It's one of the sure things whenever a team is sold from one party to another -- those currently in the front office will (and probably should) immediately worry about their jobs. Sometimes, that's for the best, as it was when Jerry Jones sent the great Tom Landry packing in favor of his old Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson. The malaise brought about by Landry's declining years as a coach was soon replaced by a dynasty team that was built by Johnson, and won three Super Bowls in short order.
In Cleveland, where the news recently came out that the Browns will transfer in primary ownership from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III, there's that same kind of disconcerted feeling. And, there probably should be. The current administration, led by team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, has struggled to make a go of it in what may very well be the NFL's most competitive division.
Not only do the Browns face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens twice a year, but in-state rivals the Cincinnati Bengals are once again relevant, as well. Holmgren and Heckert are into the third year of a rebuilding project that has provided few dividends to date. The Browns are 9-23 in the last two years, and though their 2012 draft includes first-round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, there are still more questions than answers from a personnel perspective.
"Until we sit down with the new owner, no one's really sure what's going to happen," Heckert recently told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "I've told the guys on my staff and some of the players to just keep doing what they're doing. From a football standpoint, there's not a whole that can be changed at this point, so it's got to be business as usual."
Problem is, the new ownership group is used to business as usual at a much higher level. Haslam, a truck stop magnate from Tennessee and the older brother of the governor of that state, has described himself as a "1,000 % Steelers fan," (a soon-to-be former designation, we imagine). He's also been a minority investor in the Steelers, and we're sure Roger Goodell will make sure there are no shenanigans there just as soon as he can.
In addition to Haslam's involvement, it's been rumored that former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner, who Heckert, current head coach Pat Shurmur, and current offensive coordinator Brad Childress used to work for, is also part of the new group. That could provide more security for the established order, or it could mean that Banner knows more than he needs to know about what's already in the building. Banner is also well-acquainted with Holmgren through the years.
So ... what does it all mean? Lerner was the personification of the absentee owner from a football interest perspective, and that frustrated fans who wanted to win sooner than later. The new group, especially if Banner is seriusly involved, will certainly be more hands-on.
"I think it's safe to assume that when a new owner or president comes in, they want to bring in their own people," a league source told the Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. "Whether or not they keep any of those guys around remains to be seen. But most of the changes wouldn't take place until after the season."
One thought is that Holmgren, who is guaranteed $8 million per year through the 2014 season, might be kept on just to avoid racking up so much dead money so soon. Holmgren's history indicates that he's better on the field than in the boardroom, so it's not completely crazy to imagine a scenario in which the man who amassed a 161-111 regular season record and went to three Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks from 1992 through 2008 might find himself coaching again. His well-deserved reputation as a developer of quarterbacks would certainly go well with Weeden's NFL progress.
For now, all Heckert and his guys can do is to keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone and hope the 2012 season provides better returns.
"We can't worry about what's going on with the sale or what's going to happen after the season," Heckert said. "We're excited about this season and we just have to focus on playing good football."
That might be like trying to concentrate with your desk in the middle of a busy freeway, but it's the current group's best chance for professional survival.