If you are a fan of any sports franchise, there’s one dilemma that’s virtually impossible to overcome. Unfortunately for Cleveland, in the billionaire, megalomaniacal world of NFL ownership, the problems of a fanbase doesn’t often matriculate up those corporate, money-making ladders. Whether the fans show up or not, massive TV contracts line the owners Brooks Brothers suits like opulent whale blubber, warming their cold souls, regardless of wins and losses, without much care of who is or who isn’t coming to football games. Attendance matters, but it isn’t as big a piece of the pie as most other sports.
If you are a fan of any sports franchise, bad coaching and horrible general managers aren’t often long-term road blocks in the NFL. A deep pocketed owner (and let’s be honest, they’re all deep pocketed, or they wouldn’t be NFL owners) can simply fire them. Say the coach is overmatched, or isn’t ready, or loses the team, or doesn’t get along with the front office or an owner. If that’s the case, they’re often unceremoniously dumped to the curb, with hundreds of other options waiting in the wings. The NFL is built around parity, in which teams can reload their chambers in a short period of time, if the owner can make the right moves.
If you are a fan of any sports franchise, and you happen to be disheartened by a player’s on-the-field play or off-the-field disruptions, an owner, his front office, and his coach can easily move that out-of-control or under-performing player to another team, or in a pinch, can suspend him. Contracts often don’t guarantee money, and even if they do, it’s easy for the bloated wallet owners to take on salary to help out one of their fellow good ole’ boys. If players don’t fit, It’s not all
If you’re an employee of a sports organization, you can be traded, cut, suspended, fired, and sold, at will and without repercussion. While these types of organizational moves can often bring pain and strife to a fanbase, those types of team transactions are most always temporary, unless you’re a Browns’ fan. If you’re moving a disgruntled, or cost-sucking player, or an overmatched coach or general manager, aren’t you really adding by subtracting?
In theory, this is true, and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has made this practice a common place since he became the owner of the Browns in 2012. He’s fired coaches Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, and Mike Pettine, as well as general managers Tom Heckert, Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer, and Sashi Brown. While Hue Jackson somehow kept his job, he’s only an irritant to Haslam in the grand scheme of things, who can pull the trigger at any time he wants to.
In theory, making as many moves as the Browns have in the Haslam era would improve the team, right? You bring in a coach to improve upon the next, and the same with the GM.
With players, it’s the same, Since Haslam has had a full year of control, He’s used the following quarterbacks as starters: Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel again, Austin Davis, Robert Grifin III, Josh McCown again, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan.
Sure, Haslam didn’t make the call, but his people did. For those counting at home, that’s 11 different names… in five years. In that same time period, the Steelers have had three different quarterbacks, the Bengals two, and the Ravens four. Just ponder that for a moment. But… the Browns aren’t afraid to make those short term decisions that can turn a franchise around. Haslam is pretty good at switching directions. Unfortunately for Browns’ fans, that direction is often heading into one brick wall, after another.
So here’s a serious question: When does the NFL take a look at the owner and say, “We’ve made a tremendous mistake in hiring an owner?” While it’s easy to find new players, why do fans have to be stuck with a bad owner?
And let’s be clear, Jimmy Haslam is a bad owner, and he’s made some really bad, or really mismatched hires that have sent an already struggling organization, spiraling.
In 2013, a year after Haslam took ownership of the Browns, the FBI raided the office of his other business, Pilot/Flying J because it was believed that the Haslam-run corporation was allegedly creating a fraudulent rebate system to trucking companies, that in reality, was overcharging them. If you’ve bought tickets to any Browns game, you probably understand what the FBI was saying. Fraudulent is the nicest word I can come up with.
Now the long story short here is that Haslam is claiming that he knew nothing about it. What’s sad, is that however ridiculous that sounds, if you watch and pay attention to the garbage-show that the Browns are, you can almost believe it. But back to Flying J. Former employees said Haslam knew. There are tapes in which the illusions seem to implicate that Haslam knew, based on references that he made.
Think about this for a moment… an owner of an NFL organization is implicated in an ongoing federal trial in which the owner’s company has essentially hornswoggled other companies for a whole lotta money. While it hasn’t been proven that Haslam knew about it, it’s his company and his hires, and his employees. At the bare minimum, he’s guilty of hiring the wrong people…and that’s at the bare minimum. While the jury is still not in, doesn’t it seem like Haslam has at least this going against him: guilt by association?
Why I bring this all up takes me back to the beginning of this piece, in which I discussed the ease in which an owner can make a move to better the franchise. It can happen on a dime, whether you know it’s going to happen or not.
You can even take this a step further. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has often dealt with players, regardless of court findings. Often charges are dropped against a player, and often he steps in, suspending the said player for “alleged” incidents. I’m not saying this is right, or wrong…I’m just notating that it happens.
While it’s obvious that ownership is different, why does a town have to be stuck with an owner that clearly runs his personal business badly (well… it’s a billion dollar business, but you know what I mean), and his hobby just as badly.
WHEN THE HELL IS THE NFL GOING TO STEP IN AND DO SOMETHING?
