The daylong meeting went exceedingly well, and Kosar told Bill that should Lerner’s ownership group win the bid for the Browns, he would have Policy call him to arrange a meeting. To Bill, it all seemed too good to be true.
“When it appeared that I was a serious contender for this job, I specifically asked Kosar, ‘Policy has been around the NFL a long time. Are you sure he simply [won’t] bring in someone for the position that he already knows who has this specific job experience?'”
Bill recalls that Bernie’s response was, “No, he has not mentioned anyone else, and I told him you have some great ideas.”
A few more weeks of speculation ensued, but Lerner’s group remained one of the leading candidates to purchase the Cleveland Browns. On Tuesday, September 8, 1998, Bill – and millions of other NFL fans – tuned into ESPN to watch NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announce who would be the new owner of the Browns.
“Tagliabue goes live on national television and announces that the [Browns] franchise is awarded to Al Lerner’s ownership group,” Bill recalls. “Out from behind the camera comes Lerner, Policy and Kosar, all dressed in suits, high-fiving each other, celebrating, etc. It all was going exactly like I hoped it would.”
Less than one hour after Lerner’s group was awarded ownership of the Browns, Bill received a phone call. The person on the other end of Bill’s line was Carmen Policy.
“I was clearly [placed] on Policy’s short list to ‘must contact today’ immediately following the ownership announcement,” Bill said. “Was Kosar sitting in the same room when Carmen called me? Did Kosar, after the camera turned off, prompt Policy again to call me? After Lerner just dropped $530 million dollars to buy the franchise, were there not countless more important people for Policy to call? I can’t answer these questions for certain, but something brought calling me that afternoon to a high level of urgency.”
During this phone call, Policy simply wanted to acquaint himself with Bill and said that they would be in touch soon. Bill was pleasantly surprised to hear from Policy so quickly after the ownership announcement and was beginning to feel like he was truly apart of the Cleveland Browns’ future.
About five days later, Policy again called Bill. The two began with some friendly small talk and discussed Bill’s background. Bill even recalls Policy asking when Bill would be able to get up to Cleveland to visit with the team. Then Policy asks, “So, you and Bernie are old friends?”
It’s hard to call a former hero of your favorite football team an old friend, so Bill said to Policy, “No, I just met him a couple of weeks ago.”
Sounding perplexed, Policy replies, “Well, how did you meet him?”
As he explained to Policy how he was simply a lifelong Browns fan who wrote Kosar to express his interest in working for the Cleveland Browns, Bill lost Policy’s approval. Even through the phone, Bill could feel Policy’s face drop, and the tone of the conversation completely changed.
“Because of the inflection in Policy’s voice, it was clear Bernie told Policy that Bernie and me were close friends,” Bill said. “Right after Policy found out that Bernie and I weren’t friends, the conversation got short, and that was it.”
After that phone conversation ended, Bill never heard back from Policy, Kosar, or anyone else working for the Browns, and his dream of working for an NFL franchise unexpectedly ended that day.
Yet Bill wasn’t the only person who would no longer have a role with the new Browns. Within just days of Bill’s phone call with Policy, Bernie suddenly vanished from the Browns’ executive team. He was no longer the noticeable presence at press conferences as he was leading up to the ownership bid. Kosar’s decision to show little-to-no due diligence in hiring a Browns executive likely left Lerner and Policy questioning whether or not the Browns would be smart to continue their affiliation with Kosar. It is fair to say that Kosar’s credibility amongst the new regime was shot after his debacle with Bill. Ultimately, Bernie Kosar mysteriously seemed to disappear from the Browns organization, but no one really ever clarified why.
Bill was merely a wireless communications executive with absolutely zero NFL experience, let alone no football experience since being a backup tight end on his ninth grade Fairlawn Mustangs team. A few weeks after Bill’s last conversation with Policy, Bruce Popko was named the vice president of sales and marketing for the Cleveland Browns, the same position Bill had come so close to obtaining. Prior to being hired in Cleveland, Popko was working in a similar role for the San Francisco 49ers, where he had a long-standing relationship with Carmen Policy.
So, did Kosar’s referral of Bill, an unqualified candidate for the vice president of sales and marketing position, spell the premature end of his front office career? The timing of Kosar’s abrupt, yet unexplained departure from the expansion Browns in relation to the timing of Bill’s incredible story certainly points towards a possible yes.