Joe Banner’s time running the Cleveland Browns will be remember by arrogant posturing, empty promises, dysfunction, and the typical losing that is associated with all these front offices. When he took over the job of head honcho of the Browns he promised that things would be different, that we would see them making smart decisions very quickly, and that we would see winning football. Sitting here today it appears that the smartest thing that’s happened since Banner took office is Jimmy Haslam’s decision to fire the underqualified blowhard.
Lest that be mistaken for an unnecessary pot-shot (which it kinda was I guess), let’s take a look back at Mr. Banner’s time in Cleveland…
He came to the Browns after 18 years working with the Philadelphia Eagles (hired by his good friend who just so happened to own the team) where he held titles such as senior vice president, senior vice president of administration, executive vice president, and strategic advisor to the owner. Banner has often been described as a “glorified accountant” and there is no record of him having any say in personnel matters from an evaluating talent standpoint outside of the structuring of contracts. It’s unclear whether his time spent running clothing stores in Boston or non-profit organizations in Philadelphia involved any football personnel evaluation.
Upon coming to the Browns and being named CEO, Banner declared that he would have final say over the 53 man roster and that he would be involved in all personnel decisions and that ultimately everything would run through him.
He was the lead man in every press conference from that point on. General Manager Mike Lombardi was never present to discuss any personnel moves or coaching hires. The perception that Banner presented was always that he was the man in charge and responsible for all decisions that were made.
He fired Pat Shurmur after the 2012 season and immediately declared that they would bring in a strong credible leader. After a long meeting with Chip Kelly where it was announced they were close to a deal things fell apart and the Browns lost their man. They ended up with Rob Chudzinski and Banner proudly boasted that they had hired a bright young mind and that they had the best man for the job.
He re-iterated his positive feelings for Chud during the bye week.
Then he fired him after just one season citing a lack of improvement in the team. Never at any point did Banner take any responsibility for missing on his first big hire as the head of a football organization. All the blame for the Browns 4-12 season was hung on Chud, not on the fact that Banner and company had failed to significantly improve a roster that went 5-12 the season prior. Again, they made bold, big promises, claiming to bring in a strong winner.
The Browns praised their open coaching position as a very attractive one because of the wealth of talent on the team including six Pro Bowlers…never mind that Banner had nothing to do with actually bringing any of those players to Cleveland.
After a month of searching that saw a slew of media reports that had all the top candidates turning down the Browns head coaching job they finally settled on the unheralded defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Mike Pettine. Banner eschewed from taking questions about their hiring process but didn’t miss a chance to pat himself on the back and again claimed to have found the right man to lead the Browns. It has yet to be seen whether Pettine is a good hire, but he’s decidedly underwhelming in the least given the bluster that Banner spewed at the beginning to of the process.
Just over two weeks later…Banner is out. Silent. Without bluster. Without retort. Without actually winning anything. Without doing anything smart.
There are some who, for reasons unclear to me, defended Banner’s handling of the team to the bitter end. But when I look at that timeline all I see is a guy that was underqualified for the position he was given who only went on to make dozens of promises that went unfulfilled.
I’m certainly reading into the situation but the lack of impressive coaching hires in two shots seems to be a reflection on Banner and the way that he ran the organization. All the reports and perceptions coming out of Berea were that everything ran through Banner, that he ruled that organization as a dictator, unwilling to yield any power to those below him. That’s why you never saw the GM at any press conferences. That’s why Banner was always present, even when the owner was not. And that’s why so many highly qualified coaching candidates, after getting a chance to sit down with the Browns top men, decided the situation wasn’t worth taking—in spite of how “appealing” it may seem on the surface. Banner wasn’t qualified to wield such power but did so anyways…to disastrous results.
I don’t know necessarily that the Browns are in worse shape today than they were when Banner took over, but it’s pretty tough to make the case that they’re in a better spot because of his reign.
