Reporting Daryl Ruiter
INDIANAPOLIS (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner and vice president of player personnel Michael Lombardi are both under a microscope and with it a tremendous amount of pressure to get the team finally turned around.
And it starts in April with their first draft which they are preparing for in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine.
Banner and Lombardi have been joined by Rob Chudzinski, his coaching staff and team scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium to sift through over 320 prospects – not just for the No. 6 overall selection but the other 5 picks they have as of now in April.
Chudzinski was out in front representing the team for the national media over the weekend and Banner made time Saturday morning for the local beat writers.
Lombardi, who is in charge of personnel was not heard from – and that was by design. His focus has been on the field and in the interview room watching and meeting with players.
A coach is only as good as the players that he is given to work with but Chudzinski is confident in Banner and Lombardi to provide him with top tier talent to mold into a perennial playoff contender.
“We have a real dynamic group together,” Chudzinski said. “Michael’s extremely intelligent, bright, understands the game, great evaluator, understands the business side. Mike’s staff has, in a short amount of time, has really done a lot of things and we’ve been impressed.”
There appears to be some good news with the latest regime change.
Banner said that the usual roster gut job that tends to follow will not take place this time around. Instead, their approach will be to build on what is already here.
“I don’t think we need to gut it,” Banner said. “We have the benefit of inheriting two things that will help us a lot. We have a relatively small number of our own players that we could lose. That always gives you a change o move forward instead of retrench. Second of all, we inherited a team that was in very good shape with the cap.”
Perception with fans and many around the league concerning both Banner and Lombardi are not favorable to be kind.
Lombardi is thought to be a TV guy who hasn’t worked in the league for 5 years and Banner’s expertise in Philadelphia was business and contracts yet these two will be picking players for the Browns for the foreseeable future.
“I think the people around the country and around the league that know don’t share those perceptions,” Banner said. “So I think people in the league know that I was intimately involved in the small group of people who made the football decisions in Philadelphia that led to a lot of success. I think the people that know Mike Lombardi as it relates to his player evaluation ability would feel like it’s a good combination, that we can build a successful organization.
“I don’t think some free agents or the agents of the free agents are going to be telling them [anything] other than they expect Cleveland to turn around and be successful.”
When Jimmy Haslam agreed to buy the Cleveland Browns last August Banner and Lombardi were the 2 names that quickly surfaced. To the surprise of no one both were hired to run the team for Haslam.
“Occasionally the speculation comes true,” Banner said. “It doesn’t mean that it was fact before it became fact. Mike was always a consideration in my mind. He was one of the people I intended to talk to and interview. I knew him well. I had positive experiences with him. But until the end, he was not the guy.”
Lombardi received as chilly of a reception as you could get from fans and media alike.
“What people ultimately want is for the team to be successful and to win games,” Banner said. “I’d be concerned if people thought we were dishonest. I don’t think you’ll ever experience that with me. I don’t think you’ll every experience that with Jimmy. I don’t think you’ll see that in Chuds. I don’t think you’ll see that in this administration. We haven’t done that. We won’t do that.
“I think in the end they want us to be right even when we do something they didn’t believe in because they ultimately want to be able to watch the team on Sundays and feel good and be excited and be proud of it.”
Frustrated by 14 years of nothing but incompetence, wasted draft picks, a half dozen coaching staffs and GMs, fans have had it. As a result both Banner and Lombardi are under the microscope and the latest CEO to come to town understands why.
“I understand the skepticism and it’s justified,” Banner said. “We’re in a ‘prove-it place.’ That’s the right place for us to be. I’m just confident that the quality of people that we are bringing in, the track record that they have and I have that we will be successful at this. But I don’t expect anybody to believe that or rely on that until we prove it.”