BEREA, Ohio— Out with the old—or recent—in terms of the Cleveland Browns.
Less than two years after taking ownership of the Browns, Jimmy Haslam has now fired all three of the top people he brought in to run the organization in Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski. All three are either out or on their way out. Chudzinski was fired after the last game of the season. Lombardi’s departure was announced Tuesday and Banner will help in the transition process and leave in May.
Haslam explained his reasons about an hour after the announcement was made.
“After lots of conversation, Joe and I mutually agreed it was best for the organization if we stream-lined the organization,” Haslam said. “Over the last several days we have come to the conclusion that Joe has done an extremely good job in putting people in place.
“I cannot thank Joe enough for what Joe has done for me and our business,” Haslam said. “He will help us as we transition. I also would like to thank Mike. He knows how to build a football team. Joe and Mike have left us in a good position.”
Haslam said he has talked with Banner the past two weeks about the changes and Banner agreed to help in the transition process.
Haslam said these are changes that he felt needed to take place. He said he isn’t worried about perception around the NFL.
“I will accept comments and criticism and will accept responsibility for the changes,” Haslam said. “There is no primer to being an NFL owner. It is learn on the go. What I think is important is this ownership, our family, is committed to bringing a winner to the Browns. We’re fully committed to make this franchise a winner.”
Haslam refutes that the Browns organization is seen as dysfunctional.
“I will disagree with the perception you have set out there,” he said. “People view this as a great franchise. We just have to produce.”
Haslam said in the new structure, three people will report to him. President Alec Scheiner, GM Ray Farmer and Head Coach Mike Pettine. With the departure of Banner, there will be no CEO.
Scheiner will run business the side, while Farmer and Pettine will run the football side.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am to work directly with Alec, Pett (Pettine) and Ray.” I believe we have positioned this organization to have a winning football team.”
Of the three, there is none more important than Farmer, who will be responsible for all personnel acquisitions moving forward. Haslam said Farmer will have final say on the 53-man roster.
“Ray gives us the best chance in evaluating talent,” Haslam said. “He’s smart. Been around football his whole life. He knows there’s give and take. (He’s a) tireless worker.
“I looked at putting the best people in place and that’s the decision we made,” he said. “Those weren’t easy decisions but feel Ray will make best decisions. “
Haslam said the fact that Farmer has been in Berea for the past year, the transition will not be as great as might be perceived. Farmer was hired on March 5, 2013.
“You have to realize that Ray’s been here a year,” Haslam said. “It is probably as not much change in the organization as it seems.”
For the Browns to be successful, the GM and coach have to be on the same page. Haslam said he is certain that Farmer and Pettine will be able to work well together.
“I’m highly confident the two of them will work well together.”
“We’ll work together in collaboration and as we work through.”
Farmer wasn’t viewed as being prominently being involved in the hiring of Pettine, but he said he was.
“I didn’t have the hiring authority, but was well aware in the research,” he said. “I have a good relationship with Mike Pettine and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Farmer said his role as GM is to get players that fit into the system that Pettine runs.
Farmer was quoted recently as one of the reasons he turned down the job with the Dolphins was because he felt the Browns were close to success.
“From where we sit today, Cleveland has a rich and proud tradition,” he said. “Moving forward, getting back to a championship football team. We want to re write some of the chapters and to the point where people are proud of the Cleveland Browns.”
Farmer’s first task will be getting his staff to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine next week and then get ready for free agency and the NFL Draft in May. He said it’s all about preparation.
“I believe it’s a process and the hay is in the barn when you get to the time to select players.”
Farmer admitted getting promoted from Assistant GM to GM is a dream come true.
“I was genuinely excited,” Farmer admitted. “There was a moment of reflection, as well, with the people that helped you get here are no longer here. It was bittersweet, but definitely a moment of excitement.”
Farmer is one of the few African-American in a GM position in the NFL. Farmer pulled out of the running to be the Dolphins’ GM the day Pettine was hired, but said nothing was in the works regarding his promotion with the Browns.
“One had nothing to do with the other,” he said. “It’s definitely an element of pride and I am proud of this day. I wanted my mom and dad to see this day and am extremely proud.”