Dee Haslam gets not nearly enough credit for the Cleveland Browns success

CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 24: Team owner Dee Haslam of the Cleveland Browns talks with guests on the sidelines while wearing a hat supporting defensive end Myles Garrett #95 prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)"n
CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 24: Team owner Dee Haslam of the Cleveland Browns talks with guests on the sidelines while wearing a hat supporting defensive end Myles Garrett #95 prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)"n /

Dee Haslam deserves more credit for the Cleveland Browns turnaround

Okay, the next sportswriter who writes, “Jimmy Haslam III, the owner of the Cleveland Browns” deserves to get punched in the face by Mike Tyson. Just so you know, Dee Bagwell Haslam is the  CEO of Haslam Sports Group, not her more visible and extroverted husband.

She’s also the Founder and Executive Producer of RIVR Media. You may not have heard of this company, but RIVR has created and produced over 3,000 episodes for 21 different networks and has been nominated for an Emmy Award eight times more than your company has.

One of the things I like the best about Dee is the picture for this article, which was taken right after the unfortunate blow-up involving Myles Garrett and quarterback Mason Rudolph of the Steelers. Dee did not blast anyone or issue incendiary comments. But notice that her knit cap has a “95” on it.

While Myles Garrett was suffering through the worst time of his professional career, Dee sent a silent signal to let him and the rest of the team know that she was behind him and that it was going to be alright. That support spoke volumes.

Cleveland fans, if you did not notice it the first time around, please take notice now. This was exactly the right way to show support.

All the correspondence coming from the team is now signed “Dee and Jimmy Haslam,” and not Jimmy and Dee. Last season’s overhaul was carried out under Dee’s direction. Previously, the modus operandi was for Jimmy to find the general manager or coach he wanted, jump on him and make him an offer he could not refuse.

More often than not, Jimmy got his first choice. By the way, it might also be added that 90 percent of the time, this writer agreed with his choices at the time. I loved John Dorsey (still have immense respect for his ability to judge talent, if not his cap management skills), thought Hue Jackson was a great motivator (still give him great credit for keeping the team playing hard despite terrible circumstances and challenges to his authority that he should not have accepted). I would still hire Mike Pettine as a head coach, and Sashi Brown had the right basic idea on how to rebuild a team in the NFL.

So JH3 did not make bad hires, but the team also had confused lines of authority, with the coach and GM competing for authority, and ownership exerting too much influence on the draft. The result was Johnny Manziel being impulsively selected in the first round of the draft; the Browns accepting $10 million dollars in dead money penalties so that Joe Haden could play for Pittsburgh; the general manager illegally texting the offensive coordinator during the game; building through the draft one year and trading away draft picks the next year, drafting 3-4 nose tackles to play in a 4-3 system, and drafting players who had suffered career-ending injuries in college, and on and on in a never-ending Cleveland soap opera.

The short summary is, they needed to get organized and they needed a plan. They needed DBH in charge.

This writer has never met Jimmy, but my impression from afar is that he is kind of like Teddy Roosevelt. If the troops need to take San Juan Hill, by golly, he will lead them to storm San Juan Hill and take it and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop him. That can be a very positive quality in the right circumstances.

Dee, on the other hand, is more like the Secretary of the Navy. How many aircraft carriers do we need for the next 10 years, and who is going to build them? Where will they be deployed? Who will make sure that our nuclear submarines are better than the Russians’?

Over a period of time, the family came to realize that Dee’s skills were a better match for the Browns than Jimmy’s. Perhaps it was a bit of a humbling experience, but JH3 has every reason to be proud of the second greatest decision he has ever made. The first, of course, was marrying up.

Dee spent a lot of time clarifying roles and defining the team. This is what this writer sees, to paraphrase:

Who are the Cleveland Browns?  We are a run-oriented, natural turf, cold weather team that controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

How do we operate? We are a diverse, analytics-based organization that attracts the best, brightest, well-trained people to put the best product on the field we possibly can.

How will we build the team?  We will build mainly through the draft, supplementing the process with free agents.