At some point enough was enough and Haslam had to pull the plug. If you’re going to defend the firing of Chud on the basis of a lack of improvement and results then you have to defend the firing of Banner and Lombardi for those same reasons.
Will Burge, probably the best guy at getting scoops regarding the Browns, shed some light on the situation…
This comes as no surprise and falls right in line with what has been my general perception of the situation the whole time. If you don’t believe me, read what I said about them back when they fired Chud and then when they hired Pettine.
Tom Reed also weighed in with some of his sources…
So there you have it. It’s not just my perception. It likely runs much deeper than we can probably even imagine.
The bottom line with Banner is that he was in a position that he wasn’t really qualified for in the first place and on top of that he was so abrasive and unyielding in it that it limited the pool of potential coaches who would want the job. That’s how you end up with Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine as your head coaches.
I won’t spend too much time on Mike Lombardi. We don’t really even know what he did here so it’s tough to say what impact him leaving will have. What we do know is that his track record as a personnel guy prior to coming back to the Browns wasn’t very impressive. He then spent five years working in the media where apparently no team cared to bring him on as a personnel guy. Then in his one year with the Browns he failed to really bring in anyone who would have a major impact. Sure, Paul Kruger, Mingo, and Brian Hoyer are nice enough players, but they weren’t difference-makers by any means. Lombardi and the Browns basically punted on the last draft in favor of 2013 which is all well and good. But it hurt the team in the short-term, which is what they used to evaluate Chudzinski’s coaching abilities, which led to his firing, which led to the hiring of Pettine. So are we really going to cry about losing Mike Lombardi? I sure hope not. Ultimately Lombardi’s presence on the team was tied directly to Banner. It was believed when Banner was hired that Lombardi was coming with him, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they’re both leaving together.
What the Browns are left with is a more natural front office structure where Alec Scheiner, as team president, handles the business side of the organization, Ray Farmer, as GM, handles the player personnel decisions, and Mike Pettine, as head coach, coaches and develops the players, with all three of them reporting directly to Jimmy Haslam.
I have no idea if Farmer will be a good general manager. He certainly projected well at his opening press conference (who doesn’t though?), was a leading candidate for the vacant Dolphins GM position before he withdrew himself from consideration, and he’s highly thought of around the league…
But we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. Priority number one for Farmer though is getting a QB. If he can get that right we’ll build him a statue.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t criticize Jimmy Haslam himself in all of this. Ultimately everything falls on the owner. Haslam has rightfully acknowledged and accepted that fact. But he has also berated the media for playing up the idea that the Browns are “dysfunctional.” Unfortunately for Mr. Haslam, it’s tough to describe the Browns as anything but “dysfunctional” in the time that he’s owned the team. Those stories basically write themselves given the events that have taken place.
It is believed that the NFL essentially stuck Haslam with Banner but he was nevertheless responsible for him and praised him at every chance, even while announcing his dismissal. You are always responsible for the people that you put in place below you. That’s why the failings of Chud needed to fall on Banner whether he liked it or not. And that’s why Banner’s failures need to reflect back onto Haslam.
And it’s not exactly natural to a fire your CEO and GM after you and them have just spent a month finding a coach. I would much have preferred it if Haslam had just cut bait with Banner when they decided to fire Chud. That may have saved us and Jimmy the headache of that month-long search and could have resulted in a better hire. We’ll never know of course and there’s always the chance that they lucked into a good coach with Pettine. But hey! Better late than never I guess. I was never impressed with Banner and always believed him to be in over his head. So I’m glad that he’s gone.
Now it’s Haslam’s job, as he says, “to get this thing right.” I believe that today was a step in the right direction. I only wish he would have started stepping sooner.
 You have wonder if Banner and Lurie hadn’t been good friends growing up if Banner would have ever gotten a foot in the door with an NFL franchise. It’s clear that he did a pretty good job running the business of the organization in Philadelphia and even in Cleveland. It’s the player personnel side that’s always been the question.