BEREA — The tradition continued Thursday.
Owner Jimmy Haslam sat behind a microphone, accepted blame for the constant change within his organization and reiterated a commitment to fix things in order to bring a winner to the loyal fans.
“I can’t stress enough, one, we feel terrible about what’s happened,” Haslam said. “But, No. 2, we’re more determined than ever to get it right as we move forward. And I mean that sincerely.”
Haslam took a break from former Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s interview for the vacant coaching job to hold a 23-minute news conference during another hectic week after the season inside Browns headquarters. Haslam fired coach Freddie Kitchens on Sunday after one season, then general manager John Dorsey parted ways with the organization Tuesday when he wouldn’t take a diminished role.
Haslam and wife Dee bought the team in 2012. This is the fifth time they’ve looked for a head coach and the fifth time they’ve looked for a new head of the football operation.
“We realize that we’ve had a tremendous amount of change since we bought the team, we accept responsibility,” Haslam said.
He paid more than $1 billion for the Browns but has been humbled by the failures. The turnover at the upper levels of the organization and within the coaching staff has accompanied a 33-94-1 record since he agreed to buy the team from Randy Lerner.
So while Haslam tried to strike a confident, optimistic tone Thursday, he also relented to reality when asked why he felt he’d “get it right” this time.
“Yeah, well, there’s no guarantee, OK, let’s be honest,” he said. “There’s no guarantee. I do think we’ve learned a tremendous amount the hard way, a very painful way. And I think we have a clear vision and expectation of exactly what we’re looking for in both positions.”
The Browns have changed the organizational flow chart once again, with the next GM and coach joining chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta in reporting directly to Haslam. While Haslam feels structure is important, he stressed the need for alignment within the building, something he believed fell short in 2019 when Dorsey’s football department clashed with DePodesta’s analytics group.
“If you look at the successful organizations that are consistently in the playoffs year after year, there is alignment within the organization and they have the right people in the right place, coach and GM,” Haslam said. “That’s what we’re focusing on tremendously. And that alignment is something that’s really, really important. It sounds easy but it’s not.”
The search committee consists of Haslam, executive vice president JW Johnson, DePodesta and vice president of football administration Chris Cooper, who’s been with the Browns for six years and deals with contracts and the salary cap. None has a deep background in coaching or football personnel, although DePodesta spent 20 years in Major League Baseball front offices, including as a GM.
Dee Haslam and others will be consulted before the hires are made.
“Ownership will make the final decision, but not in a vacuum,” Haslam said.
The coach will be hired first, and he will be “heavily involved” in the selection of the general manager. Haslam’s trying to avoid the “arranged marriage” scenario of the past and ensure the key figures are on the same page.
“Then the coach and the GM will report to ownership as equals and obviously married up with each other,” he said.
He said the general manager will have final say over the 53-man roster, with the coach picking the gameday 46. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who’s on the interview list, could be turned off by the structure that takes authority from the coach.
McCarthy and McDaniels are the only candidates with head coaching experience among the seven known interview requests, and Haslam said that wasn’t a requirement. When asked about former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, he seemed to rule him out by saying the search is focused on NFL coaching experience.
The revolving door has left the Browns with a damaged reputation, but Haslam doesn’t think they’re a hard sell.
“We’re really excited about the group of candidates that we’re going to be interviewing over the next several days,” he said. “And I think maybe despite all the changes we’ve made, I think it’s a very attractive job. Everybody in the NFL knows how important football is in this area.”
Dorsey rebuilt the roster after an 0-16 season in 2017 into one expected to go to the playoffs in 2019. A new coach and GM often bring significant roster turnover, but Haslam doesn’t expect that with a group led by quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“There could be some changes in the roster, but we have a pretty solid group of core players who are all extremely young,” Haslam said, calling receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry the “old guys” at 27 years old. “I can’t imagine anybody wanting to change that group.”
Players told reporters Monday they’re looking for leadership in the next coach and said the same thing to Haslam and Johnson in exit interviews. That fits with the qualities the Browns seek.
“So we’re looking for a strong leader, one,” Haslam said. “Someone who’s smart, two. Has really good football acumen, three. And then is a good (collaborator). Will work within the organization. OK? It’s not my way or the highway. And I also think we want somebody who’s a continuous learner, somebody who’s trying to get better all the time.”
He believes the organization has improved its hiring system after lacking “process and discipline” in the first two or three searches. He thought last year’s was much better and this one will take another step.
“This time will be even better in terms of being very disciplined in how we go about things, gathering data, doing really good research, getting references, etc.” he said. “It has been and it will be very thorough.”
Haslam is tired of the constant change and desires continuity but he wouldn’t commit to sticking with the new hires.
“Every situation is different. There has to be progress made, both on the field and behind the scenes off the field,” he said. “I hope we get it right and I hope our head coach is here 10 to 15 years and our GM is here 10 to 15 years also. It’s a heckuva lot easier on all of us.”