When Jimmy Haslam III arrived in Berea, Ohio, the first thing he noticed was the water tower that stands proudly next to the Ohio Turnpike. The first thing that jumped out to him was the giant, orange Browns helmet that graces the side. A business man through and through, Haslam could only think to himself, “way to go.”
With as much of a southern drawl as anyone who has addressed the Cleveland media has ever had Haslam took to the podium in Berea, just one month after meeting Randy Lerner for the first time, just hours after finalizing the details on a deal which NFL commissioner Roger Goddell coined the quickest he had ever seen. Ten years after the passing of Al Lerner, the man who brought the Browns back to Cleveland, Randy Lerner handed off the keys to the Cleveland franchise, a franchise which Haslam quickly removed any doubt regarding a potential relocation, and repeatedly said will be a winner once again.
Winning the room over one word at a time and citing a 53-year business track record with Pilot-Flying J, Haslam III verbally etched his sole mission as team owner: winning. He’s going to spend the necessary time (his family will in fact purchase a home in the area), get to know the town, and take the additional necessary steps to get the team back to a level of prominence. “Cleveland has a great fan base, and all the money you need,” said Haslam. “We just have to execute.”
One of Haslam’s first orders of business will be attending the upcoming Family Fun Night at Cleveland Browns Stadium, where the team will hold their annual, free-of-charge scrimmage. But if you’re looking for Haslam, he may not be too hard to find as his intentions are to spurn the owner’s box to take the game in from the stands, shaking hands, obtaining feedback.
The half-hour address of the Cleveland media, coupled with the slew of interviews that will be given throughout the duration of the day, will amount to more face time than Haslam’s predecessor gave over the course of the last 10 years. While Haslam did exude respect and admiration for Randy Lerner, it is undoubtedly apparent that the team’s new owner will be in the public eye. “I want to be available, transparent and selling the Cleveland Browns,” he said.
Haslam is already referring to Brandon Weeden as “Brandon,” and Trent Richardson as “Trent.” While he applauded the Rooney family (and said his first post-ownership meeting will be with New England’s Rober Kraft), Haslam never mentioned the Pittsburgh Steelers by name — “that team to the east.” Open and honest, no comments were made about current or future personnel. No firm declarations were given with regard to the future name of the stadium or potential for an alteration in the team’s colors or uniforms. But what was given a firm commitment was that the CEO of Pilot-Flying J is the majority owner of a once-proud franchise and is firmly looking to get it back to a level that has long been missing.
“I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Cleveland Browns, but it’s my job to get there,” Haslam said. “This is a good, exciting young team thats on the upswing.”
There’s no guarantee that first impressions will last forever, but for a team in dire need of a public relations spark, one was undoubtely ignited in Berea with the beginning of the 2012 season just weeks away.
(Joshua Gunter/Plain Dealer)