If there’s one thing to be gleaned from ESPN Seth Wickersham’s piece on the Cleveland Browns, it might be that owner Jimmy Haslam is creating a no-success environment.
Coach Hue Jackson may have been a bad hire, but even so, he seemed to have zero chance to succeed. In 2018, Haslam brought in offensive coordinator Todd Haley to help Jackson — that backfired immediately, with the two coaches being at odds with one another from the start (as shown on HBO’s “Hard Knocks”). Haslam did nothing to set boundaries for Jackson, who, according to ESPN, once threw a tantrum in Haslam’s office over a decision to trade punter Andy Lee, a solid move which ultimately enabled the Browns to trade for receiver Jarvis Landry.
Haslam also established a rough situation for executive Ray Farmer. According to ESPN, Farmer never interviewed for the general manager job before getting it. Farmer also seemed to feel he was Haslam’s puppet, making decisions based mostly on what the owner wanted, most notably in the 2014 draft when he was forced to draft Johnny Manziel when the staff wanted to draft receiver Brandin Cooks before drafting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the second round. Hindsight puts Farmer and his staff in the right and Haslam clearly in the wrong.
The ESPN story includes countless anecdotes about Haslam’s struggles controlling the Browns and even his own trucking company, as his employees were convicted of participating in a five-year-long fraud. The company was forced to pay $85 million in civil settlements and $92 million in criminal penalties. Haslam denied involvement, but according to ESPN, that’s not the whole story:
Haslam vehemently denied knowledge of the scheme and was not charged, but court testimony by a former Pilot staffer and secret recordings of other executives discussing the matter contradicted that claim.
Often when Haslam rebuilds his football organization, there’s a glimmer of optimism. Now more than ever, the Browns seem to be under strong leadership. General manager John Dorsey has helped put together a strong team, particularly with an aggressive and successful 2018 draft class, headlined by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who had brilliant flashes in his rookie season. Coach Freddie Kitchens is young and entirely unproven, but he has the approval of Mayfield and seems to have the approval of Dorsey. The real question seems to be whether Haslam can get out of the Browns’ way. For the first time in a long time, he seems to have put together talent at coach, general manager and quarterback. They should take it from here.
So far, Haslam interfered under Dorsey’s tenure. And from the sounds of things, that involvement hasn’t been particularly successful. Here’s an example from ESPN.
During camp last summer, Haslam brought in a friend named Bill Hybels to speak about leadership. Hybels was a Chicago-area pastor who had resigned from Willow Creek Community Church in April. He had been the subject of claims of inappropriate workplace behavior with women; he denied the allegations. Browns staffers were in disbelief that Hybels — who couldn’t be reached for comment — was now advising the team, especially after Browns employees had sat through a daylong league-mandated annual sexual harassment meeting earlier in the year.
What in the world? It was a good idea to have a speaker come in to motivate player. The idea came with tone-deaf execution.
So essentially, if Dorsey, Kitchens and Mayfield are to succeed in Cleveland, they will have to do so by breaking free of Haslam’s influence in ways that no one has done under his ownership.
Can Haslam let go?