Thursday, March 21, 2013

Playing the 'Where's Mike?' game

Well, well, well. It sure looks as though Joe Banner is becoming a little Napoleon.

The Browns' Chief Executive Officer’s stance with regard to the handling of his general manager sure conjures up thoughts of dictatorship.

Earlier this week, Banner made it quite clear to the Cleveland media that Mike Lombardi, his general manager, is off limits to the media. He wants to keep the man he hired away from the glare of the media because “he’s a little bit of a lightning rod.”

It’s no secret that Lombardi has no problem sharing his thoughts – good, bad or otherwise – when it comes to evaluating National Football League player personnel, either in the league or on the way. He did it for the last five years with the NFL Network.

But since being initially appointed player personnel chief and then promoted to general manager a few weeks ago, Lombardi has been notoriously silent. And absent. No one knows where he is.

Only Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski have been front and center at news conferences announcing prominent free-agent signings, presumably with Lombardi’s hardy approval. The Browns, it would appear, are playing a game of “Where’s Mike” with the media.

Normally, general managers in all sports are present at news conferences announcing significant signings or trades. That’s the norm. They are paid the big bucks to make the command decisions and then step up to explain why.

Not in Cleveland. At least not with the NFL team.

“Mike is a little bit of a lightning rod,” Banner told the Cleveland media earlier this week at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix. “Distraction won’t serve anybody’s interests. He’s got a tremendous amount of work to do right now.”

Banner, who earlier took the blame for hiring Lombardi despite the GM’s questionable past in Cleveland, took the “blame-me” stance again in Phoenix. But “there won’t be a shortage of someone to hold accountable . . . He’s not going to be hidden,” he said.

It sure looks that way, though. “(Lombardi) is not going to be somebody over time you won’t have an opportunity to talk to,” Banner added. “But as I say, there are no accountability issues. I’m sitting here and you can hold me accountable for whatever we do.”

He went on to say that “there will be a time when (Lombardi) is visible and speaking, but I think at the moment, it’s at least in our best interests to have him focused on what he’s doing . . .“

And when we next see and hear from Lombardi, will his puppet strings be as visible as he is? Or will Banner once again flex his muscles and muzzle him?

And where is Jimmy Haslam III in all this? Surely, the owner knows what’s going on. Banner’s handling of the matter appears strangely to have his seal of approval.

Are the denizens of the Ivory Tower in Berea afraid there will be a negative reaction if Lombardi is permitted to come out of hiding? Do they fear he’ll say the wrong thing? If so, what does that tell you about the hire to begin with?

This is most bizarre. Fans deserve to know just why the team makes certain personnel moves. And they need to hear it from the man most responsible for those moves. They need to hear from Lombardi.

If he is shielded because the club is fearful of a public backlash, then the Browns hired the wrong man. If not, then trot him out to become personally accountable for any and all moves.

No one cares what Banner thinks about the personnel. He is not the GM. He is the CEO. He is not a football man. Lombardi is. Chudzinski is. They're the guys fans expect to see in front of the cameras and microphones. Not Banner.

It’s Banner’s job to run the organization from the top and make certain all aspects of the business run smoothly. That includes unshackling his general manager. Lift his Cone of Silence.

Sometimes, the right moves are made for the right reasons. And sometimes, the wrong moves are made for the wrong reasons. The Lombardi Silent Treatment falls into the latter category.

It’s time for Banner to shed his Napoleonic image and free him.


  1. I think Banner is doing the right thing let him play this out his way. its about the team not the media

  2. Forget the media, anon. No other team does it like this. It is unorthodox and Banner knows it. It is not about the team. It is about Banner. That should be obvious by now.

  3. Hey Rich,
    In the short time Banner has been the CEO of the Browns, I have found it quite a bit self serving that when Banner speaks about building the Eagles he constantly says "I" instead of "We".

    This smacks of a control freak who wants the credit for all phases of success and I wouldn't be surprised if and when one of the personnel moves are a bust he trots out Lombardi. Granted, you need a take charge guy in his position, but this is going overboard. The other scenario is that Lombardi is on board with this and that leaves the impression he has no backbone, and that would be even more troubling.

  4. Lombardi has a backbone and has to be frustrated by Banner's sequestering him. (Thought I'd sneak a political reference in there.) This is strictly Banner and I'm there with you with regard to the ego thing.

    He is a control freak who was shackled in Philadelphia by his owner, who ceded more authority to the coach than him. That's got to be one of the main reasons he left the Eagles.

    Now that he's with the Browns, he's got a free rein. Somewhere along the line, Haslam is going to catch on to his act and crack down. If I'm wrong and Haslam gives him a lot of rope, we are headed once again in the wrong direction.

  5. I hear you. I am very concerned, I have never been one to strictly adhere to the "my way or the highway" philosophy and I see that in today's signings of Davis and Owens. I know they want to get younger, but I can't see where these guys are better than Watson and Brown, and believe me, I have no problem replacing them however, getting young just for the sake of getting younger because it is your philosophy and ignoring the fact that they were at least productive is, well, counterproductive. I am hoping the one saving grace, at least from what I have been able to observe of Haslam is that he is a no nonsense guy. He has stated on a couple of occasions that if someone isn't doing the job they will be gone.

  6. BTW, do you have any idea who Dimitri Patterson pissed off. He was dropped like a hot rock.

  7. No clue, Marc. He wasn't good enough to have made a difference, anyway.