Since the firing of Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, the Browns front office had been called everything from the Three Stooges, to “toxic” and dysfunctional. Hardly terms of endearment.
Firing Chudzinski less than one year on the job didn’t make sense to anyone. I was never in favor of Chudzinski being the head coach, and felt firing him was the right move – it still made no sense.
Today, in this advanced techno-age, many still believe the Rubik’s Cube to be the greatest puzzle ever invented. Every move by the Browns resembled an out-of-box Rubik’s Cube rather than a well executed championship blue-print.
Throughout the season, especially from Day One, nothing made sense.
Why would this front office hire Chudzinski, then set him up for failure? The responsibility of the front office is to help their head coach succeed, not fail. We later learned Mike Lombardi knew of the emotional baggage Davone Bess was carrying with him to Cleveland. The quarterback issues had been reported to be impacted by the dynamic-duo of Joe Banner and Lombardi.
The Trent Richardson trade looks great on paper, however, the front office appeared to have failed to formulate a plan prior to the Richardson trade, leaving a gap at the runningback position. Opting to dip into the practice squad of the Philadelphia Eagles and sending out the distress signal to Willis McGahee, a player sitting on his couch rather than on an NFL roster.
Add to these Life’s Great Mysteries, the rumors flying like flies at a picnic that Josh Gordon was on the trading-block.
There wasn’t a Plan B when Travis Benjamin succumbed to injury, ending his 2013 season and further depleting the Browns roster of viable talent.
When Brian Hoyer was lost for the season, Brandon Weeden injured and Jason Campbell banged up, the incompetence of the front office was magnified when Banner and Lombardi failed to acknowledge the sense of urgency to sign another quarterback, waiting until the last moment to graze upon the practice squad pasture of the Dallas Cowboys for Alex Tanney.
We can step back in time a little further into the 2013 NFL draft, where the Browns made more trades than picks, selecting Barkevious Mingo with their first pick, who started only three games – certainly not what you would expect from your first-round draft choice.
When the firing of Chudzinski had been announced, Lombardi had vanished…and every explanation of his absence appeared more as a diversion rather than truth.
A month later, the sports world would be hit with another shock wave that would rival any tsunami – Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, fired!.
A book titled Dexter and Philosophy: Mind Over Spatter, says in it: “There are no secrets in life, just hidden truths that lie beneath the surface.”
Upon the announcement that Chudzinski had been fired, I had contacted several Browns Beat Writers, informing them that something else was rumbling just below the surface. The Rubik’s Cube was still jumbled; the events unfolding in Berea weren’t adding up.
It did not make sense that:
- Joe Banner was simply announced as Browns CEO, before the sale of the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam had been finalized…and no reports that Haslam was interviewing potential CEO prospects.
- Mike Lombardi, the most controversial name in all of football was announced as head of Player Personnel, to be quickly named as General Manager..and no interviewing potential prospects.
- Many reports were that New England Patriots offensive coordinator was the top prospect for the recently vacant head coaching position, and many NFL aficionados were convinced McDaniels would be announced at any moment as the Browns next head coach. Haslam had said in the Browns press conference their head coaching search would be “extensive”…the timing of McDaniel’s didn’t fit the bill of “extensive” so quickly.
- Despite Haslam being deeply embedded in the Pilot Flying J rebate scandal, he would allow such controversy in Berea headquarters when he came across as a sincere owner who sat next to fans in the Dawg Pound, expressing being passionate about winning.
- Haslam would hire recently fired Joe Banner, a man who had falling out of favor with his life-long friend, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie. Banner, a man stewed in controversy himself – disliked by fans, media and players. When it was announced Banner had been fired by Lurie, Eagles fans rejoiced with the passion equivalent to a Super Bowl victory.
I had informed beat writers that Banner and Lombardi would be fired, and it would take place before the 2014 NFL draft. This made the only sense. My instincts were telling me there was a lot more than meets the eye. Some beat writers agreed with me, others thought I was a “crazy”.
Soon afterwards, I had discussions with “sources” about what had just taking place in Berea, and had been informed that Joe Banner had been forced on Jimmy Haslam, a contingency for the sale of the Browns to be successful for Haslam.
Recently, discovering an old Plain Dealer article, featuring Mary Kay Cabot, I was assured my gut instincts to be correct:
This substantiates the political-hyperbole why Banner was announced as team president without conducting an “extensive” search, and why the news had been announced before the sale of the Browns was approved by league owners.
Maybe Roger Goodell felt compassionate for Banner as he healed the black-eye the NFL received by the dog-fighting scandal it received by Michael Vick when Banner created the Eagles TAWK program.
Maybe Roger Goodell turned down Banner’s hopes of purchasing an NFL team, as Banner had expressed interest in purchasing either the Browns, Bills, or the Rams – instead, promised other special favors.
After-all, it was never announced that Joe Banner had actually invested any of his own money in the purchase the Cleveland Browns. alongside Jimmy Haslam – it was announced he was only a “part” of the “ownership group“. That doesn’t mean he had made a financial investment. No double entendre here.
Reports have now surfaced the relationship between Banner and Haslam had soured rather quickly, however, being in business management myself, I can attest that business relationships that sour are typically compounded over time; especially when Haslam was taking care of legal issues in Tennessee rather than football business in Berea, Ohio.
Furthermore, Lombardi’s infatuation with Josh McDaniels had led insiders to speculate that the head coaching job had been promised to McDaniel’s before Chudzinski had been let go.
Reports have now surfaced that collaborate my gut instincts I had when Chudzinski had been terminated:
Maybe fans will now see Haslam in a fair and reasonable spectrum, rather than as a dysfunctional owner, who had only wanted to be an NFL franchise owner, accepting whatever terms set forth by the league, to be successful in joining 31 other franchise owners that make up the National Football League – you and I would have certainly agreed to the same terms if it meant our dreams would become a reality.
Promoting Ray Farmer certainly eases the pain of dysfunction while fostering hope; and the hiring of Mike Pettine – who seems determined to field a rough & tumble winning football team in Cleveland, appears to be the right choice.