The Browns are right to lay low with Lombardi

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 9.18.12 PMThere’s no getting around the fact that Michael Lombardi was a controversial hire for the Cleveland Browns. Lombardi’s previous history in Cleveland as well as his presumed track record – including a very long stint off of any team payrolls – is plenty of reason to give the fan-base and the Cleveland media pause at minimum. Even those who support the Cleveland Browns’ hire of Michael Lombardi have to admit that he has a lot to prove. With all that in mind, I couldn’t help but support the Browns’ decision to have Lombardi lay low for a while.

I said from the first moment that Lombardi appeared to be absent that it might make a lot of sense with so much tape out there of Lombardi commenting on teams, players, future draft picks and everything else that a media talking head might find himself (or herself) commenting on.

And boy did Lombardi comment. Even before he could cash his first check from Haslam enterprises in Berea, he found himself referencing comments he’d made about the most important battery in the Cleveland Browns offense of Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon. The media was right to ask him those questions and now the Browns are right to let Lombardi do his work as GM and let Joe Banner handle the spokesperson duties while the expiration dates on his commentary approach and eventually pass.

None of this means that the Browns were right to hire Lombardi, of course. See previous comments about Lombardi having a whole lot to prove. Even more than that, he has a reputation – rightly or wrongly earned – to overcome. There’s little chance he could have found any way to overcome it as a distraction to the team in and around every press conference involving player personnel this off-season. Now Joe Banner has admitted it in a pretty frank comment to Mary Kay Cabot.

“Yes, he got criticized, but I don’t think anybody would deny that whether people are for him or against him, he’s a lightning rod at the moment,” Banner said. “It attracts a lot of attention and it gets a lot of strong reaction and I think it’s better for us right now and better for him to keep things calm, lowkey, focus on his work and then kind of more gradually let that situation take care of itself in terms of his availability to you all.”

So blame the Browns for hiring a “lightning rod” if you want. That’s fair game for criticism and the Browns know it. But they hired a guy they apparently wanted and they’re at least living in reality with regard to what is required to try to give it the best possible chance to be successful.

Whether or not Lombardi works out as the head personnel man for the Browns, it seems that this is the best track for the Browns to take with Michael Lombardi right now. Lombardi and the Browns need to be successful this off-season and any extra distraction the Browns can avoid, the better.

  • Great piece, Craig. Totally agree with the sentiment. Nothing wrong with avoiding confrontation, especially when we haven’t even had a minicamp yet.

  • AMC

    Regardless of what you think of the Lombardi hiring as a matter of substance, his availability to the media is a complete non-issue being made into an issue by Cleveland Browns beat writers who would like to write more about Lombardi because it’s easy copy to generate and sure beats having to actually go and do any real reporting beyond talking to Josh Cribbs’ agent.

    Right now Banner’s the spokesperson for the team, and he also happens to be running the show as Haslam’s second in command. Why would you care about talking to Lombardi who is Banner’s subordinate when you can talk to Banner?

    We’ll see how the Browns moves pan out, but to me it seems like every time Banner talks he is a pretty straight shooter – he may explicitly choose to not answer a question, but when he does, he’s not feeding the media BS. That’s not to say that the organization couldn’t be more forthcoming (for instance, why they choose to keep free agent visits so classified I have no idea), but Banner is the decision maker, so he’s the one you’d want to talk to anyway. This would be like the White House press corps complaining that they can’t talk to President Obama’s chief of staff when Obama himself is making himself regularly available to the media. Who cares?

  • MSkog

    Agree completely Craig. I’ve had way too many twitter debates over this in the last 2 days. What seems to be missing is the idea and acceptance that Banner is the guy in charge, leading these decisions. He has spoken every step of the way. As the main power player in all of this, it’s his voice I want to hear most.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    This is good, Mark. Everyone should bare in mind that the new structure of the Browns is more like Banner as the GM with Lombardi as his VP of Player Personnel… I think the different titles are fooling everyone.

  • Bryan

    I really am starting to appreciate how direct and blunt Banner is. Whether you agree or disagree with the Lombardi policy, at least Banner owns it.

  • saggy

    yeah – what he (@AMC) said.

  • Harv 21

    Hurrah for damage control. Hurrah for Banner “owning it.” Elsewhere in his interview Banner chivalrously says he’ll take the bullets for bad decisions, Berea will not shirk responsibility. [Actually, Banner sounds deleriously happy to emphasize in any context that he’s in charge].

