By Tony Grossi
The Browns have had five management regimes since returning as an expansion franchise in 1999. The next one will be the ultimate – change at the very top.
Jimmy Haslam III’s $1.05 billion purchase of the Browns from the Lerner Family Trust was formally approved here Tuesday morning by NFL owners.
Haslam later announced that former Philadelphia Eagles executive Joe Banner would replace President Mike Holmgren and lead day-to-day operations as chief executive officer.
Haslam said Holmgren would assist Banner “to insure that this transition will go as well as possible.” Holmgren, 64, will leave the Browns after the season and retire, Haslam said, rather than accept a lesser role.
“Mike was brought in (in 2010) to be president and I think the de facto owner,” Haslam said.
Holmgren had two years remaining on his contract after this season. Haslam said an “amicable” settlement already has been reached.
Haslam said he met with coach Pat Shurmur, General Manager Tom Heckert and other top managers Saturday and Sunday night in Cleveland and assured them the Banner/Holmgren switch would be the only changes until the end of the season. He wouldn’t rule out not making major changes.
“We’re a young team,” Haslam said. “We’re 1-5. We could easily be 3-3. We have a lot of football left to play. We’re going to do everything to support Pat and his coaches and his team. At the end of the year, we’ll evaluate everybody in the organization, just like we will at the end of every year.”
Banner will be introduced tomorrow in Berea. His appointment takes effect when the sale of the franchise closes on Oct. 25, Haslam said. Banner will have no ownership stake, Haslam said.
Haslam and Banner were introduced in July when Haslam first was put on the scent of purchasing the Browns.
“His track record in Philadelphia is outstanding,” Haslam said. “His commitment, work, drive, passion and intelligence to help the Browns a winner is something we’re very excited about.”
Banner, 59, parted ways with the Eagles in June after an 18-year run as owner Jeff Lurie’s top executive.
Lurie and Banner were friends since they were teenagers living in the Boston area. Banner joined Lurie in Philadelphia when Lurie purchased the Eagles in 1994.
In June, Lurie said of Banner: “He was looking to build something special and change the culture and create a volcanic effect, so to speak, in a franchise that
The ratification of Haslam, a Tennessee native and billionaire truck-stop magnate, was a formality; he has been a 12 ½-percent minority partner in the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2008. Haslam said he expects to sell the majority of his Steelers’ interest by the end of the month and the rest by the end of the year.
Today’s vote occurred in the same city – but not in the same hotel ballroom – in which Al Lerner was voted in as owner of the expansion Browns in September of 1998. The pricetag then was $530 million.
Al Lerner died of a brain tumor in October of 2002, in the midst of the franchise’s only playoff season since its return. Upon his father’s passing, Randy Lerner took over management of the Browns.
Winning seasons have been rare for the Browns. They’ve had one – 10-6 in 2007 – since Randy Lerner assumed control. The franchise’s overall record since 1999 is 69-146, counting this season’s 1-5 mark.
Lerner’s ownership was marked by frequent management changes and infrequent public appearances by Lerner. The opposite may be true under Haslam.
He has been a visible presence since being introduced as prospective owner on Aug. 3, the day after a purchase agreement was reached. He has since bought a lakefront mansion in Bratenahl and has promised to “sell” the Browns 100 percent of the time because “we live in a marketing world.”
Haslam would not commit to any immediate changes.
“We have 10 games left, so you’re not going to change anything now,” he said. “We’ve been very public in Cleveland. We’re going to look at everything – except the helmet.
“We’re going to look at the uniforms, we’re going to look at the stadium, but it’s all about putting a good team on the field. We do want to enhance the stadium and make it a great experience for the fans. What that looks like, I don’t know. But I do know we’re going to look at it because it’s all about the fans.”
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