

Joe Banner
(On if his vision of the front office is similar with what he had in Philadelphia)- “It depends on the strengths. When Andy Reid first came, we actually had a strong general manager. We brought in Tom Modrak just before we brought in Andy so we had a strong general manager we matched up with Andy. As it became apparent that Andy was also very strong in the player personnel area, we enlarged his responsibilities and his authority. This may go similarly or it could go totally different.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if it’s a possibility that the current assistants could stay on with the new head coach)- “Absolutely. That will be the decision of the new head coach though. It’s his call absolutely and we made that clear to the assistants. ‘Listen, you’re free to go out and look for other jobs. Follow the permission process. When we have a new head coach in place, if you want to, you’ll have the opportunity to interview with him.’”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if they let the new coach decide that completely on his own or if they will give input)- “I think if they asked us we’d give them our opinions. I think it’d be unfair to comment on that now. Our focus right now, I just want to say this over and over, is getting that right head coach. If we do that, the other pieces will fall into place.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if Shurmur’s timeline for developing players was accelerated after the regime change)- “There’s no way for me to know that. I think we made it clear on August 3, and subsequently in the middle of the year that we would evaluate things and make a call. We clearly made the call. Like I said, it’s a tough call. These are not easy decisions. Pat Shurmur’s a good man. I like him a lot. We just felt it was best to make a change.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On if he’s willing to wait until after the Super Bowl to hire a coach)- “I think we made it clear that sooner is preferable, but whatever timetable it takes to get the right person, we’re going to take.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On Pittsburgh’s model of doing business being different from Philadelphia’s)- “That’s why Joe I think cast it right in terms of exactly how the word power is exaggerated when we say it, but exactly what responsibility everybody has. I think it depends on who that coach is. We might bring in somebody who has a tremendous amount of personnel knowledge. We might bring in somebody that has less. I know that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert work very closely together at Pittsburgh. I do think it’s extremely important for the two individuals to be locked at the hip.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how the hiring here is different than his hires at Pilot Flying J)- “It’s a little higher profile. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking, Joe and I talking about, and making sure we’re on the same page of what we’re looking for. I think in some ways it’s similar in that you lay out, ‘This is exactly what we’re looking for,’ and then you try to find the person that fits that criteria. It’s different in that, if we were searching for a Senior Executive at Pilot Flying J, it would probably be a three or four month search. Maybe or maybe not anybody would be aware we were doing the search. Here it’s a much tighter time frame and it’s a much more public search.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On what he’s learned in these last five months)- “First of all, that I had a lot to learn. I’ll be honest about that. Second of all, I think we’re very fortunate to have somebody like Joe working with us who has the experience that we don’t have. Third of all, and I’ve said this repeatedly and I mean it sincerely, this is a tremendous football town and tremendous environment. If we can get it right, it will be unbelievable.”

Joe Banner
(On if he thinks the roster will be overturned and how good he feels about the players he has now)- “I think the likelihood is when you get a coaching change, you’re going to get some system changes and you’re going to get some areas in which they have special skills looking for particular positions. I also believe that there’s a core here and I’d be surprised if we hired a head coach that didn’t see the same thing from which we can consider ourselves kind of having a core or foundation from which we can move forward. As opposed to more recently where changes were made, where maybe there was a much greater need to overturn the roster than I think there is right now.”

Joe Banner
(On hiring the coach first and that not working out here in the past with Eric Mangini)- “This is a reasonable line of questioning. It is something we discussed a lot. It isn’t an obvious answer and not everybody does it the same way. We made the determination that the greater impact on our future was going to be the head coach, that we need to make sure we find two people that fit together well and complement each other well and that we wanted the skill set of the head coach to kind of drive what we’d be looking for in the position that we would hire after that. Time will tell if that’s right and if we can find the right two people that are both high quality and fit together as well as we hope. This was maybe the first decision we made in terms of kind of moving forward here was, ‘What’s the right order? Are we doing them together, one first, one second?’ So it’s a totally valid line of questioning, but the decision we in the end made was to find the head coach first.”

Joe Banner
(On if the collegiate spread offenses are transferable to the NFL)- “I think the game evolves and there is always some stealing from college into the pros and some stealing from going in the other direction. You probably can’t just take a pure NFL system and put it in college and have it work and you probably can’t just take a purely clean current college system and put it in the pros and have it work. But that doesn’t mean there are things that the right coach could integrate from both systems that could work very well at this level.”

