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Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner launch search for a 'strong, tough, dynamic' head coach

Dec 31, 2012 -- 3:57pm

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By Tony Grossi

Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner launched their coaching search on Monday with a public appeal for a strong man with specific skill sets.

“We want an individual as a head coach who’s a strong leader, who’s tough, because this is a tough business, but also is smart, very organized, has great attention to detail and is aggressive,” said Haslam. “That’s the kind of football team we will have and that’s the kind of individuals we are.”

The new Browns owner and his NFL-savvy CEO outlined their plans less than two hours after releasing coach Pat Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert.

Without identifying what went wrong with Shurmur and Heckert, Banner said, rather pointedly, “We’re looking for somebody with really strong, dynamic leadership. I think there was also the need to need to create a fresh energy, or a fresh start.”

In Haslam’s organization, the coach will have the loudest voice in future decisions. That’s why the head coach will be selected first and the personnel executive – who likely won’t hold the title of general manager – will come second.

Banner said this decision – choosing the head coach first – was the first made when he and Haslam began discussing what Haslam termed “succession planning” two to three months ago. The actual decisions to fire Shurmur and Heckert were made a week ago, Haslam said.

“We think that the head coach is gonna play an even bigger role in where we go from here,” Banner said. “That will create a better situation for us to identify exactly what role the GM, or potentially, director of player personnel, whichever it ends up being, exactly what qualities do we need in that person so that when we fit everything together we have real strength in every area.”

There has been a lot of concern that Banner will stick his nose too deeply into football matters. He said on Monday that the goal is to find the right head coach who is capable of not only choosing the 53-man roster out of training camp but also being the point man on trades, free agent signings and final say on the high draft picks.

“Those are the decisions,” Banner said, “in which it is our expectations going into this that we think in most scenarios, depending on the personalities, are better handled by the coach.”

Haslam insisted there is no front-runner for the head coach job and only he and Banner know the candidates.

But it sounded like the job description is tailored for big-name, accomplished coaches like Nick Saban of Alabama; “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden, formerly coach with Oakland and Tampa Bay; and even Bill Cowher, the former Steelers coach semi-retired for six seasons as a CBS football analyst.

Several smaller name NFL assistant coaches or college coaches linked to the Browns, such Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, Falcons assistant Dirk Koetter, Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels, Broncos assistant Mike McCoy, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and others, would appear to be in the second wave of preferred candidates.

It’s unclear into which group Oregon’s Chip Kelly, he of the revved-up college offense with little familiarity of the NFL, falls on the Browns’ list.

Once the coach is in place, the personnel executive then will be added.

“We really just made the determination it was more important to not limit the head coach search, to get the very best person we could in that position and then go from there,” Banner said.

In this regard, Haslam believes he is following the model set forth by the Steelers, whom he studied for four seasons as a limited investor.

“I think it depends on who the coach is,” Haslam said. “We might bring in somebody who has a tremendous amount of personnel knowledge. We might bring in somebody that has less. I know that (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin and (general manager) Kevin Colbert work very closely together at Pittsburgh. I do think it’s extremely important for the two individuals to be locked at the hip.

“Our focus right now, I just want to say this over and over, is getting the right head coach. If we do that, the other pieces will fall into place.”

There was no mention of NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, who has lobbied hard for a personnel job from his friend, Banner, because Haslam said he would not comment on an individual names.

Here is a primer on the Browns’ coaching and personnel executive search:

What is the timetable?

Banner was arranging interviews on Monday. Haslam said he prefers to fill both jobs “the sooner the better … Our goal is to get the best person and if we happen to find that person within a week, that’s great, and if it takes a month, that’s great also.”

Does Haslam and Banner prefer a coach with head coach experience? An NFL coordinator? A college coach? Offensive-minded or defensive-minded?

“We’re going to explore all avenues – college coaches, coordinators and head coaches. The key is to get the right person,” Haslam said. “We haven’t ruled out anybody,” said Banner. “We view everybody out there, as we’ve got a full pool of people to look at and determine who we think will be able to win the most games going forward.”

How does the NFL's "Rooney Rule" apply to the search?

The rule requires at least one minority candidate be interviewed for the position of head coach and the top football executive position with a team. Banner said, "I promise you we will apply the Rooney Rule to both of these searches."

What will happen to Shurmur’s assistant coaches?

All are under contract and have been told they are free to explore other opportunities, as long as they notify the Browns first. They also could be retained by the next head coach. Haslam said that “absolutely” the call of the head coach.

What will happen to the scouts and other personnel executives under Heckert?

Haslam said, “They all will be retained. We will go to work immediately in preparing for the free agent time period and the draft.”

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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