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Heaven help Browns fans if Joe Banner truly is considering Mike Lombardi as a replacement for GM Tom Heckert

Oct 30, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Season of change: As the NFL season hits the halfway mark, several franchises are careening toward front-office turnover.

Carolina already has fired its general manager, and its coach is said to be not too far behind.

Jerry Jones appears to be growing antsy with his young coach in Dallas and might turn to a dominant personality again. (How interesting that Mike Holmgren last week floated the idea of returning to the sideline at the age of 65 next season. Really? After sitting back and overseeing two coaches stumble through Browns seasons of 5-11, 4-12 and 2-6, he’s thinking of coaching someplace else, like Dallas? Go for it, Big Show.)

Other teams teetering on offseason change are Philadelphia, San Diego and Kansas City (O, Romeo!). The Jets and Tennessee are potential volatile situations, too.

And then there is Cleveland. I have not found anyone in the NFL to tell me they think GM Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur will be back with the Browns. All that owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner will say is everyone will be evaluated at the end of the year.

Political campaigns: Leaving Shurmur aside for a few games, we feel it’s time to address a rumor that was planted in August and fertilized over the weekend when CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaConfora floated the name of Mike Lombardi as a possible candidate for Browns GM.

To which I exclaim, "Great Caesar's Ghost!"

Apparently, the rumor is rooted in the hazy belief that Banner hired Lombardi in Philadelphia in 1997 as a “consultant” to owner Jeffrey Lurie and then “promoted” him to director of pro personnel in 1998. When Andy Reid arrived as Eagles coach and chief football executive in 1999, Lombardi exited through the back door – like other times before in his peripatetic NFL career.

 Full disclosure: Lombardi and I didn’t get along in the nine years he worked for the Art Modell Browns (1987-95), the last five of which Lombardi was miscast in the role of Bill Belichick’s top player personnel assistant.

Two things about Lombardi’s experience with Belichick:

1. Belichick’s five Browns drafts, to which Lombardi contributed, were horrible – absolutely horrible.

2. While Belichick has been kind to Lombardi during Lombardi’s second career as media “insider” with NFL Network, granting him rare, private access and exclusive one-on-one interviews, Belichick has never thought highly enough of Lombardi to hire him with the Patriots. It is interesting that of all Belichick’s “slappies” depicted in the Browns ’95: A Football Life documentary, Lombardi was fairly glossed over.

Lombardi was a recruiting coordinator at Nevada-Las Vegas before entering the NFL in 1984 under Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Lombardi’s apparent claim to fame was “discovering” pass rusher Charles Haley at tiny James Madison University.

Legend has it that Lombardi put Haley through “the box” – the short, portable, agility testing device that was in vogue among NFL personnel scouts in the 1980s. The 49ers made Haley a fourth-round pick in 1986 based on Lombardi’s data. Lombardi then benefitted from Haley’s success as a sack specialist on five Super Bowl-winning teams.

After Belichick and Lombardi were fired by Modell after the 1995 season, Lombardi bounced from the Rams to the Eagles to the Raiders and to the Broncos,  as an unpaid personnel consultant.

In San Francisco, Walsh had Lombardi’s office belongings packed in a cardboard box on his way out. In Oakland, Al Davis fired him after the 2007 season. That’s two big-time Hall of Famers who kicked Lombardi out the door.

Eventually, Lombardi found his true calling in the media as an “insider,” at which he truly excels. Lombardi always impressed employers initially with his encyclopedic memory and ability to recall statistics and personnel reports written by others. Perhaps this is what impressed Banner in Philadelphia.

Be careful: The prevailing assumption nationally is that Haslam and Banner will hire their own football experts. This seems to be based only on the belief that any new owner would want to select his own executives after plunking down $1.05 billion for a football team.

But Haslam must not sign off this monumental hire solely to Banner. After all, Banner contributed to only a few football hires as Eagles top executive. He sat in on the hiring of Ray Rhodes and then Reid as coach. Heckert was hired in Philadelphia in 2001 as player personnel director and was named GM -- without the full authority -- in 2006.

Banner groomed Howie Roseman, a suit, to succeed Heckert as GM in 2010. Under Roseman, the Eagles have steadily declined in W-L and their drafts have been fairly awful.

If Banner now is seriously considering Lombardi as a replacement for Heckert, who is eminently more qualified and can draft rings around Lombardi, then the Browns’ fortunes are not as promising as I once thought.

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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