Jimmy Haslam says Pilot J woes won't affect Cleveland Browns


BEREA — Team owner Jimmy Haslam, upbeat on the first day of training camp, says the Browns should be judged by how they perform in the last three games rather than how they play against the Dolphins in the season opener.

Haslam wore brown shorts and a gray T-shirt with “Browns” written on the front while addressing the media minutes after training camp opened today. For the first time since his Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., was raided on April 15, he answered questions about the FBI investigation. Although he did not reveal anything, he said he expects a positive outcome from the federal probe into fraud when asked if there is a plan in place for him or his family to hold ownership of the team should he be indicted.

“Our style is to be very transparent and open,” Haslam said. “When the government investigation happened on April 15, one of the very first calls we made was to the NFL. We were in constant contact with them. They have been very supportive in working with us. We’re very optimistic on the outcome.”

Haslam said he will not allow the investigation to become a distraction. Five of his former employees pleaded guilty to their part in the fraud scheme. He also said the money he has lost doling out checks to the defrauded trucking companies will not deter him from spending money on the Browns.

“I said this on Aug. 3 (last year) — we’re committed to owning the Browns for a long period of time,” Haslam said. “I understand in Cleveland there’s a great deal of uncertainty because of past history, but the fans should not worry. Our family is going to own this asset for a long time.

“There is absolutely no worry about cash flow. If there was, we wouldn’t be doing the things we were in Berea (renovating team headquarters), we wouldn’t have signed free agents and we wouldn’t be talking about doing the things we are at the stadium.

“We want to be successful as quickly as we can, but we want to build a long-term vision here.”

The Browns are 19-45 over the last four seasons. They were 5-11 last year. Haslam said his goal is to improve and be consistently good.

“Your question … is how many games, right?” Haslam said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put it that way because there are injuries, breaks … Mike (General Manager Mike Lombardi) and Joe (CEO Joe Banner) and I had a long meeting today. We’ll know at the end of the year if we’re a better football team than at the end of last year and better than at the first of this year. We’ll all know that.

“How badly do we want to win the first game?’ We all understand the importance of that. What really counts is how we perform in the last three games versus how we perform in the first three games. And are we a better team at the end of the year than we were at the first of the year. I think that’s important to all teams and particularly for young teams.”

The Browns finish the season hosting the Bears on Dec. 15 followed by road games against the Jets and Steelers.