It seems, if all rumors and reports are true, that the "new era" for the Cleveland Browns will be about much more than just a change at quarterback.
Rumors began swirling on Friday morning that Browns owner Randy Lerner is interested in selling the franchise. Unlike earlier this summer when the team denied such claims, Lerner confirmed via an official statement that the rumors were accurate. The potential new owner is reported to be Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam. Haslam, the president of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers (truck stops located off of highway exits around the country), is currently an investor in Cleveland rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is also "1,000 percent a Steelers fan." Haslam would first have to remove himself from the Steelers organization before purchasing the Browns.
The first, and perhaps most significant, impact such a sale has on the team's front office could be the exit of current Browns president Mike Holmgren. Holmgren turned 64-years old this past June, and it has been heavily rumored even before Friday's news that he could retire following the completion of the 2012 NFL regular season. Joe Banner, who resigned as president of the Philadelphia Eagles last month, has been linked with the Browns.
Nervous Browns fans having flashbacks to Art Modell moving the franchise to Baltimore in the mid-90s can relax. A 30-year lease will have the team playing home games at Cleveland Browns Stadium until 2029. Lerner, who inherited the team after his father passed away in 2002 and is a Browns fan, has also stated in the past that he would not sell the team to any individual or group interested in moving the franchise out of Cleveland.
While having a reputation for being a good guy both personally and for the community, Lerner could, if he does sell the Browns in 2012, go down as arguably the worst owner in the history of the NFL. The Browns haven't had a winning season since 2007, the only season the team won more than six games in the past decade. The team switching head coaches every two to three seasons has become somewhat of an unfunny running gag, and Cleveland finishing the 2012 campaign at 8-8 would be a pleasant surprise in the eyes of many fans.
Lerner's failures as a sports franchise owner have also extended overseas. Lerner owns English Premier League team Aston Villa, who flirted with relegation to the second division of English soccer up until the very end of the 2011-12 season. Lerner was highly criticized for appointing Alex McLeish as Villa manager last summer, and McLeish was fired following the team's disappointing season.
Winning is the name of the game, and the Browns have won very little with Lerner running the show. That, above anything else, is why I am excited by this news. Haslam being a "Steelers fan" doesn't concern me one bit. Regardless of the amount of money he has, nobody buys an NFL franchise only to then cheer for a rival's success. It is also worth noting that Haslam is currently an investor in what could, all things considered, be regarded as the most successful franchise in all of pro football. Browns fans may not like to admit it, but the Steelers get it right when it comes to putting together and sticking with a front office and coaching staff. Bringing such a winning philosophy to the Browns should, in theory, only mean good things for the franchise.
The Browns are currently in what feels like their 25th "rebuilding process" since rejoining the league in 1999. While 2012 could be another rough season for Cleveland football fans, there are definite signs that the team is moving in the right direction. That is why I hope that any such sale is completed and approved by the league as soon as possible. The Browns certainly don't need any off-the-field distractions heading into preseason play.
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