Learned a lesson?
Was the unusual seating arrangement for the Freddie Kitchens head-coaching announcement symbolic? A portent of things to come?
Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam were seated in the front row for the news conference with members of the media. That’s not where the owner of National Football League teams sits when introducing a new head coach.
They are usually seated at the table with the anointed and the general manager. So the Haslams watching rather than participating created a bit of a buzz.
The very hands-on Haslams are not used to taking a back – or in this case front-row – seat in such matters. It represents, at least ostensibly, a dramatic way in which they will run their billion-dollar enterprise moving forward.
Was it symbolic in that they are finally taking a significant step back and allowing those who were hired to do their jobs actually do so in an unfettered manner? In other words, back off.
Jimmy Haslam III has found it impossible to do that as long as he has owned the team. He thinks he knows more than those who have been around the NFL a lot longer than he has and has not hesitated to interfere.
When he bought the club from the Lerner family, fans rejoiced. They believed the dysfunction would finally end and the Browns would emerge from the darkness to once again become relevant.
Not even close. The dysfunction that strangled the club worsened. Since he purchased the team midway through the 2012 season, the Browns are 21-75-1. A massive portion of the blame belongs to Haslam, whose decisions over the years have been spectacularly awful.
How awful? A lengthy damning article on ESPN.com by Seth Wickersham on the Haslam regime discloses just how dysfunctional this franchise has been the last 7½ years.
Some of it became public through the local news media. Other parts of the scathing piece show exactly why this franchise had absolutely no chance to succeed because of Jimmy III’s constant interference. If there was a mistake to be made, he somehow would always find it.
He refused to listen to his people. Perfect example of that was his choice of Hue Jackson as head coach for the 2017 season following the firing of Mike Pettine.
His trusted staff, according to Wickersham, wanted Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and lobbied against Jackson’s hiring. The vote against Jacksons was 4-1. Haslam cast the lone positive vote.
The rest is history, as in historically embarrassing. Jackson won just one game in his first two seasons as the Browns entered the record books in the most negative of ways. McDermott, eventually hired by Buffalo, was 15-17 with the Bills the last two seasons.
When John Dorsey was hired as general manager in December 2017, according to Wickersham, multiple sources inside the building heard Dee Haslam confess that “we just don’t know what we are doing. If we had known how hard it would be, we never would have bought the team.” A team spokesman said she denied saying that.
Haslam does not learn from his mistakes. He repeats them over and over ad nauseam. Another example is changing the chain of command after Jackson was hired. The new coach reported only to his owner.
That, in and of itself, is a disaster waiting to happen. That’s not the way it’s done in the NFL. The coach reports to the general manager, or whoever the top man is in the front office, and he reports to the owner. Anything else fosters resentment.
Wickersham delineates many other instances where the thinks-he-knows-it-all owner ultimately lights sticks of dynamite that blow up in his face.
But after hiring Dorsey to undo the mess he has created since 2012 and watching the fruits of his new general manager’s labor this past season, the light might have finally gone on.
Sitting where he did at the Kitchens news conference might be a signal that Haslam finally gets it. The new coach will report to Dorsey, as it should be. Owners do not know more than football people. Thinking you do can be harmful to the health of a franchise.
According to Wickersham, when it came to hiring Kitchens, Dorsey confided in an associate, “I flexed my muscles and got what I wanted.”
That’s the way it should be. Unless, of course, the Haslams start flexing their own muscles again and send the Browns back to where they were before Dorsey arrived.