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.