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Jimmy Haslam calls an audible, and hands the ball to Joe Banner

Feb 11, 2013 -- 4:11pm

Photo/AP


By Tony Grossi

Extra Points …

On second thought: Jimmy Haslam’s first audible as Browns owner probably affects his family business more than his football business.

It is a seismic story in Tennessee business circles and likely leaves the Browns more firmly in the hands of Joe Banner.

Haslam has decided to reassume his former role as CEO of Pilot Flying J – five months after stepping down to devote more time to the Browns.

John Compton, the man Haslam personally recruited from PepsiCo to be CEO, will take a new role as strategic advisor to Pilot Flying J, the Haslam family and the Browns.

In an interview with Knoxvillebiz.com, Haslam said the move was “not about John … This is about me realizing my first love is running Pilot Flying J and wanting to return to that job.”

The business news Website termed the news “a remarkable turn of events” because Compton was in line to be PepsiCo’s CEO when he answered Haslam’s call and left the company in September after 29 years.

In a statement released by Pilot, Haslam said, “We have had the good fortune of working with John over the past five months at Pilot Flying J. During this same period, we have completed the acquisition of the Cleveland Browns and Pilot Logistic Services (formerly known as Maxum Petroleum). We have had meaningful changes in both of these organizations, hiring Joe Banner as CEO of the Browns and promoting David Hughes to President of Pilot Flying Logistic Services.

“We think it makes sense to leverage John’s skills across not only Pilot Flying J, but also the other businesses in which our family operates. Accordingly, we have asked John to become a Strategic Advisor across all of our core businesses. John brings and excellent skill set in marketing, operating excellence and strategic thinking. These are skills that would benefit all of our businesses, not just Pilot Flying J.”

What does it mean to the Browns?: The short answer, provided by team spokesman Neil Gulkis, is it “will have no impact on the operations of the Cleveland Browns nor will it affect Jimmy’s involvement with the team.”

Gulkis went on to write in an email, “John (Compton) has a strong expertise in branding and marketing, and if there is ever an opportunity we can pick his brain on something we will, but his role with the Browns will be strictly as an advisor.”

Since Haslam and Banner took over the organization in October, they have completely reorganized the business operations, which was Banner’s expertise in his previous career with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Browns added Alec Scheiner as president, Brent Stehlik as chief revenue officer and Sashi Brown as chief legal counsel. They announced a lucrative rights deal to rename Browns Stadium as FirstEnergy Stadium.

They shifted former executive VP Bryan Wiedmeier to a role involving long-term strategic planning and former executive Fred Nance to senior advisor and special counsel.

All of these moves were business-oriented. Perhaps Haslam felt there was no reason to lord over Browns business operations after signing up some of the brightest minds in the sports industry.

And the team?: But the business of the Cleveland Browns is football and in that regard Haslam has put all his faith and trust in Banner.

Haslam entered the picture as a potential Jerry Jones-type owner – so hands-on that he might give himself the title of general manager or something football-related. That obviously will not be the case.

The question is whether he leans more to being an absentee owner along the lines of Randy Lerner. The lasting impression of the last installment of the Haslam-produced Travel Channel series was a scene involving Haslam and Banner in an office. Haslam was asking Banner how much Haslam needed to be in Berea in the months of February, March and April.

Those just happen to be the most active months of the NFL transaction season.

It’s safe to assume now that Haslam will be in Knoxville, Tenn., or on the road making surprise visits to any of the hundreds of Pilot Flying J truck stops throughout the country.

And the football fortunes of the Browns will be left in the hands of Banner; Mike Lombardi, VP of player personnel; and coach Rob Chudzinski.

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 46 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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