Joe Banner
(On if they are limiting the General Manager candidate pool by the nature of this structure)- “Yes.”

Joe Banner
(On why he is limiting the search)- “Well, the reverse could be true too. If you hired a GM first and there was a great head coach that wanted control, you’d be limiting that. We really just made the determination it was more important to not limit the head coach search, get the very best person we could in that position and then go from there.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how they will approach the search if their top choice tells them no)- “We have a pool of candidates we feel really good about. We do not have them ranked right now. We’ll know a lot more after the last week or two. We’re not going in this with one person in mind.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On when the point comes that they do have a top candidate and if the candidate says no do they just go straight down the pecking order)- “Yeah, I think, obviously.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On how their impatient personalities are going to mesh with giving a new head coach 2-3 years to get the job done)- “I think it’s a balancing act and we are very impatient, but we’ve said it numerous times and Joe used the word sustainable, that’s a good word. We want to put together a team that has sustainable, measurable progress. I think everybody in this room will know next year and the year after that if we’re making progress or not. Our goal is to create a consistent winning team. There are lots of examples of that in the NFL and if we don’t it is the two guys up here up front’s fault, but I think we can do that.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On what he thinks about free agency as a way to accelerate winning)- “I think we said back on August 3, and I know Joe feels this way too, the models that we both came out of both built through the draft. I think if you look at the teams that are consistently good, they build through the draft. As most of you know we’re in very good shape on the salary cap. I think through selective, with the key word being selective, use of free agency we can help to build a good team here again for a long period of time.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On what common characteristics do the head coaching candidates share)- “I think the four or five things we’ve said: strong leaders, tough, demanding, organized, good attention to detail and able to motivate people. The NFL, it’s a long season with a collective group of individuals and to keep those people playing hard and interested in the team is a tough challenge.”

Joe Banner
(On if they are willing to upgrade their quarterback situation and do they feel confident they could do that in order to land a top coach)- “This is the philosophy I’ve brought to hiring, whether it’s a head coach or whatever positions I’ve ever been able to hire for, there is nothing that you’re going to do in which you’re not going to hit some obstacles that could keep you from reaching your goals. That’s 100 percent of us all the time. There are some people that no matter what those are find ways to overcome them and find ways to achieve their goals. So whether you’ve got the right player at this position or that position in place at this moment, to the right person who has a history and a track record of finding ways to overcome obstacles and succeed those will be temporary challenges. We’re more focused on these people that we believe, and I think if you look at the head coaches that have had really big success in the league, they all have this quality and their teams end up with this quality, that they find ways with obstacles that face everybody to overcome them, dismiss them, not even let them get in the way and just keep going until they get where they’re trying to.”

Joe Banner
(On if the personnel position is bound by the Rooney Rule)- “Yes, absolutely.”

Joe Banner
(On if the Rooney Rule applies to the personnel person even if they do not have full authority over the roster)- “I don’t even know the technicality, but I promise you we will apply the Rooney Rule to both of these searches.”

Joe Banner
(On what Heckert did to not keep his job)- “Again, I think when we made the decision on this we’re dealing with degree as opposed to a pure definition of success or failure. Again, as we looked forward, and we did use what’s happened to this point somewhat as a predictor, we felt like we wanted to make a change there.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On why this regime change will get it right compared to others that haven’t)- “I think that’s a great question and a fair question and I’ll say this, the two of us feel a tremendous responsibility to get that right. Our backgrounds are very different, but we’ve both been involved a lot in hiring people for key decisions. We’re certainly not overconfident and we smiled at ourselves last night that now we’ve got to go to work and get this right, but I think the two of us working well can make that happen. We’re going to work very hard to get the right person in here, first as head coach and the player personnel position.”

Jimmy Haslam
(On when they made the decision on Heckert and Shurmur)- “I think we were continually evaluating. I think the decision was made, the final decision was made only in the last week or two.”

Joe Banner
(On what the NFL rules are as to what they can do about trying to hire an individual who is employed by a playoff team)- “The teams that have a bye, we are allowed to seek permission and with their permission only, interview candidates usually in their city this Friday or Saturday. Teams that don’t have a bye this week, we can’t interview this week. We can interview the following week on a similar kind of permission in a designated time and location.”

(On how many people they will interview)- “I think we have a selective group out there we’re going to talk to at first. Hopefully, we’ll find some in that group, but we’re not going to limit ourselves because the key, as I’ve said numerous times, is to get the right person.”

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