Much of Northeast Ohio has been talking about the Browns since news came out Friday that travel center tycoon Jimmy Haslam III is poised to take a handoff from Randy Lerner and become the new majority owner of the team. Lerner confirmed that he is negotiating with Haslam, who's currently part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a share he'll have to give up if he buys into the Browns. The personal and business profile of the two major players was the subject of conversation this morning on 90.3's The Sound of Ideas. ideastream's Paul Cox has more.
Jimmy Haslam the Third runs the Pilot/Flying J enterprise with 550 truck stops and travel centers in 43 states and 6 Canadian provinces. He's part of a family that's among the richest in Tennessee, where his brother Bill is governor. Reporter Josh Flory recently profiled the Haslam family for the Knoxville News Sentinel. He says Haslam will be a hands-on owner:
Flory: "This is not a guy necessarily who is a great visionary who's going to come in with a plan, with big ideas to disrupt an industry with new technology...that sort of thing. He's sort of get-your-hands-dirty guy; knows the numbers backward and forward; he's on the road all the time watching costs and managing the supply chain. He does the nitty gritty type of work you need to do to operate a business like that."
NFL owners will have to ratify any deal between Haslam and current owner Randy Lerner, approval that's expected since Haslam is well-known in NFL circles. It's also certain, according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, that a team move is not in the cards:
Cabot: " I don't think the NFL would even consider recommending approval of anything like a move of the Cleveland Browns out of Cleveland. I cannot see that happening based on everything that went on here in 1995 and the league being so willing to do everything in its power to bring the Cleveland Browns back to Cleveland. No, I do not see a move happening."
The 1995 move to Baltimore devastated loyal Browns fans. The team's return as an expansion franchise in 1999 has given them little to cheer about with just one playoff appearance in 13 years. Some fans have questioned Lerner's committment. He's invested in the team, but is rarely seen waving the team's banner. Fox Sports Ohio columnist Pat McManamon:
McManamon 1 "I wouldn't equate that with not caring. He just didn't want to be out front because that's an environment where he watched what happened with the Modells and David Modell and he wanted no part of being that way. The goal when he took over the team is that 'I'm going to hire people and let them do their jobs."
That hasn't worked out so well. A succession of front office leaders and head coaches has failed to produce a consistent winner. McManamon says those failings should not be linked to any lack of commitment by Lerner:
McManamon 2: "the first time I met him was after his father died when he was attending the NFL meetings in Arizona. And it wasn't too long after that you could see this guy was grieving over his loss and also there was this realization that all of a sudden he was in charge of the Cleveland Browns. And I think that if you asked him why he cared so much about the Browns was very simply, 'I was born and raised.' I grew up with it, it was part of my being. I love the Cleveland Browns."
For that reason, McManamon says Lerner would only consider selling the team to what he called 'the right people.' And, no doubt, at the right price which is estimated at somewhere north of 900 million dollars.