We reported on February 4th that Mike Lombardi was rumored to be on his way out as Browns GM, we ran into a lot of flak and rebuttals. Truth be told, I had heard these rumors starting back around the same time Chud was fired, but didn’t have enough evidence or multiple sources to confirm, so we let it simmer for a while. Patiently, we let the evidence build and more sources leak out and confirm what we had been hearing.
Today, obviously, it came to a head, as in a bombshell (to those who don’t follow us, anyhow) Jimmy Haslam announced the firing of Michael Lombardi and the gradual withdrawal from operations of Joe Banner. Additionally, he announced that Ray Farmer was being promoted as the new GM, something else we mentioned as a very real probability. While it might seem sudden and dishevelled to many, this has been in the works for a long, long time. Let’s take a walk through the past then, and see how we got here.
The groundwork for all of this actually happened as part of the deal that allowed Jimmy Haslam to purchase the Cleveland Browns. As part of the deal (a non-public part of the deal, mind you), Jimmy was required by the NFL to take on Joe Banner as CEO of the franchise. This was presented by the League as a way to help Haslam transition into ownership, and give the League a voice in the Browns consistently struggling front office. Banner actually saw to the inclusion and eventual hiring of Lombardi before Chud was hired, though Lombardi was announced after Chud, to ideally help lessen the inevitable criticism over bringing Lombardi back to the Browns. Sources close to the situation then told us that Haslam was not thrilled about having Banner and Lombardi essentially forced on him, but not wanting to make enemies out of friends, he accepted the deal and bought the team.
Shortly after the purchase was announced, as you all remember, Jimmy H ran into his still on-going legal issues. This left most of the power and day to day control of the organization in the hands of Banner and Lombardi. Which, from sources in Berea, they ran a very secretive, power centric office. They alienated workers, created a borderline hostile environment, and shucked accountability for mistakes, such as the failure in last years draft and free agency. They played fast and loose with Chud, one day accusing him of failing to support players, other days demanding that he cut players (Greg Little, Shawn Laovao) to set an example. The longer this went on, the more the rumors started to leak of trouble in Berea. The Banner/Lombardi regime, however, continued to sell the story of a friendly, excited work place to the likes of Mary Kay and other beat reporters, who gladly gobbled up the stories of hope and happiness. The truth, however, would not stay hidden forever.
As the season went on, it became more and more clear that Lombardi had failed utterly in free agency and the draft the previous year, and we began to see a gradual shift where Ray Farmer had more and more sway in the personnel department. Eventually, before season’s end, Haslam had set Farmer up as the de facto head of personnel, as we saw with Farmer being the sole Browns executive present at any collegiate games and major events toward the end of the regular season and after. After Chud was fired, we heard that Lombardi was next to go. The longer the situation in Berea dragged on, the less Lombardi was included in areas where you’d normally expect to see a GM. This withdrawal was sold as Lombardi not being the face of the franchise, but investigative fans were already looking beneath the surface to see why Lombardi had suddenly vanished from the public’s eye.
The “straw that broke the camel’s back”, I’m told, was the push that Lombardi made for Josh McDaniels. We reported early that McDaniels was all but hired as the Browns next head coach, as our source close to Lombardi said that Lombardi had worked out the particulars behind the scenes before Chud was even fired. When McDaniels turned the job down, it was the last black eye that Jimmy Haslam was prepared to take due to his CEO and GM. Haslam took over the head coach search himself, and was extremely impressed by Mike Pettine. As we know, Pettine was later hired by Haslam.
That takes us up to last week, when we first reported what we could from our investigation into the rumors around Lombardi, as our source (per Shawn) said a move was likely to happen before the draft, and another independent source from Concede put the “Firing Timeline” as before the Combine. We called out that this article written by the often wrong Mary Kay Cabot was conveniently posted the day after we broke the rumors. At this point, Haslam had already maneuvered a replacement for Lombardi (in Ray Farmer) and hand-picked his own head coach (Pettine). It was at this point that Haslam decided to liquidate Joe Banner’s position, and restructure the Browns so that the GM and Coach both had a direct line to his office, and so that he would personally oversee the day-to-day operations of the organization.
In probably the most Godfather/Game of Thrones narrative you could imagine for a football franchise, you can see how this entire tale of backdoor dealings, power struggles and behind the scenes maneuvers has led us to today, when Haslam gave the word and seized complete control of his organization. Where will this all end up? Too early to say, and I’d be lying if I said I had some clairvoyance to that end. But, I can’t help but feel like the good guys won this round.