Chuck Klosterman’s Grantland expose was just the tip of the iceberg. For years, perhaps shrouded by arrogance and pomp, the Cleveland Browns – yes, that awful football team – have nearly been just as awful at media relations.
For one, maybe it wasn’t the true fault of Neal Gulkis. I want to give any person the benefit of the doubt. And I certainly never enjoy cheering for any person losing their job. But with the Browns announcing on Friday that they’re letting go of Gulkis, maybe, just maybe, this new era, this new front office and this new team can truly begin their regional makeover.
In order to get a sense for how the Browns have goofed in the eyes of media relations for years, one can also devour what Pat McManamon wrote over at Fox Sports Ohio two weeks ago. After appearing on the WFNY podcast with Craig, the former Akron Beacon Journal and AOL Fanhouse writer intricately detailed multiple instances where the Browns media team just wasn’t helpful at all.
The simplest information on injuries is hidden. A statement like “Joe sprained his ankle and we’re gonna try to get him back as soon as we can but this usually takes 2-4 weeks” is apparently akin to revealing the owner’s ATM code. Rookies who have done nothing but be drafted high are coddled, as if being available to answer a question more than once a week might cause them to grow bunions on their ears. And though the team constantly is involved in community activities, it also held a press conference to celebrate a contract extension the same day of the horrific shootings in Chardon. It couldn’t wait a few days?
While that’s only one person’s perspective, and again, this all could have just snowballed over the last few weeks, it appears corroborated that there certainly was a pattern of poor behavior and poor expectations.
And this snowballing effect of late all began with what Klosterman wrote at Grantland. As we all know by now, the esteemed author was assigned by the Bill Simmons-brainchild site to get an inside look at Cleveland’s draft day operations. He thought he was going to get unparalleled access to the inner works of Joe Banner, Michael Lombardi, et al.
It all would have made for an exciting story, much like what Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was able to write about the St. Louis Rams. That King story came out just days after the draft in the print edition of the magazine and it was a fantastic read. Even though I don’t care much about the Rams, it was a fascinating PR job by the organization to set that up.
Instead, in Cleveland, Klosterman just had a multiple-hour date with his cell phone, albeit while waiting and waiting and waiting in the Browns headquarters. His article certainly was sensationalized and he can be blamed for writing about the media relations negatives, instead of still just writing about the draft. But here’s the snippet that has caught eyes around the Internet:
In so many ways, this denial represents the grand irony of the Browns organization (and, I would assume, every other organization in the NFL). The Browns live in a state of perpetual war, endlessly convincing themselves that every scrap of information they possess is some kind of game-changing superweapon that will alter lives and transmogrify the culture. They behave like members of a corporate cult. Yet what do these cultists watch on the day of the draft? They watch ESPN. They log on to the Internet and scan ProFootballTalk. The comments they make about college prospects are roughly identical to whatever your smarter friends might glean from the Plain Dealer. I’ve never witnessed this level of institutional paranoia within a universe so devoid of actual secrets. I don’t even know what they don’t want me to know.
Now, to be transparent, WaitingForNextYear has never been credentialed by the Cleveland Browns. On the other hand, the other two teams in town that actually have had on-field success and maybe haven’t had to necessarily work as hard to appease the media or community, have always been open and communicative with our entire staff.
Call it a misunderstanding. Call it hubris. Call it ignorance. Call it an unwillingness to comply with the world of media in 2013. But something was often amiss with the Browns media relations staff from my perspective of our experience, and it seems from these articles that we clearly weren’t the only ones.
Often here at WFNY, Craig Lyndall has written from the perspective of what the Browns should be doing to communicate effectively with the fans. He did that when the team let Phil Dawson walk this past offseason, for example. But most notably, his Browns media relations-based articles this offseason began with their media mishandling of the coaching rumors. That then led to rampant fan speculation and eventually, a disappointed community when Chip Kelly landed in Philadelphia. Eventually, the same frustration was the case with Mike Lombardi’s arrival.
More recently, Craig wrote about how Joe Banner sounds like the right man to be doing the PR work, but fans are still impatient for the on-field product. That should be considered improvement. Yet Scott’s article from earlier this month on transparency in the face of this media backlash said all that needed to be said.
Now, in the same fashion as a head coach receiving the unnecessary axe – a la Byron Scott – it was just time for Gulkis to go. It might not have been fair. It might not have been his fault. But in order to complete the culture shift in Berea, this was the next move for Jimmy Haslam and company.
A fresh start with the media and the community can now finally begin. A nightmare of a last few months has taken place in the team’s PR department. From the ongoing investigation into Pilot/Flying J to even the character concerns with draft pick Armonty Bryant to now the Klosterman/McMamanon airing of grievances, it all led to this.
Here at WFNY, we hope that much like Klosterman, we’ll no longer be waiting and waiting and waiting anymore. Now, we’ll hopefully be embraced and recognized and appreciated. But we hopefully won’t be the only ones: Instead of Craig being a practical ombudsman, maybe, the Browns can do their own dirty work to effectively reach out the community as they long ago should have done.