Cleveland Browns offseason change must start with power structure


Aug 20, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If the Cleveland Browns truly are ready to change the team’s culture, then owner Jimmy Haslam has to be ready to start at the top.

The Cleveland Browns season has once again been a huge disappointment and is sliding down the drain. Two games remain on the schedule and change is expected once the season comes to a close.

The breadth of change is yet to be determined and continues to be argued over, but some change is essential. Whilst the focus has been on who should go, who should stay and who should be brought in as a replacement, it is change at a more elemental level that is required. Before any personnel change can occur, the Browns must repair their power structure.

Ever since Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns in 2012, the chain of command has been unclearly defined under his stewardship. When Haslam became the owner, former Philadelphia Eagles executive Joe Banner was hired as the team’s CEO and Mike Holmgren was “retired.” Michael Lombardi was then surprisingly added as the team’s vice president of player personnel, but not before the Browns had unveiled Rob Chudzinski as their new head coach the week before.

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Questions about the decision-making process were immediate. Banner deflected questions by saying that decisions would be made by consensus, and anything where there was a mass difference of opinion on wouldn’t be done. Ultimately, this set up was doomed from the start. Haslam had created a structure that invited conflict, and he was quickly granted it.

It all came to a head during the coaching search following Chudzinski’s firing one season into the job. Deciding to take control, Haslam sacked Lombardi and essentially sacked Banner, too. Ray Farmer was promoted to general manager. Again, this happened after new head coach Mike Pettine was hired from the Buffalo Bills.

To eradicate any confusion, Haslam placed himself at the head of the table, announcing that both Farmer and Pettine would report directly to him. Unfortunately, this failed to solve the problem. Added to the fact that he was not his general manager’s hire, this essentially elevated Pettine to the same level as Farmer. Everybody had a say in everything and nobody has stuck to their job. This has created a culture of meddling, epitomised by Farmer’s suspension for texting the sidelines during games in 2014.

During any changes the Browns make in the upcoming offseason, this is the key issue that has to be resolved. It may take some bloodshed.

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Haslam may choose to correct the power structure purely by empowering his general manager as his true second in command, but with the current staff the relationships may already be too damaged for this to be possible. Firing Pettine and allowing Farmer to hire his own head coach to work under him would also solve the situation, but Farmer’s job security is murky at best.

There is a belief among some that Pettine should be kept over Farmer, but this would be an error. The Browns will not be able to attract a quality general manager with an incumbent head coach, especially one that has butted heads with the current general manager. An option could be to move executive chief of staff Bill Kuharich into the role, but this would just repeat the mistake they made in promoting Farmer into the general manager role by default.

Many fans are dreading the end of the season and more upheaval, but it will be a step firmly in the right direction if the Browns use the opportunity to create a clear power structure. For this team to move toward success under Haslam, a clear hierarchy must be set down and jobs must be defined.

The meddling and interference must be eradicated and a staff that works together must be crafted.

If they can achieve this, then change may finally be for the better.