The Cleveland Browns, trust and Jimmy Haslam


Dec 20, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches pre game warmups against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam says he wants a winning team. But have his actions shown that he can be trusted to deliver?

On the day that Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine announced that quarterback Johnny Manziel was being demoted for failing to act like a professional, the coach made an interesting point about trust.

You lose trust in buckets and regain it in drops.

While Pettine was referring to the relationship between players and coaches, he could just have easily been talking about the coaching staff and front office, the front office and owner, or the owner and the fans.

Which brings us to Jimmy Haslam.

Haslam rolled into town in the fall of 2012 with a tanker truck full of trust, mainly because he was not Randy Lerner.

People were excited because Haslam wore a Browns T-shirt to practice and a Browns necktie at his first press conference – where he stood up while talking to the media. (We’re still scratching our heads about why that was important to people.)

Haslam also made a promise to Browns fans during that press conference:

"“Everybody is fired up and excited about football and when people say, ‘Why the Cleveland Browns?’ That’s why we say it, because the excitement and the importance of football, the Browns to this community is immense and we’re all about that and I can assure you we have one mission and one mission only and that’s to bring winning back to Cleveland. That’s the sole thing we’re focused on and I want everybody know it and understand it."

"“We want to bring a winning team back to Cleveland.”"

With the end of another lost Browns season just around the corner, and yet another purge of the head coach and/or general manger possibly on the horizon, we’re left to wonder what happened to that plan to bring a winning team to Cleveland.

And why should we trust that Haslam can pull it off?

In his first major act as owner, Haslam cleaned house by firing head coach Pat Shurmur and the front office duo of general manager Tom Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren. He replaced them with Rob Chudzinski, Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner.

And a couple of buckets of trust were lost.

When the Browns hired Chudzinski, here is what Banner had to say:

"“The criteria that we went into the marketplace for, which as we told you, we were focusing on a strong leader. Somebody who can create a culture in an entire program, put together a strong staff and manage it and was really, really committed to setting a very high bar and achieving it. We’re very excited about having Rob here and believe he fits exactly what we were looking for.”"

One year and 12 losses later, Chudzinski was out the door.

And with him went a couple of more buckets of trust. (Although Haslam earned back a few drops by also showing Banner and Lombardi the door.)

At the press conference announcing Chudzinski’s firing, Haslam repeated that he only cares about winning:

"“I feel really confident that we have the right people to take this organization where we need to. What I want our fans to hear is nobody cares about winning and is going to work any harder to get us there than the people you’re looking at right now, particularly the owner. We take this extremely seriously, and I purposefully said what I said earlier. It galls me when you all write, and you have the right to do it and people have the right to say it, ‘Same old Browns.’ It’s our single mission to change that.”"

So, once again, the fans were told that Haslam only cares about one thing and that they should continue to trust him to get it right.

Haslam flipped the script a bit when he took to the podium to announce the hiring of Pettine in January of 2014:

"“Mike is the epitome of what we want the Browns to be — tough, aggressive and innovative — with a blue-collar, team-first mentality. He knows what’s necessary to beat teams in the AFC North. Most importantly, Mike has repeatedly shown the ability to lead his players to consistent improvement and success, clearly what we are striving for as he leads the Cleveland Browns moving forward.”"

Even though he didn’t actually say the words, it is safe to assume that Haslam still had winning as the team’s No. 1 priority.

But as Haslam nears the possibility of hiring his third head coach and third general manager since 2012, what have all the promises brought to Cleveland?

For starters, they’ve brought 43 losses (and counting). They’ve also brought, in part:

  • The league’s highest-paid and lowest-ranked defense.
  • A starting secondary that is either old (Tramon Williams and Donte Whitner), possibly over-rated (Tashaun Gipson) or injured (Joe Haden)
  • A group of linebackers whose best player is 34-year-old Karlos Dansby.
  • A group of wide receivers that only strike fear in opposing defenses on occasion
  • A running game that can’t seem to get its act together
  • A quarterback situation that is still far from settled. (Sorry, but that is the truth.)

If Haslam decides it is time to make a change, that’s what he’s going to be selling to a new head coach or general manager.

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Haslam will also be trying to sell trust – that he will give a the new person (or people) more than two years to turn things around, that he won’t let the business side of the organization call the shots, trust that this time it will finally be different.

Make no mistake about it: if Haslam can’t sell a new hire that he can be trusted, it is going to reduce what is sure to be an already small list of candidates who are willing to take the job.

In a little more than three years as owner of the Browns, Haslam has continually drained the trust of fans.

If the Browns start yet another coaching search come January, we’re all going to find out just how much trust he has left in the tank.