ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
BEREA, Ohio -- The new owner of the Browns took the podium Friday, spoke sternly, and left fans with plenty to chew on as a another season of optimism approaches in Cleveland.
Indeed, Jimmy Haslam III has big plans for the Browns. And he better. After all, he just signed to purchase the team from Randy Lerner for $1 billion.
On his to-do list:
■ He's eager to bring "winning back to Cleveland."
■ He's eager comfort fans by offering up a "zero chance" the team moves out of town.
■ He is ready to "listen, learn, and observe."
■ He is ready to explore naming rights for the team's stadium.
■ And get this: You know that famous look, right? Who doesn't? The orange helmets, the lack of a logo on it, the simplicity of it all? It could -- could -- be on its way out. "Will we change uniforms? I don't know," he said. "But it is a marketing world."
Haslam -- the truck-stop magnate from Tennessee who is now a former minority owner of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers -- watched his first practice Friday at his new team's facility and quickly pledged to provide progressive leadership to this AFC North squad that went 4-12 last season.
"Our style is going to be involved," said Haslam, wearing an orange tie and sporting a Browns logo pin on his suit lapel. "We'll be out there selling the Cleveland Browns all the time."
Haslam refused to comment on the future of president Mike Holmgren and other personnel, and would not address reports that former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner is part of his ownership group.
He praised Holmgren, the former Green Bay and Seattle coach in his third year of trying to restore the fortunes of the once-proud franchise turned hapless losers.
"You've got a guy that's won a Super Bowl, that's going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Haslam said. "That's a legend. I'll be honest. There's a fan part of me too.
"I sense there's a strong feeling here that Mike and the team do have things headed in the right direction."
Haslam intends to gather information on all aspects of the organization and not move hastily.
"We're going to take some time to get up to speed before we get real involved in any football decisions," he said. "It'll probably come a little quicker on the business side."
While practicing patience and prudence, Haslam conducts transactions swiftly and decisively. It's how he's come this far as a businessman, and who knows, it might work in football.
So far, so good.
"The league told me in May a team might be available," he said. "When I found out in June it was the Cleveland Browns, I was fired up to the max. I met Randy on July 2 and signed on August 2."
A quick way to add some revenue to the club is through the aforementioned naming rights. Cleveland Browns Stadium has a loyal, faithful ring to it, but financial sense is financial sense in today's world.
"There will be naming rights," he said. "While I admire and appreciate the Lerner family's decision not to do it, times change. We will definitely change with them."
Other differences will be quick too. Lerner's hands-off, almost reclusive style was unpopular with fervent fans. Haslam intends to have unprecedented interaction with them.
"Wednesday night, we have a practice [open to fans] at the stadium," Haslam said. "It's important for me to be there, greet people, shake hands."
When Cleveland plays its home preseason opener against Philadelphia on Aug. 24, Haslam will sit in the stands.
"I want to feel the fan experience," he said. "I want to see if people have to stand in line, what they like, what they don't. Maybe [the Browns] already do it all fine. We'll see what can improve."
Haslam knows the biggest correction must come on the field. He expects fans to be impatient until it does.
"Our first priority is to win," Haslam said. "My wife said, 'Everybody's so nice to us.' I said, 'We'll see how long that lasts. Let's be realistic.'"