On Wednesday, November 1, as the Cleveland Browns were embroiled in another dalliance with dysfunction before the first snowflakes were allowed to fall in Cleveland, Pro Football Talk reported that Browns ownership went “nuclear” after an embarrassing trade deadline. Dee Haslam is reported to have given Sashi Brown the proverbial business over a series of events involving a failed trade for A.J. McCarron that saw the Browns name get dragged through an all-too-familiar mud pit. The “same old Browns” were the subject of the same old jokes, and some of those on Twitter were lauding the Browns’ owners for having an angry reaction and not standing for this kind of thing. I took no joy in the reports, and I was far from impressed.
I run a small business with my brother. My father founded the business in 1971, so we feel a great responsibility to it and to him. As a result, I spend a great deal of time trying to learn about the best ways to run that business. I don’t have my MBA, but I believe I’ve spent MBA-level amounts of time reading, studying, strategizing, and working at this whole leadership thing. Even if I haven’t mastered it all, I’ve read enough from people like Jack Welch, Gary Vaynerchuk, Dave Ramsey, and even Tony Robbins to have an inkling. I’ve learned from reading books about Google, Apple, Disney, Tesla, and even the mistakes made in starting up Twitter, Facebook and other sexy companies worthy of having books written about them. I know what good leadership is supposed to look like and trust me when I tell you there’s no chapter in any of these books about the value of “going nuclear” after an organizational mistake. Leadership isn’t smacking a dog on the nose after it chews the couch or pees on the carpet. Leadership is training that dog with love, rewards, and a shared sense of boundaries. When you put an invisible fence in, you put up flags and train a dog to understand where it is. You don’t just shock them and expect them to do what you want from a sense of surprise pain and fear.
Real leadership in business has different flavors, but it’s generically all the same. Leadership is setting direction, hiring and firing the right people (without emotion,) displaying excellent internal and external communication skills, and keeping things together in difficult times without allowing them to devolve to the point where you “go nuclear.” We all know this from our own experiences in work, parenting, and yes, even pet ownership.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received professionally is that there’s no emotion in business. You can have passion, energy, and excitement, but there’s a clear difference between celebrating victories, bemoaning losses and reacting emotionally. Passion serves the greater organizational purpose, but unhinged emotion undermines it and makes everyone worse. I know it feels like a semantical argument, but I’m guessing you know this to be true in your own lives. It applies to the Cleveland Browns as well.
Nuclear explosions are always near Jimmy Haslam. Whether we’re talking about Pilot Flying J — drowning into dysfunction until it had to be raided by the FBI and recently bought by Warren Buffett — or the Browns, there’s an unmistakable pattern here. Rob Chudzinski’s departure was explosive. Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi’s departures were dysfunctional. Ray Farmer, Mike Pettine, Alec Scheiner, Kevin Griffin, and Kyle Shanahan? All brutal and mired in malfunction. The latter wanted out so badly he created a PowerPoint presentation. There is one common denominator and despite my love for Stranger Things, I don’t believe Browns headquarters in Berea is sitting atop a mystical, evil Upside Down.
I’ve spent a significant portion of this season trying to pick apart the issues with the Cleveland Browns. Is it the coaches putting players in bad positions while not getting steady improvement out of the roster, or is it a roster that’s too young and consistently gutted of even mid-level veteran talent? The answer, by the way, is “Yes!” I’m here to tell you, however, that this isn’t where the story begins. I feel like an absolute sucker for having wasted so many words on so many symptoms, rather than the known issue. The issue is Jimmy Haslam, and the only solution is for him to #SellTheBrowns.
I dare Jimmy Haslam and his ownership group to prove me wrong. We’ve heard wonderful things about Dee Haslam and her expanded role over the past two years or so. Judging by the dysfunction that’s been surfacing this week between the warring football factions in Berea, her influence is either not as good as we hoped, or it’s not working.
Before we even begin to discuss the direction itself, you have to know that everyone’s willing to pull together while looking at the same compass. Rather than getting anywhere, the Cleveland Browns are like that tiny indicator flag in the middle of a tug of war rope that starts at the center and lets you know who is winning. Neither Hue Jackson nor Sashi Brown wants to get dragged into the giant mud pit in the middle of the game. Unlike tug of war, they can’t win by dragging their counterpart down into the mud, and that’s where Jimmy Haslam intersects with this. He allowed his football team to become a game of tug of war. He’s the only one to blame for that as both Brown and Jackson answer to him.
The Browns are not doing well on the field and in the standings. That might even be fine if everyone felt secure and comfortable with the plan. All indications are that the Browns coaches feel like they’re on the chopping block for not winning with the roster as it is. Meanwhile, those who are in favor of “the plan” think Sashi Brown and his crew could be doing just fine because they’ve got so many picks coming up in the 2018 NFL Draft. These two factions within Berea are playing very different games, and it’s Jimmy Haslam’s fault they aren’t playing the game together.
If the Browns weren’t meant to win much this year, then Jimmy Haslam needs to state that publicly and support his coach consistently and unequivocally throughout the process. If the coach was feeling that support from the owner he probably wouldn’t lash out at the front office that put together a roster that’s clearly not meant to compete this year as it continues to unload anything resembling an inherited veteran. The apparent sniping that’s coming from the Browns’ coaching staff is emblematic of distrust, and that lies at Jimmy Haslam’s feet. And let me know exactly how “going nuclear” would serve to fix this.
Jimmy Haslam embraced this unorthodox plan, and he’s failing to execute it. It’s a plan that requires patience, soothing of egos, and stellar communications both internally and externally. Based on everything we’ve seen in the five years since Jimmy Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns, he’s totally over his head in every facet of executing this plan. How else can anyone explain the sniping between front office and coaching staff a mere one and a half seasons? There’s only one conclusion and absent some proof that this 63-year-old billionaire is going to learn to be a leader or replace himself with someone who is, the only path that’s going to change the future for Browns fans is for the Haslams to sell the team to someone who can lead.
#SellTheBrowns is a win-win
The good news for Jimmy Haslam is that he can make a killing on the Browns’ sale. Despite the fact that he bought the team for $1 billion and has failed miserably at managing it, the asset class — NFL franchises — has outpaced his own failure. NFL teams are even more limited inventory than the elusive starting quarterback that the Browns have been missing since Bernie Kosar. In a world where the Los Angeles Clippers fetch $2 billion in a forced sale by a racist owner who caused a roster insurrection, the Browns are also worth about double what Jimmy Haslam paid. And considering the amount of draft picks that Sashi Brown has in the bank for 2018, there might not be a better time for an unfit owner to sell his team.
That’s why I’m active on Twitter using the hashtag #SellTheBrowns. I don’t have any delusions that it will actually work. Convincing a billionaire to swallow his ego and sell the Browns because he’s not qualified or up to the challenge is not going to be accomplished with a Twitter hashtag. It’s more about me, as a fan and commentator realizing that most other arguments over the team and any micro-analysis of their maneuvers is simply a waste of time. More than almost anything else in the world, I’m sick and tired of wasting my time as it relates to the Cleveland Browns. We can continue to talk about them, but if I don’t say it, you can just assume that #SellTheBrowns is part of my response.