BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Since taking over the Cleveland Browns, owner Jimmy Haslam has learned a lot.
But the most important lesson he’s learned is the one he’ll need to have this year and possibly even next: patience.
“I understand that we’ve only won 4 games in the last 2 years, and we only won 1 last year so we’re very realistic about where we are,” Haslam said Saturday, hours before players put on pads for the first time in training camp. “At the same time, we’re going to be patient. We’re going to do it right. We’re going to build through the draft [and] selectively use free agency, not take shortcuts and try to produce a team that will consistently win games.”
Haslam admitted that patience is not a virtue that he possesses, but he’s learned the hard way that it is essential to have it in the NFL to build an organization and team the right way.
“It’s hard. All of us want to win and win immediately,” Haslam said. “Most of you don’t know me that well personally, but I am extremely impatient person. But I think we’ve learned the hard way if you want to do this and do it right building through the draft and being patient and getting the right people in place is the right way to do it. So it’s hard, but it’s unequivocally the right thing to do.”
Coming off a 1-15 season, Haslam declined to set win-loss expectations for this year nor did he want to set a firm date of when he expects the Browns to be relevant again.
“Last year was harder than we thought,” Haslam said. “None of us are exactly sure what’ll happen this year, I know we’ll be a better team. so I think 2018 – and I’m not hedging my bets – 2018, 2019 you should see a substantially better football team.”
The Browns have been an embarrassment to the sport of professional football since returning to the league in 1999. The team has gone 88-200 and has lost 10 or more games in 14 of the 18 seasons they’ve played.
This year will likely mark the 15th but he won’t be judging the success or failure of the 2017 season strictly on wins and losses.
“I think we have the right people in place in the organization,” Haslam said. “I think we are putting in process a good team. Everybody’s going to want to know, ‘Well, how many games do you think you’ll win?’ I’m not going to say that, but I think you’ll see an improved football team this year.”
Haslam admitted he had no idea how bad it had been for fans when he bought the team in 2012, but 4 years later, he too feels their pain.
“We had no clue,” Haslam said. “Dee and I had no clue. Do we realize it and share in that pain now? Absolutely. I think Dee says this as well or better than I do; we share in that pain and share in the responsibility for helping to erase that pain.”
Since the Haslams closed on the sale of the Browns on Oct. 25, 2012, the franchise has won just 19 games and lost 54. To be fair to Haslam, he’s really responsible for the 4 full seasons that have followed and the 15-49 record that has resulted in 3 front office and coaching changes.
Stability has been as absent as winning under the Haslams but there’s confidence that is finally about to change.
Haslam believes that he’s finally gotten it right with executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and head coach Hue Jackson in charge.
“The example of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again the same way,” Haslam said in reference to criticism the franchise received in January 2016. “We just felt like we needed to change and do things differently and it was through a combination of probably more luck than skill that we were able to put those people together.”
The Browns have made 24 draft picks, including 3 first-rounders this past April, over the last 2 years and they have 5 in the first 2 rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Haslam understands it will take time for all that young talent to develop or for him to accurately assess the work being done by his front office.
“I think that’s where the patience comes in and I think not only are we accumulating good players, but we’re also accumulating a significant number of draft picks,” Haslam said. “We have five picks in the first two rounds next year, two ones and three twos.”
While everyone is excited about the selections of Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku and DeShone Kizer, Haslam tempered expectations they will set the league afire from the outset.
“It’s tough as a rookie to come in,” Haslam said. “I know we’re all excited about Myles and Jabrill and David, DeShone, etc., but it’s tough for rookies to come in and really tear it up. You can go back and look. There are a few exceptions. The Cowboys had a couple last year, but for the most part it takes a guy into his second or third year.
“It will be interesting to see how Emmanuel Ogbah does in his second year, how Corey Coleman does in his second year. So, don’t get me wrong. I hope they year it up the first game against the Steelers, but it’s not the end of the Western world if they don’t.
“I think we’re going to give them some time. By their second or third year if they’re not producing then I think you’re going to be concerned, but I think you have to be realistic. The adjustment between college football, particularly the way it’s played now, and pro football is dramatic.”
That response from Haslam is a perfect example of his evolution as an owner.