Ex-Browns, Eagles chief Banner takes up son's challenge and gains voice on Twitter

Joe Banner's Twitter mentions can be brutal.

"You are not a human, just a soulless calculator that only understands numbers and figures. I hate your…face."

"If you get fired from a Cleveland franchise, you shouldn't be talking sports in any capacity. Shut the [expletive] up Joe." 

Joe Banner (left) helped bring Mike Pettine aboard as Browns head coach. (AP)
Joe Banner (left) helped bring Mike Pettine aboard as Browns head coach. (AP)

"Stick to hiding in the shadows instead of judging a team you [expletive] up the past few years."

And yeah, Banner – a former Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns executive who spent nearly two decades in the NFL – reads and responds to this stuff every day.

Why?

"Well, it started one night when I was sitting around the dinner table with my family," Banner told Yahoo Sports. "My [17-year-old] son dared me to join [Twitter] after teasing me, saying I was too old to tweet. I don't like backing down from challenges, so we set it up.

"I guess I really didn't know what I was getting myself into," he said in between laughs. "A local talk radio station found out I was on there and predicted I'd be so ambushed with hate that I'd abandon it in 48 hours."

It was right about the hate, but three months, 987 tweets and nearly 18,000 followers later, it's clear Banner – as strong willed as ever – is on Twitter to stay.

You get the sense that Banner misses the game, but for now, he is enjoying spending more time with his family and on pet philanthropic projects in the Philadelphia area.

"I am actually helping an [NFL] owner right now on a personnel change," Banner said, though he declined to specify which team he was working with. "Will I take another job in the NFL? There's a part of me that says I did this for 20 years and it was a fantastic experience, and maybe it's time to slow down a little bit, but the real answer is I'm just not sure."

Banner may be one of the most underappreciated front-office executives in the past 20 years. In the "what have you done for me this season" world of the NFL, his accomplishments are often lost amidst a chorus of flawed criticism.

Case in point: One national NFL reporter tweeted last month that Banner was "perhaps the least decorated team president in NFL history" and that he "sucked at his job."

Here's a counter to those sentiments:

Joe Banner and head coach Andy Reid enjoyed success in Philly. (Getty Images)
Joe Banner and head coach Andy Reid enjoyed success in Philly. (Getty Images)

During the time Banner was in the Eagles' front office beginning in 1994, the organization appeared in the playoffs 11 times, the NFC championship game five times and the Super Bowl once. His detractors are quick to emphasize that the Eagles didn't win it all during that time, brushing aside the team's 162 regular-season wins during that period.

"Take a few plays out of those NFC championship games and maybe we go to four straight Super Bowls," said Steve Spagnuolo, a former Eagles defensive assistant coach now with the Baltimore Ravens. "Buffalo went to four straight Super Bowls without winning one, and I think they're pretty loved despite wearing that same tag. We all felt blessed to be a part of that run even though we desperately wanted to win it all."

Victories didn't just appear – they started to roll in after Banner and team owner Jeffrey Lurie hired a quarterbacks coach from the Green Bay Packers in 1999 to lead the franchise into its next chapter. That coach was Andy Reid.

At the time, the Eagles got slammed for the hire. Reid hadn't been a coordinator in the league, let alone a head coach. But Banner came from a business background, not football, and analyzed potential hires differently than the gridiron-lifers who were conditioned to avoid some of the risks he was willing to take.

"Because we were inexperienced in the business we weren't hamstrung by conventional wisdom," Banner said. "Most coaching searches had historically sought out coordinators who had been successful. But I said to Jeff, 'Shouldn't we define what a successful head coach is and see what qualities they possess in common?' "

Banner and Lurie began seeking information on coaches who had won two or more Super Bowls. In receiving feedback, they quickly realized that everyone was describing the same person: a strong, obsessively detail-oriented leader who hired coordinators that fit their system and adhered to their philosophies, no matter what. And in asking for talented coaches in the league who fit the bill, Reid's name kept coming up.

"We brought Andy in and we listened to him on leadership, hiring, managing, attention to detail, his philosophy on building a team and winning the game, and by the end of the interview, it was, 'Wow, we just met a guy who stands out in every category we want to excellence in.'

"So we hired him, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. We took a tremendous amount of punishment for that decision at the time, but after a while, the city came to love him and the teams we put on the field."

Reid, now the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, left Philadelphia as the winningest coach in Eagles history. He's quick to point out that the results the Eagles achieved wouldn't have been possible without a solid front office.

"I think the world of Joe. He's brilliant, he's a good person and he loves the game," Reid said. "He was passionate about his job, he's creative in his thinking, he knows football players, he knows the [salary] cap, and he and Jeffrey worked really well together. I always felt like they were pulling in the same direction. The bottom line for all of us was to win. And we did."

