BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – As Bob Dylan famously wrote, “The times, they are a changin'” and that they certainly are in Berea.
But this time it’s different.
No, really. It is.
In less than a year since taking over as CEO, Joe Banner has led a complete overhaul of the franchise and the culture within 76 Lou Groza Blvd. – literally and figuratively.
“I think we’ve changed the culture very dramatically,” Banner said. “I think it’s going to take longer to change the direction. I think it’s going to take a lot longer to change the perceptions outside to what we think is starting to happen.
“We’re in a ‘prove it’ business. Over time, we’re confident we’re going to do everything we can to prove it. Internally, it’s changed very dramatically. I’d be surprised if anybody said they weren’t optimistic and confident that we’re going to get to where we say we’re going to get to. Outside is going to take time. We’ve planted the seeds.”
On Monday Banner gave a guided tour to reporters of the team’s newly renovated second floor that cost $5 million to complete in 4 months.
“It’s important to be thought of as an organization that has an owner who is willing to put the money up to run a first-class organization,” Banner said.
RELATED: Photo Gallery – Check out pictures of the renovations to the Browns training facility in Berea.
The changes have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from staff, players and visitors.
“The key to winning is to be able to attract great people,” Banner said. “We want to add great people to the Browns, I don’t care if it’s a free agent or coach. As we bring people in here, it’s a totally different feeling than they would have gotten last November.
“We ask our players to go out and risk their health every Sunday, they need to know the people they’re working with also have their skin in the game and they’re doing everything they can to be the best they can possibly be. That’s an important message.”
The entire second floor was gutted down to the bare bones and the 37,000 square foot space was redesigned into an open, airy, bright, colorful and modern workspace which allowed the team to bring back 68 employees, who worked out of FirstEnergy Stadium, and put the entire organization back under one roof.
Restoring a sense of organizational unity, which the franchise lacked for years, was paramount to Banner.
The walls are decorated with larger than life pictures of past legends like Otto Grahm, Jim Brown and Paul Warfield as well as current young stars like Joe Haden and D’Qwell Jackson. Printed on the pictures are inspirational quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Mother Teresa, John Wooden and others.
“Everything we’ve done has been with a consciousness of the history and culture we want to create,” Banner said.
Quotes are everywhere for employees to see, including Banner’s favorite which comes from Willy Wonka and is located on the wall across from his own office. It reads, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest man.”
When asked why that quote appealed to him Banner replied, “Everyone thinks I’m so serious. It’s sports. It’s supposed to be fun.”
The war room, where general manager Michael Lombardi lives along with assistant GM Ray Farmer, is lined with white board so they can write down thoughts and build their own player evaluation boards – be it for the draft or free agency. One wall is entirely dedicated to a depth chart for the other 31 teams in the league.
Above a TV in the corner reads a painted message: “The Critical Path To The Super Bowl – We will be BOLD, We will have a CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL QB, We will be great in both the LINES, We will be a TOTAL TEAM, We will all do our JOBS.”
Every year during training camp there’s a renewed optimism from players, coaches and fans that the winds of change would finally blow in the right direction in Cleveland.
But for the first time since 1999, there is a legitimate belief that this time, maybe, just maybe, the Cleveland Browns might actually get it right – on and off the field.
In the span of 10 months, the Browns have become the antithesis of the pompous and arrogant franchise that won very little the previous 14 seasons.
The team and it’s executives now actively engage fans on a variety of social media platforms soliciting feedback on everything from music selection on game day to what they should include in their plans for a massive renovation to FirstEnergy Stadium that is expected to cost well over $100 million.
No detail is too small for the likes of president Alec Scheiner, executive vice president Brent Stehlik or vice president of fan experience and marketing Kevin Griffin.
Aside from trying to build a championship caliber roster, the Browns are hoping a refurbished stadium and game day experience will help restore the once proud and unique atmosphere that resided by the lake prior to the team’s departure in 1995.
But the energy in Berea is about more than just a few gutted walls and a fresh coat of paint too.
“There’s a different vibe around here from what’s been going on,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Young guys they don’t see; they’ve come into a great situation. I’ve been here for a while and I’ve seen so many different styles and techniques. What Chud is doing now, he’s really making an emphasis on creating a winning environment, you know, being committed and just creating a winning environment, and he’s putting it on the players to do that.”
Jackson and others were impressed with the detail that the organization put into the facility as well as this year’s training camp in Berea.
“Everything matters. The high fence with the [murals] it matters, it really does,” Jackson said. “It shows that, heck, if they’re taking the time to make things look first class and do things first class then we have to put a better product on the field.
“As small as a fence, but I came out and was like, ‘Whoa, this is the real deal this is first class.’ That’s been the biggest difference. I think the way that they’re doing everything first class, no short cuts, and when you start doing that, good things are bound to happen.”
Banner’s goal is to ensure that the franchise is more about substance and winning than style.
The previous 14 years, the Browns had neither.
The times, they are a changin’ indeed.
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