Coming from Dallas, new Cleveland Browns President Alec Scheiner should inject new life into the once-proud Browns fan base. But for owner Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner, the next moves -- the football ones -- will be critical.
Let's face it: the Cleveland Browns need a facelift. Cleveland Browns Stadium has not aged well by the lake. The uniforms, although iconic, don't scream successful football. The fan experience is dated, and at times, downright poor. The team's rich history has been lost in faux pas after faux pas, compounded by poor management and an ownership group that was an absent father at best.
Lacking in cohesiveness and a clear vision, the Browns were a fitting tribute to the City of Cleveland itself. Blessed with tradition, great food and friendly people, Cleveland has been mired in stagnation -- with no one willing to take the reins and outline an urban plan worthy of a once-great metropolitan area. The lakefront remains largely unused. The river, packed with hollowed-out buildings. And downtown, despite recent attempts at revitalization, still looks too much like the abandoned London streets (pre-zombie attacks, mind you) in 28 Days Later.
What Cleveland was missing was a plan. And that's exactly what the Browns have been missing as well.
Look around Cleveland Browns Stadium and you'll see name after name from the glory days, a period in the 50s and 60s which could only be described as dominance. The team had a good run in the 1980s, but couldn't get over the hump and bring a Championship to Cleveland before Art Model made his midnight run to Baltimore. Since the team returned in 1999, it's been chaos. No progress. No continuity. No hope. Just a revolving door of inept and disinterested people in power who cared little for the positions they were in and even less about what it meant to be the Cleveland Browns.
Enter Jimmy Haslam. The former oil mogul, whose father founded Pilot Corporation, revolutionized the truck stop experience and had more than a passing interest in owning an NFL team, as part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the Browns went on the block, Haslam made a $1B commitment to restoring the Browns to greatness.
Haslam's time with the Steelers gave him a first-hand account of how a successful historic franchise was run, with a clear strategy and unified acuity. He had an opportunity to take a viable name brand and rebuild it. But to do so, the organization needed the right people in place to cultivate a winning mentality from top to bottom.
The first hire was Joe Banner. A business guy first, Banner's only experience with sports before joining the Philadelphia Eagles was as a sports reporter and producer. But his savvy nature and ability to get results in the margins was hard to ignore, especially in the big business of the NFL. He is an organizational whiz who has his roots in economics and process. For years, he made the Eagles profitable, sometimes at the expense of popular players. But he is not and was never a football guy. And Eagles fans turned on him. There's reason to believe the mistakes Banner made in Philly could lead to wisdom, and that the business of football is also the business of fans.
That's why the hiring of Alec Scheiner seems perfect. In the last 15 or so years, the Dallas Cowboys have been almost as irrelevant as the Browns with regards to on-field performance. Fresh off Super Bowl wins in the mid-90s, America's Team has been lost, unable to capture consistent success (the kind found in Pittsburgh or the team of the 2000s, New England), looking for a quick fix at coach, at quarterback, in free agency. Jerry Jones desperately wants a winner again, but he's cut corners trying to get there. And the results have been less than stellar: the team has just one playoff win (a Wildcard victory over the Eagles in 2009) since 1996.
But the Cowboys have remained a hot ticket and in the front of the national conversation. A large part of that is due to Scheiner, who was instrumental in getting the Jerry Dome (or Death Star) built. Schiener understands the importance of a team as a brand and fans as advocates of that brand.
To Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Schiener said:
The brand is so iconic and there's so much history behind it and the fans clearly care about the team. We just have to harness it. We have to harness it everywhere. We have to harness it with our employees, we have to harness it with people in the community, everyone can be a Browns fan. Everyone in Northeast Ohio, everyone in Ohio can be a Browns fan. We just have to reach out to people and kind of prove our value on the field and off the field.
Scheiner and Banner can take care of the off the field value. But there is still something missing: the guy who can propel the Browns into a valuable and sustainable team on the field.
That's where the rumors of Michael Lombardi and Josh McDaniels make no sense. For years, the Browns have gone with retreads, also-rans who have been affiliated with two primary trees -- Belichick and Holmgren. And this has failed miserably. Michael Lombardi, despite whatever supposed gameplans he's drawn up for Belichick and however much behind the scenes influence he actually has in New England, has shown poor judgment and even worse results in almost every spot he's been. He's been exiled to talking head land, a place that is very hard to get back from. Josh McDaniels also comes from the highly regimented Belichick System, one Cleveland knows very well and has tried to emulate twice already.
Why would the Cleveland Browns, building a stable of progressive thinkers, welcome two individuals who so clearly want things to be one specific way? It makes no sense. It goes against Jimmy Haslam's philosophy as Owner, Banner's philosophy as CEO and Scheiner's philosophy as President.
To hire Lombardi and McDaniels would be repeating the same mistakes the Browns have been making for over a decade. With so much reason to hope in Cleveland, the last thing the Browns need is to act like the Cleveland Browns.