    Fine. He’s in charge, he’s heard the apoplectic cries of disbelief from locals. But let’s not lose sight of the ridiculousness while praising the bandaid so smartly applied. Look at the situation Banner created: the new sheriff in town has chosen, as the most important football guy in the organization, the new chief of player personnel, someone he must immediately place in a Witness Protection Program from the team’s own fans! And he’ll let Barney Fife poke his head out little by little when he’s sure no one’s throwing tomatoes anymore.

    Don’t we get how hilarious this is? This is EPIC local sports history, this is a Peterson/Kekich wife swap, this is crawling through ceiling tiles for the corked bat, this is drafting Jeremiah Pharms writ huge! Great stuff, classic only-in-Cleveland stuff.

  • maxfnmloans

    September called and said no matter the semantics, Joe Banner is the President/GM/Chief cook and bottle washer/ Grand poobah. Lombardi is a glorified scout. The PD writers need to do a little more legwork to find stuff to write about, because this is a non-issue. Some days I’m glad I do not live in Cleveland any more so I don’t get caught up in the minutae.

  • mgbode

    Tony Grossi on Lombardi:

    “He’s a pathetic figure. The most irrelevant GM in the world.”

  • mgbode

    more agreement from me.

  • I don’t think it was a sheriff-deputy analogy. It was more of a lynch mob mentality that led to the shielding. Since the epic event of Lombardi “not speaking” is being debated, then I think it’s fair to say Banner made the right call in temporarily stashing him in a safe house. It clearly would have been more of a distraction from the work (FAs and potential draftees). People obsessed with hating Lombardi will have their chance, no doubt, later after the draft. Let’s hope they don’t have ample ammunition though.

  • dwhit110

    Isn’t it nice that the organization finally has a structure where they can let a high ranking official (the GM!) lay low, while still putting other high ranking officials front and center?

    Seems so long ago that Mangini was the judge, jury, and sheriff.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    God, I can’t stand Grossi.

  • Big Z

    Banner will surely regret this ridiculous hire. I only hope the two don’t damage the team too badly.

  • BenRM

    nailed it (that’s what she said)

  • BenRM

    Ben on Tony Grossi:

    “He is a petulant child with more axes than grindstones.”

  • Bryan

    I see the awkwardness of the situation as an indictment of the Cleveland Media, more than anything. Banner knows that the hacks of the world (read: MKC and Grossi) will write endless hack stories about every word uttered by Lombardi after every press conference, which will in turn encourage fans to regurgitate the same hack opinions. Given that, he is doing the pragmatic thing. I am impressed. He is a realist. He believes in Lombardi but knows that other people don’t. The fact that he is capable of holding both those ideas in his head at the same time, and being honest about it, is a good sign.

  • The_Real_Shamrock


  • Toddyus

    So far, I’m really enjoying not being insulted with clearly BS info from a Browns regime. I respect their right to withhold information, but when they share it, I appreciate that it’s direct and (seemingly) truthful – Chip Kelly fiasco aside.

  • porkchop

    I like that this situation – the local media attempting to stir up the pot – doesn’t seem to have caught this front office by surprise. In fact it feels like they expected it and had a planned response.

    I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again, think of how far we’ve come to have an Owner actually at the owners meetings. Of course the Grossi’s of the world ignore this fact and harp on him not being at a press conference.

    Think of how former regimes handled these types of situations.

    Butch Davis; Literally hid out at home, refused to come to work and left team completely before the end of the season.

    Phil Savage: Fights with fan via email

    Mangini: Resorts to throwing smoke bombs down and runnning out of the room everytime he hears “Kokinis”.

    Holmgren: Gets 8 daquiris deep and drunk dials a guy in Seattle to complain that people were upset that his staff allowed a freshly decapitated corpse to return to action.

    So next fall, when Weeden is spraying footballs 10 feet over recievers heads, the D ends up being full of Big guys that can’t hit, and Little Guys that can’t run – and the team is 0-4 then lets fire up the torches and go after these bums (are we the only team whose Bandwagon is actually housed at a one way Greyhound bus terminal?). But for now dear fans, let us bask in the fact that we have an organizational power structure that not only looks like most other teams, but actually functions properly as well.

