Banner hopes to make Browns winners

AP News
Posted: Oct 17, 2012 5:55 PM
Banner hopes to make Browns winners

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Joe Banner didn't want to make any promises or predictions. It's not his nature.

But just as he helped transform the Philadelphia Eagles into consistent winners, the new CEO of the Cleveland Browns has a plan to fix a franchise trapped inside a vortex of failure.

He just hopes it doesn't take five years.

"I'll be in a straitjacket if it takes that long," Banner joked.

On the same day GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan rerouted his campaign trail through Cleveland's practice, the Browns ushered in a new administration as Banner was introduced by new owner Jimmy Haslam III, whose $1 billion purchase of the franchise was approved at the NFL's fall meetings on Tuesday.

Banner spent 19 years with the Eagles, spending the final 12 seasons as team president. During his time in Philadelphia, the Eagles went to the playoffs 11 times, won six NFC East titles, advanced to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl. The 59-year-old knows that other than losing, the only constant in Cleveland over the past decade has been change.

He's aware that other executives have tried and failed to turn around the Browns, who have made the playoffs just once since 1999. Banner isn't going to dwell on past mistakes or make any rash judgments as eases into his new position. He's only interested in delivering a winner to Cleveland's long-suffering and passionate fans.

"I don't want to be the next person to make a bunch of promises," he said. "I want to go out, do the work and let them see the result."

Banner won't officially begin handling the Browns' day-to-day operations until Oct. 25, when Haslam's acquisition of the team from Randy Lerner will be finalized. By then, the Browns (1-5) will have played seven games and both Haslam and Banner will have a better sense of the work ahead.

After resigning as Philadelphia's president in June, Banner stayed on as a consultant to owner Jeff Lurie with the Eagles and kept one eye on his next challenge. He met with Haslam, and from his first conversation with the truck stop magnate, Banner knew he had found something worth pursuing.

The Browns had everything he wanted: a franchise with untapped potential, a passionate owner and fervent fan base. For Banner, it was so much like what he had experienced almost 20 years ago when he started in Philadelphia.

"I thought this would be a year or two process to find the situation I was looking for and the right ownership and the right city and everything like that," he said. "To be honest, I wasn't even sure I would ever find it. But I certainly thought it would take a while. To have found somebody like Jimmy and to be in a market like Cleveland, with a love of the team and love of the game like this, in a matter of four or five months to me is remarkable and very, very lucky."

Banner's arrival signals the end of Mike Holmgren's tenure as Browns president and could lead to a further shake-up in Cleveland's front office. Holmgren is expected to stay on until the end of this season, his third with the club, and then retire.

While Holmgren's future is known, the prospects for Browns coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert are uncertain.

Shurmur is just 5-17 in two seasons with the Browns, who got their first win last week over Cincinnati Cleveland. Haslam recently met for 90 minutes with Shurmur, offering him his support and telling him no decisions would be made until after the season ends.

"I'm at peace with what happens," Shurmur said Wednesday.

Heckert has overhauled Cleveland's roster since he was hired by Holmgren in 2010. And while Heckert appears to have the young Browns (1-5) headed in the right direction, there are no guarantees he'll survive the ownership change.

Banner worked with Heckert in Philadelphia and has respect for the GM. He would not comment on Heckert's track record with Cleveland.

"I don't want to get into the specifics at this point," Banner said. "It's just premature. I know Tom well, I like him as a person and I respect him professionally a lot."

Cleveland's pro personnel department includes several other members Banner worked with in Philadelphia. Banner holds them all in high regard and said they will be evaluated at the end of the season, which is the norm throughout the league.

"There isn't a single one I don't like personally, have a lot of respect for and I've seen them do their jobs extremely well in an environment where I worked right with them," Banner said. "I come in with a very positive attitude and impression about all those people.

"There will be a thorough evaluation of everything that we do, but whether there will be changes or not I think time will answer that for us."

When he began searching for an executive to run the Browns, Haslam sought advice inside and outside pro football for the right candidate. Almost every conversation ended with Haslam being pointed toward one person — Banner.

"It came up from people we know and people we don't know," said Haslam, who built his fortune with Pilot Flying J truck stops. "Joe and I have spent a lot of time together over the last two or three months and have really come to know each other very well. I come from the business world and have hired a lot of senior executives. I can say I've spent more time with this senior executive, making sure he was the right fit for the Cleveland Browns than any we ever interviewed for Pilot Flying J.

"I checked out Joe as thoroughly as anyone I ever checked out."

Banner, too, did his background work on Haslam. He came away convinced Haslam was the right man and Cleveland was the right place.

"He's totally real," Banner said of Haslam. "First of all, he's incredibly passionate. He's very smart. He's a good person. He cares about people, and he is just laser focused on wanting to have the joy of running a football team that's winning a lot of games and ultimately holding a Super Bowl trophy."


NOTES: Browns RB Trent Richardson was limited in practice, but expects to play Sunday against Indianapolis with a rib cartilage injury. Richardson got hurt last week against Cincinnati, taking a helmet to the ribs in the first quarter. Richardson said his side was tender and he had trouble breathing. "It's gonna be day by day, step by step," Richardson said. "Me in my head, I'm already ready for Sunday. It just depends how I do and Coach is gonna let me know what I need to do." ... Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi practiced for the first time after missing three games with a hamstring injury. ... Browns LB Scott Fujita and DB Dimitri Patterson did not practice. Fujita is facing a possible career-ending neck injury.


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