Firing Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner: What really happened?

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Shawn Starr

Editor In Chief at Dawg Pound Nation
Shawn is the Editor in Chief and Evil Mastermind behind DPN's meteoric rise to prominence.He's a lifelong Browns fan, Army Medical NCO, husband to a women far too good for him, and dad to 4 kids.
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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.

Shawn is an Army Sergeant, Husband to @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns writer. You can follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or the page @DawgPoundNews

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  • Anonymous

    Great info here, and kudos for being at the forefront of all of this. Only critique: it's HaslAm, not HaslEm.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks! I skipped our editor on this, to my own chagrin. I think I got them all corrected now, haha.

  • http://yougottabetough.wordpress.com Bub

    Amazing stuff right here. Blogging about this situation almost seems pointless after reading this article. Great work on this boys!

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks so much brother, much appreciated!

  • Anonymous

    Cleveland needs more investigative reporting like this.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thank you!

    • Anonymous

      Truth! I love original articles that have depth and an underlying intelligent touch. Better than any other copy and paste hack job mkc could ever slap together.

      • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

        MKC… sigh. She hates me/us. I never really got why, since we're so small compared to her audience, but… well. I just had to take a shot at her in this one, because I swear to God her little article about the love fest in Berea was a direct response to our first post about Lombardi being in jeopardy.

  • dwest515@msn.com

    While most of this seems very logical, I highly doubt the NFL required Banner as part of the Deal. There have been many other owners with virtually NO Football experienced (unlike Haslem), who were not required to bring on a CEO. Think someone recommended Banner and Jimmy bought into it……as he said in the first place. So I think that part of this is a push. The rest however make sense.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Eh. While I get your point, and truthfully, I can't give you hard evidence of it, I trust the source. The same source who helped us break this thing open last week. Still, your questions on it are valid.

  • http://gravatar.com/txpatsfan77 txpatsfan77

    "But, I can’t help but feel like the good guys won this round."

    Not sure Haslam counts as one of the good guys. . . .

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Compared to Lombardi and Banner, I'd have to side with Haslam. Especially if the gossip on Lombardi's behavior towards lady staff members has any validity.

    • Anonymous

      Here we go again another chapter.would be nice to be stable for a change LP

  • Jon

    So since Lombardi I heard really liked Manziel, does that mean they'll still draft him or draft another QB like Bortles?

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      That's the new rumor, but it's early. We should get a better idea of the Browns draft plan in the coming weeks.

  • http://www.aaleil.com Osiris

    Nice article! I had posted over at browns board in January that I would not be surprised if Haslam fired Banner and Lombardi and promoted Farmer to GM once he had a new head coach in place, and so it has happened. The things that tipped me off in addition to Lombardi's strange absence from all GM-like duties (like the Senior Bowl and all press conferences) was the extent to which Banner appeared nervous even in the Chud firing press conference. It also seemed interesting the amount of play Farmer was getting in the media, almost as if people were feeding stories about him to increase his visibility. I also thought it was extremely strange how silent this front office was during the coaching search, whereas we saw healthier organizations were regularly updating fans/media about their search.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Them building Farmer up in public was really what settled it for me. I went from about 70% sure the change was coming to 100% bet the house on it sure.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great insight. I truly think you should apply apply for Mary's or grossis Jobs.. They are both worthless reporters for the browns

  • Troy G

    Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner…you have failed this city…..(in my best Oliver Queen voice from the show Arrow)

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Haha nice.

  • cory

    Hreat article finally we get the truth hopefully we can turn this franchise around haslam took over the flying j after his father started it so he got a lil bit of business since even tho he was under investigation

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    MKC was Lombardi's mouthpiece. Every time something negative came out, she provided his spin. The "Three Stooges" stuff stuck a little too much for Jimmy's liking. Of course that's because there was a lot of truth in it.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      She really kills me. The press should serve their readers interest, not the team they cover, in my opinion.

  • michael

    Of all the articles I have read today (and I have read a great deal of them), this was definitely the most informative and original. You have now gained a follower! Great work

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks so much!

