Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, February 20, 2015

If only he'd been owner of the Cleveland Browns

I worry about the Cleveland Browns.

I know I’m wasting my time because there are people at The News-Herald, Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and a handful of TV stations who get paid to worry about the Browns. I do it for nothing.

But I can’t help myself because the Browns have been close to my heart since 1946. That is a lot longer than anyone now associated with the Browns. The current management was probably not even born then, and that is part of the problem.

The football team and its environment are now called “toxic” and “dysfunctional” and worse. Those are strong words. It will take a lot of work plus moving in the right direction to overcome those negative terms.

But the management has brought the ill will upon itself, and it will not be easy to make a correction.

Let’s go back to 1946. The Browns were a brand-new team in town, replacing the Rams, who won a world championship in 1945 and then moved to Los Angeles.

The owner of the new Browns was Arthur (Mickey) McBride, who owned a cab company.

He hired Paul Brown to run the team and coach it and then left him alone to do his thing. Brown was spectacular in both roles. His team, with Otto Graham at quarterback, played in 10 title games in 10 years, with only three disappointing losses (to the Rams and Lions) marring an otherwise unblemished string of championships.

McBride didn’t tell Brown how to run the team, and he didn’t send text messages to the bench during games.

That, of course, was a few years before texting. But he didn’t even send handwritten notes. In fact, his main contribution was the term “cab squad” which was used to designate players who were not on the active roster.

The Browns moved smoothly into the National Football League, won their first league game against the Eagles in 1950, and won the world championship that year by beating the Rams 30-28 thanks to the toe of Lou Groza.

The Browns continued to be one of the greatest teams ever in professional football. But then along came the 1960s. A guy named Art Modell took control of the team, Paul Brown had utter disdain for Modell (Brown, a former college quarterback, said he would take Modell seriously if he ever put on a jock strap), and in 1962 a petulant Modell fired Brown.

That was the beginning of the end for the Browns. They won one more championship, but it was with a coach (Blanton Collier) hired by Brown.

The bottom dropped out after the 1995 season, when Modell called it quits in Cleveland and moved the team to Baltimore.

The league soon figured out it was a horrible mistake to leave the city without a team, so it gave Cleveland an “expansion” team, which had no owners.

That was when current mess began. The league made another horrible mistake and awarded the franchise to Al Lerner, a billionaire, a Marine and probably a very nice man. But he knew nothing about football, so he hired others to run the team for him.

That added to the mess, so he turned the team over to his son, Randy, who knew a little about soccer and nothing about football.

The mess continued. Randy threw up his hands in surrender, sold the team to billionaire Jimmy Haslam, and the mess goes on.

A monumental mistake was made when the NFL awarded the franchise to Lerner 1999. That was a goof of world class proportions. The league fouled up big time.

What I have said so far is factual. Now I will insert my own opinion for what it is worth – perhaps nothing.

There were other bidders besides Lerner. In on the bidding action was a syndicate that included my good friend Bill Sanford.

Bill is the guy who, along with four other people, started STERIS in Mentor. He is a business and organizational genius. If you are not aware of the impact of STERIS on the area and on the overall economy, you have not paid attention.

(I did hour-long TV interviews with Bill and two of his partners in the founding of the company, Mike Keresman and the late Ray Kralovic. They are still shown from time to time on the Lakeland Community College cable channel.)

Brilliant businessmen does not begin to describe the talented founders of STERIS.

Bill was aching to become an owner of the Browns. I am certain he would have been a huge success. (He knows a little more about football that the average owner. He went to college on a football scholarship before becoming a great success in business.)

I still watch those interviews at home from time to time. Maybe I should send copies to the NFL.

But that would serve no useful purpose. Of this I am certain, however: If Bill and his group had gotten ownership of the Browns, you wouldn’t see terms like “toxic” being thrown around.

More likely it would be “Super Bowl Champions.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Sanford didn't get the franchise because he was outbid by Lerner. . . I don't think the other NFL owners who accepted the highest bid would call that a "horrible mistake." .Second, Al Lerner didn't turn over the franchise to Randy Randy assumed ownership of the Browns by inheritance after his father died.. . . .Randy had no interest in running the Browns, either while his father was alive or after . . . .

February 22, 2015 at 9:15 AM 
Blogger Joseph Barmess said...

I was born in 1947 and raised in Cleveland, now living in Pickerington, a suburb of Columbus. When I first began an interest in football I asked my dad how good are the Browns. He told me they were the Yankees of football. Sadly that era is long gone and only a memory to those who knew the Browns glory years. I attended the 1964 Championship Game won by the Browns 27-0 over the Baltimore Colts. I still have the program, ticket stubs, and Jim Brown's and Lou Groza's autographs on the cover. The story of the purchase of the Browns upon their return reminds me of the sad day Vernon Stouffer sold the Indians to Nick Milleti instead of George Steinbrenner. I do believe that some of the blame for the Brown's demise has to be borne by Cleveland's "City Fathers" who failed to support the Browns, Art Modell, and the Stadium Corporation while at the same time facilitating new venues for both the Indians and the Cavaliers. It is sad to see such a lack of continuity in management of our returned Browns coupled with a horrific waste of draft choices, principally used to obtain a host of quarterbacks who have not lived up to their supposed potential. Instead, we need to find a good quarterback and then build a winning team around him. As examples I remember Frank Ryan, Bill Nelson, and Brian Sipe were very good and successful quarterbacks who were not drafted high but obtained thru trades who led the Browns to several winning years. I only fear that continued mediocrity by the Browns will lead to decreased attendance and again make the Browns vulnerable to another move out of Cleveland.

February 25, 2015 at 9:13 PM 

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