It’s clear that the NFL groomed Haslam into this job. He was a minority owner with a flagship franchise in Pittsburgh. The NFL brought him to the table to buy the Browns. It’s clear that fiscally, Haslam has more than enough money to be a part of the club, regardless of what happens as this Pilot/Flying J case pleads out. It’s equally clear that the owners really don’t plan on doing a whole lot, as long as Haslam continues to claim ignorance. BUT WHY SHOULD FANS BE OKAY WITH THIS.
It’s simple: there’s never been anything you can do about a bad owner.
It doesn’t matter if the recordings of Haslam are authentic, and point to him being corrupt. It doesn’t matter if Haslam continues to make questionable moves while meddling with the Browns. It doesn’t matter if in those recordings, and in his actions, Jimmy Haslam continues to treat his consumers as though they were the garbage under their feet.
The point is that it’s clear that Jimmy Haslam, through previous action, has proven to be the sort of owner that would likely find himself in the unemployment line, if he were anything but an owner in the NFL. It’s equally clear that the NFL has a lot invested in Haslam.
The NFL will clearly tolerate Haslam for as long as they have to. They’ve tolerated other ambitious owners over the years, who have made questionable moves on-the-field, if not off of it. While it’s easy to look at Haslam as the worst owner in the NFL, there are others over the years that have sucked in their own right, even if their teams haven’t been as bad as the Browns. Dean Spanos in San Diego, Stephen Ross in Miami, the Yorks in San Francisco, Jerry Jones in Dallas, and the Davises in Oakland, or L.A., or Las Vegas, or wherever the hell they’re playing, or going to be playing nowadays, are all owners that in one way or another, have been really bad for their fans. Hell, the worst of the bunch may be the Browns themselves, who are ridiculed yearly for a variety of reasons in Cincinnati.
But as silly as this sounds, all of those teams, in one way or another, have shown some stages of stability at a level monumentally higher than the Browns. But regardless, it does go to show you how hard it is to maneuver an NFL owner out of the league.
In the scheme of Roger Goodell and his fellow owners, Haslam has everything you need in the NFL dress code: billions of dollars. But at any moment, the commissioner and owner can fire a coach, or a player. Think of all of the manipulations one team does in any given year. Think of all the manipulations that Roger Goodell roots through… and how subjective is that?
Here in Cleveland, we know bad owners, and I’m not talking about Art Modell, because that’s a chapter all unto itself. Instead, I’m talking about the Cavs brutal owner from the early 1980s, Ted Stepien. During the 1981-82 season, Stepien’s Cavs had four coaches: Chuck Daly, Bill Musselman, Bob Kloppenburg, and Don Delaney. He squandered draft picks, and traded away first round picks like giving away the bad candy from Halloween. The Cavs traded away five first rounders in a row, creating the “Stepien rules,” which prohibit teams from dealing away consecutive first round picks. One of those Cavs picks became Hall of Famer James Worthy, whose pick was traded away for… Dan Ford.
At the end of Stepien’s tenure, he began threatening to move the Cavs out of town, because of a lack of attendence that he created by demoralizing the fan base. The NBA, backed by the NBA general counsel at the time, David Stern, stepped in and quietly pushed for the sale of the team to the Gund brothers, which became final in 1983, three years after Stepien had pushed for the team.
Some will say Haslam hasn’t entered the unique territory of Ted Stepien, and in fairness, he probably hasn’t. Yet, in today’s NFL that has seen teams go from worst to first in several years over the past two decades, it’s hard to formulate legitimate reasons, beyond bad ownership, for the Browns to have back-to-back seasons in which they’ve only won one football game. When you combine that with five consecutive Haslam-led seasons in which the team has dropped in attendance (under a million for home/away attendance this year for the first time since 1995, the year the Browns left for Baltimore under Modell), you can start to make a case that things are going horribly wrong.
What’s funny is that in an offhanded conversation a few weeks ago with some people that follow the Browns closely at WFNY, the comment “Is he trying to move the Browns” came up… more than once. Now, I don’t really think the NFL would move the Browns out of Cleveland again, but the fact that it even came up lets you know where the minds of the fans are.
The NFL has a lot to answer for, regarding Jimmy Haslam. While Haslam’s turnover rate for personnel is at a premium, he’s not being held to the same standards, even though his direct ownership is what’s responsible for the current version of the sad sack Browns. Sure, the team has struggled since 1999, but this is, during all of that strife, the first time attendance has dropped below a million. This is the first time in Browns history, that the team has gone 0-16. This is the first time the team has only won ONE FREAKIN’ GAME…IN TWO FULL SEASONS.
I don’t know if the NFL can formulate some sort of “Nuclear option” for Jimmy Haslam, the way that they’re discussing it regarding Jerry Jones. You see, Jones continually attacks the owners and the commissioner, which in turn, could affect their pocket books. Heaven forbid that happens.
Instead, the NFL owners are just standing by, while an allegedly corrupt owner continues to destabilize a fan base that has watched its team leave town, return, and flounder for almost 20 years, because as long as you’re a billionaire, and part of the “old boys club,” you don’t have to worry about your job… even if you do it badly.