BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – We’ve all heard the jokes about ‘December in Berea.’
Well, the Browns appear to be ahead of schedule this time around.
Welcome to ‘November in Berea.’
The vibe within the offices at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. is pensive these days, which is completely understandable considering the team is 0-9 again and 1-24 since the current regime burned the roster completely to the ground in 2016.
Unfortunately the continued failure on the field, which has been prevalent for the better part of 2 decades, is now impacting those that work off of it and have little to do with what happens on Sundays beyond taking care of the team’s loyal fans and keeping up with community initiatives. Some employees, who still remain hopeful that better days are ahead, are beginning to wonder if there is any appreciation by ownership for the difficulties that the continued struggles, mismanagement and negative reputation present to them in their daily jobs.
According to multiple sources, the prevailing feeling internally is “what will the Haslams do?” – if anything – and “when will they do it?”
Ownership has been resistant to making another round of changes for the sake of making them, but as the weeks progress and the losses continue to mount with no end to the losing in sight, momentum seems to be building in the direction of they don’t have a choice.
Head coach Hue Jackson continues to come under fire for game management, handling of the team’s young roster – including rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer – and of course the mounting losses while executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown is criticized for stripping the roster of what little talent it had in 2016, not giving Jackson enough help to win a few games in the short term as well as the trade deadline that saw him unable to complete trades for Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron and Terrelle Pryor. The McCarron deal, which saw the Browns fail to submit paperwork in time to the league office, is the lone one for which Brown directly bears responsibility.
Brown, with the help of chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, has taken a long-view approach to reconstructing the roster. They’ve made nearly 20 trades and selected 24 players in the draft over the last 2 years and the 2 have positioned the franchise for a potential blockbuster offseason in 2018. Cleveland has $59.97 million in salary cap space to roll over and 5 selections in the first 2 rounds of the draft, which thanks to the Houston Texans’ struggles could include 4 picks in the top 40.
Jackson has already fielded questions about his future multiple times in recent weeks, maintaining his lack of concern over it while reaffirming his commitment to turn the Browns around.
Jackson’s need to win a game or 2 now by any means necessary combined with Brown’s long-term approach has created an environment of mistrust between them, which has been widely reported on nationally.
Jimmy Haslam has been seen working deep into the evening recently, which according to a source, hasn’t gone unnoticed internally.
Mike Singletary’s visit last Thursday to Cleveland (pictures of him at Hopkins airport circulated on Twitter) to reportedly meet with the Browns, which was reported by Will Burge Monday, for an unspecified position would fulfill the ‘Rooney Rule’ requiring minority candidates to be interviewed for both front office as well as top coaching vacancies and clear the way for the Haslams to move forward with whatever it is they have in the works.
Multiple sources confirm a report earlier this month from CBS NFL insider Jason LaCanfora that JW Johnson, the son-in-law of Jimmy and Dee Haslam, has been taking a more active role within the organization. Johnson is married to the Haslams’ daughter Whitney, who is currently the chief experience officer at Pilot Flying J. His background is primarily in multimedia. He worked as a director/producer for CBS Sports for nearly 15 years before joining Pilot in 2009. In 2013 he joined Dee Haslam’s RIVR Media and he later founded 3 Sons Media.
Then there is the trial currently underway in Chattanooga, Tennessee involving Pilot Flying J’s former president Mark Hazelwood, former vice president Scott “Scooter” Wombold and 2 former saleswomen, Heather Jones and Karen Mann, who are accused by federal officials of conspiring to defraud trucking customers. Jimmy Haslam has not been charged and he has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing within his own company. Still, Browns employees are keeping tabs on the proceedings and what is being said about them adding another layer to the internal dynamic that has been brewing over the past few weeks.
Following the sale agreement with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for 38 percent of Pilot Flying J and ultimately controlling interest in the company by 2023 in October, the Browns are the Haslams’ new family business.
Who will run it on and off of the field beyond 2017 remains to be seen making the next 8-10 weeks all the more interesting.
Winter is coming.
And it’s not even December.