Browns new CEO digging in to fix team

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Associated Press

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 17 at 4:01 AM

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As Joe Banner goes from meeting to meeting and decides what may be necessary to bring championships to Cleveland, the Browns new CEO wrestles with conflicting emotions.

He's knows change can be painful. He also knows it's usually essential.

This isn't easy.

"Some people will fit and some people won't," he said. "I understand that for everybody here I kind of have their immediate future in my hands and I feel bad.

"You don't really want to create that kind of stress for people. But there's no other way to do it. And in the end, we have to make whatever we think are the right decisions for the organization and hopefully do it in a fair and compassionate and transparent way."

On the job for only a few weeks, Banner, hired by new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, has spent his first weeks pouring over documents, conducting interviews and analyzing every aspect of a once-proud franchise that has had little success for nearly two decades. Tough decisions, ones that could impact people he has known for years, lie ahead.

For Banner, this is business in the NFL.

He came to Cleveland after spending 19 seasons with Philadelphia, where he helped transform the Eagles into a perennial power — 11 playoff appearances, five NFC title games and one trip to the Super Bowl. On Friday, Banner met with the Associated Press and addressed some of his thoughts on reviving the Browns, who are just 2-7 and headed toward their fifth straight double-digit loss season.

Banner remains "open-minded" about second-year coach Pat Shurmur, whose future with the Browns will likely be decided in the season's final seven games. Banner spent 10 seasons working in Philadelphia with Shurmur, who served as an assistant coach on Andy Reid's staff. Banner likes Shurmur personally, believes he has the qualities to be a successful coach, and agrees the undercurrent of ownership change announced at the start of training camp was "kind of a curveball."

Banner said Shurmur will be judged on his win-loss record, but not exclusively.

"I come here with an extremely positive view of Pat, but on the key qualities as it related to evaluating him as a head coach, with very little opinion," he said. "I know he's smart. I know he knows football. I know he's hard working and I know he's a good man. Now there's a whole other series of qualities that differentiate the coaches in the league that separate coaches who are successful from others who are really successful.

"I'm really just getting to know him in those areas and observe him in those areas."

With 17 rookies, the Browns have been competitive all season, and Banner has been impressed how the team has continued to play hard for Shurmur.

"It would be easy under the circumstances to see even a few examples of something that didn't look like everybody still being totally committed to doing everything they could do to win," he said. "That would be easily understandable under the circumstances and at least I don't feel like I see that. Whether that's the work ethic of the coaches or the players, that's an important thing to see."

Banner said he and Haslam have discussed the qualities they would like to have in a coach, general manager and in other "football-related" positions. Banner, who was responsible for hiring Reid in Philadelphia, said the goal is to find a coach who best fits all of those characteristics and move forward. What's most important is to get it right.

Shurmur may yet prove to be the coach Cleveland needs. Maybe not.

But Banner won't be pushed into taking a particular type of coach.

"It doesn't have to be a college coach," he said. "It doesn't have to be a pro coach. It doesn't have to be an offensive guy. It doesn't have to be a defensive guy. I'm more looking for qualities of a person consistent with the most successful coaches. ... We're learning every day. Jimmy and I talk regularly with the idea of making a decision at the end of the year and implementing it after the season. That's what we'll stick to."

And what if the Browns go 7-0 the rest of the way?

"If that happens," Banner said, smiling. "I guess we couldn't say the won-loss record doesn't matter."

As for Browns general manager Tom Heckert, whose future may also hinge on the rest of this season, Banner said his relationship with Cleveland's top talent evaluator "is good and always has been."

Heckert, too, worked with Banner in Philadelphia before joining the Browns in 2010. Banner credited Heckert with upgrading the talent on Cleveland's roster and said that while he plans to restructure the front office, he envisions a scenario in which the Browns will continue to have a general manager's position. Of course, a change in coaches could alter that design.

Another major issue Banner must tackle in the weeks ahead is Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who like any other first-year QB, has had good and bad moments this season. Banner will wait until the end of the season before deciding if Weeden can carry the Browns to titles, and even then it may be difficult to evaluate his potential.

Banner is reserving a final verdict on Weeden until he sees more.

"I do think we know enough that he has the potential to be really good," he said. "And after nine games, the truth is he's probably not 100 percent sure. And the truth is, at the end of the season you'll have more information to make a judgment, but will you really have the answer to the question on any player on the roster? You won't. You will have a very educated guess based on a lot of information."

— On other issues, Banner said:

— The Browns could change their uniforms in the future, but any alterations would be respectful of the team's tradition. "If we do anything, it isn't on the fast track, and it certainly wouldn't be anything that wouldn't be incredibly respectful of the history and what the fans care about."

— He's focused on improving the game-day experience at Browns Stadium, which needs technological upgrades and other improvements. He said any major overhaul may not be completed until the 2014 season.

— The passion and loyalty of Browns fans has been overwhelming.

"This is a remarkable story and we're going to be able to write a great next chapter," he said. "You lose your team. You get it back. You don't have your expectations and hopes met for a very long period of time and you're still all there. If we can kind of pay back what's been paid in over the last 20 years, that will be a spectacular story."

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