By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Part Two with the CEO: When I turned my one-on-one conversation with new Browns CEO Joe Banner to GM Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur, I said, “Their future is on everyone’s mind.”
Banner interjected, “Mine, too.” And that’s where we pick it up.
You have to have a “ready list” of prospective candidates for general manager and coach, right?
Banner: It’s a little more nebulous than that. I’ve been in the league a long time. I feel I know who the good and smart people are, so I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. But I’m not literally sitting with a pad of paper and here are my five names here and five names there.
Really? No list yet? I mean, just in case you have to make a change at either spot?
Banner: I have in my mind who I know are kind of the top people in the marketplace who I’ve met. It’s a little premature to get into the list research. I’m not disagreeing with what you’re saying because it’s certainly a thought process you can’t help but go through.
The drafts in Philadelphia have been fairly poor since Heckert left the Eagles after the 2009 season. Is that a good reflection on him?
Banner: This is a unique situation in a sense that it’s often hard to know who’s actually making what decisions. The benefit Tom and Pat have is I was right there. I knew who made them. It’s a little hard with Pat because I don’t know Pat in this role, and some of the things that are important for me to see were not part of what he used to do, like being a leader.
Tom, I know exactly every grade he put on a player, who we picked who he was for, who we picked who he was against, who he fought for that we did or didn’t pick. In that sense, it’s very easy for me to evaluate what I think Tom’s contributions were in Philadelphia. I have a pretty clear opinion of Tom as it relates to being an evaluator. The little difference here is, one thing that’s a big issue for me is some of the teams that I don’t think succeed don’t succeed because they don’t understand the difference between just picking good players and building a team. So Tom is in a new role in terms of his influence and authority in terms of making decisions about how to build the team as opposed to just grading and picking a player. So that’s part of what I spend time with him on or talk about or observe. But as far as Tom as an evaluator, I know him … that’s a done question. I know he’s a good evaluator.
In Philadelphia, your organization chart had football operations report directly to the owner. With the Browns, you’ve set it up so that football ops reports to you. Why the change?
Banner: Functionally this isn’t that different from what we did in Philadelphia, although if you look at the organization chart it is. But there we created that structure after we had a head coach that we knew would be all of the above, kind of head honcho, and everybody else was going to kind of influence him, persuade him, gather information for him, but in the end it was going to be his show. But we worked hand in hand, which is what I hope will happen here regardless of who is reporting to who. I think as we go into this, and we don’t know if we already have, or we’re going to have different names filling in those boxes, that’s the right way to start, and then we’ll see what the best long-term structure will be.
Doesn’t that structure eliminate a potential hiring pool? A big-name GM or coach would not want to report to a CEO and an owner both.
Banner: They’ll report to me and I’ll report to the owner. That doesn’t mean they won’t interface and deal with the owner.
But doesn’t that set-up eliminate a big-name hire who simply doesn’t want to deal with the CEO?
Banner: No, listen, if we got to the point where there was somebody we felt that this was the right answer and we need to find a way to get this guy, we’re going to be open to doing what we need to do to make it work.
So, you haven’t eliminated big-name coaches as candidates?
Banner: No, I don’t think we have. Again, part of that answer is if we need to adapt the structure to get the right people, we will.
In your interview with The Plain Dealer, you said the record over the remainder of the year isn’t the main thing in evaluating Shurmur. Explain.
Banner: It is in the long run as you evaluate a coach. It’s the only thing that matters. I was talking in the context of seven games left in the season, whether we go 5-2 or 2-5. I think because of what we’re looking for is where are we going to be two years from now. Are we seeing the qualities we need in various positions to get where we want to? And it could be that the answer is yes but for a variety of reason we don’t win that many more games the rest of the year. I would hate to bypass the coach we have, who may have the potential to be a really good coach and take us where we want to be in two years, but because we’ve had some injuries, or maybe we have a few games with bad weather, or a referee makes a bad call, … it’s just a short window that we’re evaluating him in, just seven games.
Yes, but it’s really 32 games over two seasons, isn’t it?
Banner: Well, you’re going to factor in everything you know about him. I’m here now, I’ve been here for one game, so I’ll see eight games. I don’t think it would fair … to limit my opinion if we don’t win many games in the last eight games that that’s proof he’s not the right coach. I don’t think that would be fair to him and I don’t think it would give the organization the best chance of me making the right decision. Listen, in the long run, just so I’m clear, we’re hiring a coach to win games and he’s going to be completely judged by wins and losses. There aren’t going to be any excuses. I believe in the (Bill) Parcells (comment) … you are your record. Don’t give me this ‘almosts.’ I don’t believe in any of that stuff.
Is Shurmur’s body of work before you arrived a consideration at all?
Banner: You know, to the extent that a good predictor of the future is the past, that’s a valid point. But Pat is a package as a head coach, and we’ll have our determination – I think I’ve been fairly open about leadership being a huge part of that. We’ll make our definition of what do we think are the most important qualities that a head coach has to have to be successful down the road. So whoever you’re evaluating is against the standards of what you think the most important qualities at that position are. It could turn out that Pat has all of those but we don’t win that many games the rest of the year. I don’t think that should say to us, ‘He’s the wrong coach, you’ve got to make a change.’ And then they could win, you know, if we play teams that have a series of injuries or we play teams that throw a lot and we show up at the stadium with some snowy and windy games and we win a few games that we don’t necessarily play great in, does that mean he automatically he gets the job? I’m looking at certain qualities that I think will be the key in the long run to a successful head coach.
At which point will you and Jimmy Haslam make your decision about Heckert and Shurmur?
Banner: I think we would hope to make that decision right around the end of the season. Maybe we’ll make it in the days leading up to the last game and then deal with it after that. We’d like to get to the point where everybody here knows how we’re going forward as quickly as we can.
Your most famous and successful hiring was Andy Reid, an unknown assistant coach who wasn’t even a coordinator at the time. Do you favor going that route again?
Banner: I wouldn’t say there’s a favoring of it. Listen, I don’t fly by the seat of my pants. So if there’s research to be done – for example, how many head coaches have come back and done well a second time vs. not? -- I promise you I either have or will do that research before I make a decision. How many guys were offensive or defensive coaches that ended up doing well? How many weren’t coordinators like an Andy Reid? We’ll know all the odds. College coaches who’ve never been in the NFL. College coaches who have an NFL background that went to college. We’ll have the stats.
But it’s much more of an individual (thing). That was the thing that freed up our minds to find an Andy Reid. We didn’t go into it with a pre-judgment. It didn’t have to be a coordinator. It didn’t have to be a former head coach. Didn’t have to be even a college head coach. It could be anybody as long as they were a great leader, very detail-oriented, very committed to a particular philosophy, whatever it was, we didn’t even care which it was, but they were going to have continuity of system within their own coaching. So we had a list of qualities we were looking for and wherever we found it that’s who we were going to hire.
Next: Concerns about Banner picking players, and the uniform issue: Will they jazz them up?
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