The height of Philly's run, an NFC title in 2005, still leaves many grumbling about Banner. (Getty Images)
The height of Philly's run, an NFC title in 2005, still leaves many grumbling about Banner. (Getty Images)

Banner, Lurie and Reid did much more than win in Philadelphia. They developed a track record for identifying, hiring and cultivating talented coaches and front-office executives who have gone out to experience success in the broader NFL world.

"People have tried to do it, but I don't think you can put Joe in a box," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, a former assistant coach with the Eagles (1998-2007). "[He] does a good job with football evaluation, but more importantly, he understands people and he evaluates them in a unique way. Look at all of the talent we had [in Philadelphia]. Players and coaches. So many of those guys have gone on to become successful in their own right and you have to give credit where it's due."

Aside from the players and coaches, Banner was also responsible for hiring Howie Roseman (the Eagles' current general manager), Don Smolenski (Eagles team president) and Mark Donovan (Chiefs team president) in the early stages of their careers.

Despite the success they had together, Banner and the Eagles parted ways in the summer of 2012. It wasn't long before first-year team owner Jimmy Haslam hired Banner to be CEO of the Browns, a franchise in desperate need of organizational repair. That time was a whirlwind of rapid decision-making, and Banner acknowledges he made a few mistakes, including the hiring and firing of former head coach Rob Chudzinski in less than a year.

Banner expressed disappointment that he didn't get to see his vision through. A mere 16 months after he had agreed to go to Cleveland to begin what he thought would be a long-term rebuilding process, Haslam fired him amidst a backdrop of intense public pressure.

For Banner, the fallout from his departure was difficult. He was a lightning rod for criticism in Cleveland and elsewhere, and his tenure with the Browns – which saw the team go 4-12 in his lone full season at the helm – was framed by many as a failure.

Slightly less than a year after Banner's ouster, the Browns are sitting at 7-5 and Cleveland has won more than five games for the first time since 2008. And while it's a long shot, the Browns are still in the hunt to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.

Is Banner solely responsible for the team's results? No. But you can't ignore his impact on the team.

"Joe deserves a lot of credit for everything we're doing here in Cleveland right now," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said. "He either identified, helped to identify or orchestrated the acquisition of a number of the folks in our leadership structure. He was the impetus for putting this group together."

Farmer, who played for Banner's Eagles in the mid to late 1990s, was the Chiefs' director of pro personnel for seven seasons (2006-12). He wasn't initially inclined to leave and work for Banner in Cleveland, but Banner aggressively pursued him, and ultimately convinced him to come to work for the Browns. That one move alone, according to senior pro scout Frank Edgerly, changed the franchise's trajectory.

"The best decision Joe made when he got to Cleveland was getting Ray Farmer here," Edgerly said. "What [Farmer] has done, not only in helping to shape our roster, but in using some of that equity Joe had built up to ignite and electrify the entire culture here, it's been a game-changer."

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam didn't give Joe Banner long before moving in a different direction. (Getty Images)
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam didn't give Joe Banner long before moving in a different direction. (Getty Images)

In addition to hiring Farmer, Banner hired Edgerly, team president Alec Scheiner, executive vice president Sashi Brown and head coach Mike Pettine. Much as he did in Philadelphia, he surrounded himself with talented, though sometimes unconventional selections, to help him run his teams.

But Banner did more than hire folks to the front office. He was also particularly adept at managing the salary cap and did well when it came to personnel decisions.

"Joe understood when he started in Cleveland that 2013 would be a transitional year," Edgerly said. "That allowed us to stockpile for the future. We wanted to put ourselves in position to really take a significant instead of incremental step forward.

"He knew some of the moves we were going to make wouldn't be popular, but I don't think Joe has ever been concerned with what the mainstream or popular opinion is. He was always concerned with what was right for us moving forward. He's never been afraid to go against the tide of public opinion to make sure he did what's right for the team."

Banner executed a series of shrewd moves that positioned the Browns to experience the successes they're now enjoying. The best known transaction occurred when Banner sent running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2014 draft. While that trade was slammed by many at the time, it's become clear that Cleveland – which used the pick to help it land Johnny Manziel – got the better end of that deal by far.

Additionally, Banner made a number of meaningful moves for the franchise, including releasing or deciding not to re-sign linebacker Chris Gocong, defensive backs Dimitri Patterson, Usama Young and Sheldon Brown, defensive end Frostee Rucker, tight end Ben Watson, and kicker Phil Dawson. Those decisions saved the team nearly $40 million in cap space, while Banner and his staff were able to secure the rights to a number of more affordable players who have been integral to the franchise's turnaround, including quarterback Brian Hoyer (current struggles aside), outside linebacker Paul Kruger, defensive end Desmond Bryant and defensive tackle Armonty Bryant.

Joe Banner's friends believe he belongs in the NFL. For all the misinformation they believe has been floated about him, there are too many powerful people who want him back in the game for him to languish long.