CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Perception is reality, but nothing is ever as bad as it seems.
So they say.
While both are true, the Cleveland Browns have a major mess on their hands when it comes to how they are perceived around the country and in league circles. CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora’s scathing story on the “toxic” culture within the Browns organization on Wednesday did nothing to douse the flames.
It could be said that the negative perception of the Browns can’t get worse, but this is Cleveland and they are the Browns – it can always get worse.
Nowhere in the NFL do the stories of dysfunction surface annually like they do in Cleveland.
While teams across the league gather to improve and build upon the previous year, the Browns spend their offseasons repairing holes within the organization and putting out dumpster fires that keep fans warm with anger in the cold Cleveland winters.
A team source told La Canfora that owner Jimmy Haslam is “Jerry Jones without the football knowledge.”
That’s a pretty apropos description.
Haslam commands fear within his own building and little respect outside of it. He’s perceived to be an overbearing and meddling owner with a short fuse that wants it his way or he will find someone who will let him have his way.
In 39 days since the season ended former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan told Haslam and the Browns to kick rocks, general manager Ray Farmer is embroiled in an illegal and inappropriate game-day texting scandal, receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended for another year, Johnny Manziel is off to rehab and the stories of discord and dysfunction continue to roll out making the timing of the 30-40 percent season ticket increase for fans all the more priceless.
Not to mention that whole rebate scandal at Pilot Flying J, which has conveniently slipped off the radar that saw Haslam’s family owned business willfully defraud trucking companies out of tens of millions in rebates. Haslam continues to claim innocence and ignorance which is convenient, yet difficult to believe considering how he runs the Browns – with his nose in everything.
Haslam is the lone constant is what has the most turbulent 3 years in franchise history.
The texting situation is petulant, childish and completely ridiculous, yet so Cleveland Browns. When the NFL releases the findings and punishment as a result of their investigation, the black eye for the franchise could grow significantly.
Farmer and Haslam spend a great deal of time together during games so it’s not far-fetched to believe that Farmer’s texting to the coaching booth and sideline could have been done at the behest of Haslam. La Canfora portrayed Farmer as being afraid of his own shadow since being named GM, which would explain that if he was indeed relaying complaints from the owner, he wouldn’t have the intestinal fortitude to tell Haslam “no” because it’s against the rules.
Then there is team president Alec Scheiner. The fact that Scheiner reportedly sits in on film sessions in season with Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine is very alarming.
Nothing shows a coach that everyone is behind him quite like Haslam hovering over him and his assistant coaches during practice and having to explain what went right or wrong during a game to Scheiner while trying to break down film and objectively evaluate his team’s performance.
Scheiner is thought to be one of the bright young up and coming executives in the league but he desires to expand his executive skills beyond the business side and into personnel much like former CEO Joe Banner did. Since the departure of Banner, he has been given authority to offer input when it comes to some personnel matters – including the discussions during the season about benching Brian Hoyer in favor of Manziel – because of his position in overseeing the entire organization.
When there are constantly too many cooks in the kitchen like there always are in Berea, the organization quickly turns into an every man for himself free-for-all.
Haslam held a 3-day meeting with Scheiner, Farmer, Pettine and Sashi Brown – the team’s general counsel – Jan. 25-27. It is quite possible that some of the problems that surfaced in La Canfora’s story were addressed already, and for the organization’s sake hopefully they were.
The structure of the Browns is pretty simple to understand – Scheiner handles the business side but overseas the whole organization to ensure it is running smoothly and efficiently, Farmer handles personnel and picks the players while Pettine coaches the players Farmer picks.
Haslam needs to stick with it and empower those involved to do their jobs instead of fearing for them.
In less than 3 years, Haslam has shown he learned very little from the Rooney family in Pittsburgh as a minority owner of the Steelers. When he took over as owner of the Browns he made a bunch of promises including stability, a winning culture and team, a renovated stadium and snazzy new uniforms.
So far Haslam has only delivered on the ones that make him money.