While Randy Lerner’s sale of the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam is not yet official, it’s becoming quite clear that everyone expects the deal to go through without issue. Furthermore, we now know that former Philadelphia Eagles President Joe Banner is a part of Haslam’s ownership group.
What does that mean for the Cleveland Browns? Well, it’s possible that Banner just wants to be a part of the ownership group and is done overseeing football operations. But that seems highly unlikely. Most observers fully expect Banner to take up the role currently being held by Mike Holmgren. For Holmgren, the writing is on the wall. It would be stunning to see Holmgren hang onto his job once Banner gets into town.
It really has nothing to do with the quality of Holmgren’s work over the last several years. This is just how business works. Jimmy Haslam is bringing Joe Banner along for a reason, and that reason is to do what Banner did for the Eagles when he was serving the role of President from 2001 to 2012.
Over that period, the Eagles went 110-65-1 with a record of .500 or better in 10 of 11 seasons. The Eagles also made the postseason 8 times, including 1 appearance in the Super Bowl. Over the same period, the Browns went 63-113 with just two seasons with a record of .500 or better and just one playoff appearance.
To be fair, the Eagles were already a good team by the time Banner stepped into the President’s role, but Banner was involved in the Eagles’ organization from the day Jeffrey Laurie purchased the franchise and he saw the team and organization were built. Banner, like Holmgren, brings a winning pedigree. But whereas Holmgren’s success was as a coach, Banner’s success was as President. And while Banner didn’t build the Eagles into winner’s by himself, he saw how it was done and then as President, he oversaw a period of sustained success and winning.
So the question for the Browns is, what happens once Haslam and Banner hit the ground running in Berea? More importantly, what does this mean for General Manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur? Many feel that Heckert has done a good job in his role as GM, particularly with respect to the draft, something the Browns has been failing at miserably for years. The jury is still out on Shurmur who had a rough rookie year as head coach under some unique circumstances.
But will Haslam and Banner clean house? And should they clean house? If you think back to when Mike Holmgren took over, one of the biggest mistakes he made was keeping Eric Mangini around for a 2nd season. This has nothing to do with Mangini’s abilities as coach, but everything to do with the role of the President. Holmgren was here to streamline football operations and to get everyone on the same page. Mangini was not a Holmgren guy. They have very different ideas about the game.
Over the last year, Holmgren has all but admitted that was probably a mistake, keeping Mangini. Holmgren needed someone who was on the same page as the President and General Manager. Keeping Mangini was a token move, something done out of Holmgren’s soft spot as a former coach himself, feeling Mangini was getting a raw deal. And Mangini was dealt a raw deal, no doubt about that. But that’s the business. This is professional football. There’s no room for sentimentality when making smart decisions. Keeping Mangini that one year suspended the rebuilding process and kept the franchise locked in neutral.
The first thing Joe Banner needs to do, assuming he does indeed step into the President’s role with the Browns, is make sure he has his people in the key roles. Heckert has the advantage of having worked under Banner with the Eagles. But if Banner isn’t 100% behind Heckert, he should replace him. If Banner isn’t 100% sold on Shurmur, he should replace the coach as soon as he can.
If the sale of the Browns is indeed fast tracked and completed by the start of the season, it still obviously it makes no sense to fire the GM and coach before the season even starts. So Heckert and Shurmur should have a full season to audition for their own jobs. This will give time for Banner to make sure everyone really is on the same page.
This isn’t to say the Browns should overhaul everything and start completely over, switching systems/schemes. If you look at the system Banner comes from, he surely has some of “his guys” who run 4-3 defenses and the west coast offense. Swapping out the head coach and GM doesn’t have to disrupt continuity of the systems. It just means getting the right guys in all the key positions.
Joe Banner very well could keep Heckert and Shurmur around. I’m definitely in favor of Heckert staying on board. But they shouldn’t be kept for the wrong reasons. I want Haslam to bring his experience in watching the Steelers operate and I want Banner to replicate what he saw done with the Eagles. These guys bring a pedigree of success to town with them and I don’t want to see them compromise on having their people in place for the sake of continuity of personnel.
It’s time for change in Berea. It’s time for the Browns to operate like a winning franchise. To do that, it’s important that everyone is in line from the top on down. If that’s Heckert and Shurmur, so be it. But if Banner isn’t comfortable with them, I hope he has the courage to do what’s necessary.