When Jimmy Haslam paid over $1 billion for the Browns in 2012, he declared there was no reason the franchise could not be a winner.
Since being approved by league owners on Oct. 16, 2012 as stewards of the franchise, the team has gone 18-40 since and Haslam is on his fourth head coach and fourth general manager.
But for the first time in a long time stability seems to have replaced turbulence in Berea.
“We’re very excited,” Haslam said. “We’re cautiously optimistic but at the same realistic about where we stand.”
The Browns are coming off a 3-13 season and following another organizational overhaul, a full-fledged rebuild on the field has commenced in yet another attempt to finally get the club on track.
That means even more patience and lower expectations from fans will be required this fall.
“We have unbelievable fans. We really do,” Haslam said. “They’re tremendously loyal and that support of the Browns, not just in Northeastern Ohio, but all about the country, is phenomenal.
“I can’t guarantee we’re going to have a winning season after going 3-13. I know we’ll be a better football team. We’re directionally correct. I think we’ll play hard, and I think fans appreciate that.”
For the better part of the Haslam’s ownership the Browns have been a comedy of errors mired in controversy, off the field distractions, disorganization and discord.
The hiring of Hue Jackson has finally calmed the waters and energized everyone.
“Hue [Jackson] brings a tremendous energy level to the building. there’s absolutely no doubt about it,” Haslam said. “I believe you want your head coach to the pace setter for your organization….Second of all, the collaboration, the working together between player personnel and coaching is outstanding, outstanding.
“I think those are a couple of reasons to give us real cause for optimism.”
Haslam, along with his wife Dee, addressed the team after they reported for camp on Thursday at the request of Jackson.
“There were two basic messages,” Haslam said. “One was preparation. And two, this is our expectations of you as a Cleveland Brown both on and off the field. We listed three or four things that were important in preparation and one of them is eliminate all the distractions from your life, and that can run the gamut. We all know and understand that. But eliminate the distractions from your life.”
Although the Browns eliminated their biggest distraction in Johnny Manziel this offseason, they have a few still hovering over the team: Josh Gordon, Armonty Bryant and Isiah Crowell.
The Haslam’s address came 3 weeks after Crowell’s Instagram post, 3 days after the reinstatement of Gordon and a day after Bryant pleaded guilty to a drug charge stemming from his arrest last Christmas.
“Josh deserves a restart,” Haslam said. “And I’m going to reiterate it again, he understands very, very clearly what the expectations are here, what he can and can’t do. Time will tell if he can live up to them. We’re going to do everything we can to support him, and hopefully, things will work out well.
“The Crow deal was terribly unfortunate. It was inexcusable. We know Crow well, that’s not who he is. He made a big mistake, he’s paid a large penalty for it. I think the true test of character for all of us is when we get knocked down – or maybe knock ourselves down in this case – how you get up and handle it is how you judge people. And I think Crow, I’m not sure he could have done anything better since he did that terrible incident. We’re proud of how Isaiah’s responded.”
One of the many things that appealed to them about Hue Jackson was his experience and ability to deal with troubled players which is why they are willing to give Gordon one more chance as well as stand by Bryant and Crowell.
“You’re not going to have 53 model citizens every year, and I think he understands that,” Haslam said. “I think he knows how to deal with those people as men and make them not only better players, but better men.”
The mood in Cleveland has changed since the Cavs shocked the world and won the NBA Championship putting to bed a 52-year curse. The Indians are back in first place with a comfortable lead in their division and they just pulled off a trade for the best left-handed reliever in baseball in Andrew Miller.
Then there are Haslam’s Browns who are in the midst of a playoff drought that will likely stretch to 14 seasons this fall, barring a surprising season, with really no end in sight.
“We couldn’t be happier for the Cavs,” Haslam said. “Dan Gilbert was over at our house a couple of Sundays ago, couldn’t be happier for him and his organization, LeBron, I mean, just an unbelievable performance. And same thing with the Indians. And our hat’s off to them for the trade they made. Those are not easy decisions to make. So we’re very happy.
“When you see the love of sports that the fans have, it makes us want to win even more for these great fans.”