Who are our players? We are looking for high-character individuals who are team players over self-centered statistical performers.

Who is going to hire the GM? Who chooses the coach? Who selects the quarterback? What is the role of ownership? What does the owner agree not to overstep? That may seem like doubletalk, but suddenly the Browns were an organization and people started doing their own job instead of someone else’s.

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Dee, according to rumor, personally liked Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel to become teir head coach but realized that she trusted analytics expert Paul DePodesta to make the call. He’s supposed to be the smartest man in the world at what he does, let’s let him do his job and hire someone.

Last time they hired a coach with who the quarterback was friendly. This time they took an offensive strategist in Kevin Stefanski who did not even know the quarterback, but who did know diverse offensive strategies, situational playcalling, and game planning based on analysis and trends rather than relying mainly on intuition alone.

For the General Manager, they hired John Dorsey, who was a great old-school talent advisor, but who could not manage a salary cap for beans and did not listen to any advice from DePodesta on how to manipulate the cap to get extra draft picks for the team. Dorsey spent money like a drunken sailor, overspent $30 million of carryover salary cap, and traded away draft picks (eschewing the opportunity to obtain compensatory picks) in order to go 6-10. Not cool.

This time they took a Harvard economist and computer science expert in Andrew Berry. There’s no way that Berry will ever accidentally lose $30 million dollars. He might occasionally trade a first-round draft pick for an All-Pro, but he is not going to overlook the opportunity to obtain compensatory draft picks.

The Browns were formerly into drafting drug users and then quickly giving up on them. This pattern made no sense. A psychologist might say that the Browns were raging co-dependents, who were also irresistibly drawn to try to solve problems that were beyond their abilities to handle.

It would be one matter if the team felt it had special abilities to rehabilitate drug users, but it’s a quite different matter if they have no ability to do so, as seems to have been the case. It’s foolish to waste draft picks on these players if there is no pattern of success at rehabilitation and no articulated plan to succeed other than the general manager looking the kid in the eye and going with his gut.

That’s not to say that there are zero second chances. On the contrary, the team has bet on Kareem Hunt. They have accepted the substantial risk involved but they also believe that he may be the exception to the rule. So far, they have been right.

The Browns have always been a diverse organization, starting in 1946 when they were the first modern-era professional football franchise to feature African American players in Marion Motley and Bill Willis, both of whom deservedly made the Hall of Fame.

Everyone talks about social action, but the Browns are doing something about it, and if fans want to get involved, the team has put together a website to hook you up with organizations where you can volunteer your time, money, and sweat equity to make a difference in the local community in a manner that you are comfortable with.

It does make a difference. I can honestly tell you that OBJ put out a tweet a while back asking for financial support for a particular cause that I happened to agree with and I backed it up with a Paypal donation to that organization. And this isn’t a recent thing. Famous players like Jim Brown, John Wooten, and others started working with community businesses and social justice issues in the 1960s.

A shout-out to you NFL free agents and your representatives — many of you say that you are interested in supporting social justice, so may I humbly request that you consider the social justice records of the ownership group of your prospective next employers? So many of you are too eager to work for owners known to be horribly abusive just because you like the uniforms or something.

Just consider the social justice record and hiring practices of the owner you want to work for before you sign that contract, especially if you are taking less money than Cleveland is offering.  Just think about what the ownership group does for the community before you sign on the dotted line, and remember that the Haslams are among the greatest philanthropists in the country and they are very progressive.

No other team has had nearly as many African American quarterbacks as the Browns (come to think of it, they are probably way out in front on white quarterbacks as well). Cleveland has had two African American general managers; three African American head coaches counting interim Terry Robiskie with Hue Jackson and Romeo Crennel being the two full-timers.

The Browns are way out in front compared to the rest of the NFL in bringing highly qualified female front office personnel, with much more left to be done. Cleveland is getting super-achievers who have both academics as well as football in their backgrounds. The Browns are a top organization to work for all of a sudden.

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This is going to work. Not to belittle in any way the contributions of Mr. Haslam, but it is already clear that DBH is making a positive impact. The front office has the look of a winner.