By Tony Grossi
In confirming the news of an imminent sale of the Browns, club president Mike Holmgren sounded as if he won’t be part of the new organization.
“That’ll be answered probably down the road,” Holmgren said before the first Browns full-team practice of training camp on Friday. “You control the things you can control. I think we’ve done a lot of great things here in getting to this point, and we’ll see.”
Holmgren is in the third year of a five-year contract he signed when owner Randy Lerner essentially handed him the keys to all football and business operations. Lerner confirmed earlier in the day he is in negotiations to sell the team to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam.
Haslam, 58, is president of Pilot Travel Centers, the nation’s largest retail operator of travel centers and truck-stops. In 2008, Haslam bought a minority partnership in the Pittsburgh Steelers, believed to be 5 to 10 percent. He would divest of those shares to pursue Browns ownership.
Holmgren confirmed the sale would be for a “controlling interest” in the Browns. He would not say whether Lerner would retain some equity in the franchise, which he took over upon his father’s passing in October of 2002.
The Browns have suffered double-digit loss seasons in eight of the nine years Randy Lerner has represented the Lerner family as club owner.
“He has a deep love for this team,” Holmgren said. “He’s trying his best to do the right things. I think as his kids have gotten older, his life has changed a little bit. He just thought, and if the right person … he was very, very concerned with the right person … if the right person stepped forward and if he was going to sell the team, and apparently all the stars aligned in the last few months.”
Howard Eskin of NBC 10 in Philadelphia, who first broke the news in June that the Browns were for sale, reported that former Eagles President Joe Banner would be part of Haslam’s ownership or management group.
Banner left as Eagles president this year. He was in charge when both Tom Heckert, Browns general manager, and coach Pat Shurmur, worked in Philadelphia. That association would logically indicate some continuity with the present football operation would be maintained.
Holmgren said Lerner was concerned with the sale not becoming a distraction to the coming season.
“We’re in the business of winning football games and we have I think a good young team that I think is on the verge of becoming what you all want and what we all want,” he said.
Holmgren dismissed fears that the Browns were being bought with the intention of moving them to Los Angeles. They have a lease with the city of Cleveland through 2029. The iron-clad lease was the result of Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.
“It’s my understanding from the get-go, that’s been one of the stipulations,” Holmgren said. “And the principals understand that. The Cleveland Browns aren’t going anywhere. The Cleveland Browns are the Cleveland Browns and they’re going to stay that way.”
A sale would be contingent on formal approval from league owners. How close is a sales agreement? Holmgren wouldn’t say, but he did confirm that the players were informed this morning by Shurmur that negotiations are ongoing.
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