    Side note, the more I hear Banner give “no BS” answers, the more inclined I am to believe his side of the Chip Kelly fiasco.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It is a nice change of pace plus not having press conferences just to have them a la Holmgren. Maybe that’s what the beat writers and media are missing.

  • Harv 21

    I don’t disagree with you or Craig that stashing him now is a safe move, though Banner can only blame his own hubris if he didn’t anticipate the reaction. I’m stepping back and asking: have any of us seen this situation anywhere? A guy rides in from a far tougher fan and media market, sniffs around to get the lay of the land and then must hide his first crucial hire from public sight and sound. Cleveland is not a “lynch mob” – Philly, Boston, NY, Chicago etc. is where the mobs hang out. This is a slavish sports honeymoon market with desperate fans ready to fall in love at the first sign of competence (see Heckert, Tom). This place may be neurotic but any little success makes it easy, and yet Lombardi is being shielded like a precious 50-something year old prodigy whose ego dare not be damaged at this stage. In 10 years we’ll look back at this episode as a hoot.

  • porkchop

    I completely gotta disagree with you there Harv. This is nothing like Mayberry. This much more like Hardcastle and McCormick. Hardcastle (Banner) is going after the bad guys and he needs a guy like McCormick, a guy with a little dirt on him to do this, the guy needs to be a smooth talking conman type (see how mine fits Lombardi better?:) ) also the guy has to have a sweet ride (I’m told Lombardi arrives in Berea everyday in a Lotus Evora with plates that read THABARD) Anyway, Hardcastle knows that being a man of the law he is going to take some heat from other law abiding people for the guy he chooses to clean up the town. So that’s his job, run interference for McCormick, so that McCormick can do what he does best.
    Anyway I’m sure your analogy is just as acceptable its just a generational thing. You grew up on Lucy I had Alice and so it goes.
    (apologize for rambling still recovering from dealing with the absurdities of our National Practice Drinking Day)

  • Harv 21

    “You grew up on Lucy I had Alice and so it goes.”

    Every time I turned that prism of a phrase to respond it looked worse. So I’m just letting it be.

  • Fair points and all well thought out. I think generally you are right about our eagerness for a winner and it requiring only a modicum of success for us to give up the naming rights to our first born. But truly something different has been going on the past few years. Maybe I’m wrong, but the hangdog and morose is getting uglier and more bitter–and there was good reason to think the much anticipated (and loathed) Lombardi hire was going to be a nightmare prior to him uttering word one or making a single move. I don’t think that says Banner made a bad decision (who knows yet) or that Lombardi needed coddling. It was a result of the environment and the fan temperature. And beyond all of that, the fact that no one was willing to give Lombardi any sort of a second chance 18 years later as a third fiddle was a little mind boggling and indicative of emotions. Maybe we laugh after 10 years, but after all of the parade of horribles we’ve seen leading our franchise since 99, seems like no one’s in the laughing mood anymore,

  • Glen

    It’s pretty apparent Joe Banner is calling the shots so not sure what Lombardi would have to say. He’s Banner’s glorified errand boy. That being said, the team gave him the title of GM and I think the fans deserve to hear from somebody. This might not be as big a deal if Banner didn’t take such a tight-lipped approach to the media. (i.e. Have we ever been given a good reason why the team wouldn’t try to bring back Dawson?) If the team starts winning championships no one will care how the team is run. Until then, the fans of the Browns have been too loyal and deserve some answers from somebody, whether its Banner or our faux-GM Lombardi.

  • Harv 21

    agree with you about local mood; there’s a very edgy tone and that’s why I said this bandaid is appropriate. But not about the Lombardi coddling and Banner anticipation. Banner’s recent statements implied he is responding to current reaction, not murmurings last fall. The reaction isn’t only local – hard to believe this hire was so important to him that he would have done it knowing he’d have to keep Lombardi even from national reporters and those from other cities at the Combine. After all his media commenter hot air, it’s like hiring Rush Limbaugh to a key position in your administration.

    And watching the Lombardi intro presser I saw and heard a deer in the headlights, a dude who couldn’t wait to repeat how he loved Cleveland and disappear. Not a confident Haslam or Banner or even Savage. My subjective impression is that Banner knows Lombardi must be coddled, bucked up, whatever, to get his confidence up. But this is the big GM hire, not an unpaid intern. That appeals to my sick sense of humor, sorry.