Browns owner Randy Lerner has given up controlling interest in the team to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam III, team president Mike Holmgren said Friday.
"The Cleveland Browns are the Cleveland Browns and they're going to stay," Holmgren said in a news conference, addressing questions of whether the team would relocate.
Holmgren couldn't say whether the transaction was a "complete sale."
"What I can say is that he is giving up a controlling interest in the team," Holmgren said. "That's what I can say. As details come out we can elaborate a little bit more, but it is a controlling interest."
Lerner took control of the Browns in 2002, when his father, Al, died. Reports first surfaced in May that a portion of the team might be available, but the team denied the franchise was for sale. Lerner was observing certain needs for confidentiality, but Holmgren said he's known of the possible deal.
"I was in California this summer and Randy contacted me and gave me preliminary reports. Since that point, we have been in constant contact," Holmgren said. "He's kept me abreast of every single thing that has been going on and he has been more than fair that way. Clearly there had to be some confidentiality involved in this thing, but I appreciate that he involved me in this. I think you are always a little bit surprised when something of this magnitude comes up I think, but it happens. This stuff happens."
Holmgren said Lerner met with head coach Pat Shurmur, who informed the team in a meeting Friday morning that a sale announcement was coming later in the day.
That statement, issued by Lerner through the Browns on Friday, didn't stipulate whether Lerner would remain majority owner if he'd be selling the franchise outright. Haslam is currently a minority investor in the Pittsburgh Steelers and must first divest that interest to be approved as the Browns' majority owner.
"In connection with current rumors and press inquiries, I can report that I've been approached by Mr. Jimmy Haslam, who is interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns," Lerner said. "We are currently in negotiations and both sides have agreed to keep that dialogue and its details private. Given that any transaction would require League approval, care has been taken so that this process will not be disruptive to the organization, in particular the football team, as it prepares for the upcoming season. We will share further details or make an announcement if it becomes necessary."
Haslam, 55, is president of Pilot Flying J Travel Centers, which developed from a small gas station in Virginia to a nation travel center and truckstop chain. The Haslam family is one of the largest private donors to the University of Tennessee.
Haslam's father, James Haslam Jr., was a starting tackle at Tennessee and graduated in 1952.
Holmgren said he isn't concerned about his job status. Sources told Len Pasquarelli of The Sports Xchange that former Eagles president Joe Banner would be part of Haslam's football administrative team, possibly as Holmgren's replacement.
"To me, a contract is a contract," Holmgren said. "I've said that before to you ... tried to be honest with you about that."
Holmgren's five-year deal, signed in January 2010,