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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/5/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Culture can be formed from owners

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Freedom of choice means you can pick your team, but not your team’s owner.

It’s sort of like your parents. It’s luck of the draw.

Given the choice, though, in a perfect world, would you rather have Steve Bisciotti or Daniel Snyder as the owner of your favorite NFL team?

They live about 40 miles apart and both are billionaires. We may have to tell you who Bisciotti is, though, because of his low profile. He owns the Baltimore Ravens, who have won two Super Bowls since he bought in. Snyder, meanwhile, purchased controlling interest in one of the NFL’s iconic franchises, the Washington Redskins, in 1999 and has done his best to run it into irrelevance. He’s about to hire his eighth head coach.

Still not sure which you would choose?

Sally Jenkins, a columnist with the Washington Post, wrote this about Snyder the other day, which may help: “What’s chronically wrong with the organization is that the owner would rather be a central figure on a losing team than a marginal figure on a winning one.”

It’s his money; it’s his toy.

We bring this up because we’re curious about which way Jimmy Haslam of the Cleveland Browns may fall. Steve Bisciotti or Dan Snyder?

Or, using another comparison, Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones?

Kraft owns the New England Patriots and is very involved in the operation of the franchise. It’s his business. But when it comes to football personnel and day-to-day administration of the team, he puts his trust in Bill Belichick.

Jones is owner, president, and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and is egotistical enough that he may someday run down onto the sideline, grab the headset from his coach and do that too. The Cowboys, once billed as America’s Team, have one playoff win since 1998.

Imagine if Kraft had been so impatient as to fire Belichick after his first season, when New England went 5-11. Belichick is 158-50 since with five Super Bowl berths, winning three of them.

Haslam just fired Rob Chudzinski after one season, which ended 4-12. Belichick, at least, had Drew Bledsoe at quarterback in 1990. Chudzinski had a committee of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and Jason Campbell.

Fair? Not by any definition.

It’s an unfair league at times. Chud, a Toledoan, became the eighth NFL coach to be fired after one season since 2000. Two worked in Oakland for the late Al Davis, which is something of an explanation. Another, Marty Schottenheimer, is among Snyder’s parade of discarded coaches who took the money and ran as far and fast as they could.

I’m not suggesting Haslam will be a lousy owner. We don’t know yet, just as he didn’t know if Chudzinski held the promise to become another Belichick. It takes time to learn some things.

If we’ve learned anything it is that the teams that have become dominant are, not coincidentally, the ones with the most respected owners, those defined by patience and trust in the football people they hire, those you see only when the TV cameras focus on their private suites or on the trophy stand.

In the past decade, the Patriots have played in four Super Bowls and the Steelers in three. Both have two wins, as do the Giants, owned in part by the same family that founded the team in the 1920s. Other champions include the Packers, Ravens, Colts, and Saints.

Interestingly, before buying the Browns Haslam had a minority interest in the Steelers, run by the Rooney family. That franchise has had three head coaches in the last 45 seasons, all have had occasional trying seasons, and all have won Super Bowls.

Pittsburgh is missing from the playoffs for the second straight season, but the last thing Mike Tomlin is worried about is his job. Pittsburgh, albeit an extreme example in this case, sticks with its coaches and its program.

There is no sure thing, of course. If behind-the-scenes, supportive, non-meddling owners automatically meant success, Lions fans would enjoy gazing upon as many Lombardi Trophies as their counterparts in Pittsburgh. In truth, Detroit has never played in a Super Bowl and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991.

There are holes in any theory. But the core values that define the culture of a franchise start at the top with ownership. That includes the stability and continuity that players appreciate and good teams rally behind.

Haslam certainly isn’t off to the best start in that regard. We’ll see how it plays out over time, which he wasn’t willing to give Chudzinski.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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