  • http://carter54.wordpress.com carter54

    Do you know why Jim Tressel never got a interview?

  • http://carter54.wordpress.com carter54

    Do you know why Cleveland never interviewed Jim Tressel

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Not why per se, but he was never viewed as a legit candidate by the FO. If they had interviewed him though, they would have essentially been forced to hire him, or get shredded by the fans.

  • Ron Wagner

    The most insightful and honest article regarding the Browns front office that I've read in years! Thanks.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks Ron, I very much appreciate the kind words.

  • Kp

    Good job Shawn…you picked up a follower.

  • Paul

    You've got another new follower. Keep up the great work and thanks for your service to our country.

  • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

    Thanks Paul. I appreciate your support, for the blog and our military.

  • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

    Thank you! Very much appreciated.

  • Mike T

    You've got a new fan right here, great article. I've heard so many different things today on local sports talk stations and none of them were as solid as this. I listen to local sports talk whenever I am driving and never heard any one mention how Haslam got married to Banner since ownership changed hands.

    I dont have a Twitter account, but you've inspired me to start one and youll be the first ones I "follow"

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks so much Mike, I appreciate it. It's funny, I actually started my Twitter account during the last coaching search (post Shurmur) because a friend said it was the fastest way to get the news. It's really handy, as it turns out. Anyhow, welcome and thanks for the support!

  • Mike

    Great piece!!! Any "idea" as to who the infamous mystery coaching candidate was? Also in conjunction with your piece I think Alec shiener is tied into this as well. He hires and asst gm and president to replace his spoon fed gm and CEO. Struck me as leading to this all along.

    • Tony

      Gary Anderson of Wisconsin

      • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

        Yeah, originally we thought it was Schiano, which it may be, but it does seem that Mary Kay is reporting that it's Gary Anderson now.

  • Kevin Less

    Kevin Costner would be an upgrade over Banner and Lombardi when it comes to evaluating a drafting talent.

  • https://www.facebook.com/queeniez71 Bobbie Zahorodnij

    Great article!! New fan here as well!!

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks Bobbie, much appreciated!

  • https://www.facebook.com/diane.lincoln.5 Diane Lincoln

    What happened yesterday made my day. I said2 weeks ago the best move the Browns could make was to get rid of those 2 clowns. my dog knows more about football than those 2. I feel this year is going to be a better year for all of us. GO BROWNS!

  • http://NFL.wordpress.com devereaux frazier

    Not sure what the firing shows outside of the Browns are the most dysfunctional franchise in NFL History.

    Check out my blog and tell me what you think, thanks!

  • http://NFL.wordpress.com devereaux frazier

    Despite being a HUGE Chiefs fan, I am a big fan of the Browns. I really hope they make Hoyer starter so they can actually have a winning season and maybe people will respect them. I drafted Josh Gordon in fantasy last year and I got laughed at because I drafted a suspended player, but they weren't laughing when he went on his run and I was beating people down to the core, along with, suprisingly, Billy Cundiff. Yes, I will actually consider drafting him over JC.

  • https://www.facebook.com/ajcohen03 Andrew Cohen

    not one source is named there, so have to be wary about a lot of what was written.

    "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."

    As someone who worked with Lombardi at the time of his hiring at NFL Films, I know for a fact his hiring was not set in stone (and almost fell through two days before)

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Protecting sources, as I'm sure most agree, is paramount. I kind of hate using the word "source", but it is what it is.

      I can see that, though I hadn't heard it before. Still, I have it from a very reliable person that Lombardi was directly involved with the Chud hiring.

  • http://twitter.com/stewati stewati (@stewati)

    Nice article. Very intelligently written. You are a really good writer.

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Thanks so much for the kind words!

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  • KoolAidNinja

    Interesting read!! Please keep the info coming. I'm anxious to see how the draft pans out – especially with Haslam making bold choices like the above mentioned.

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  • Big dave's Delu

    Shawn thanks for the inside information. It makes sense to me. There were some interviews that Jimmy never even went to but he spent a lot of time with Mike. I actually like Mike and think that he is a fresh presence in Berea. I think Jimmy was tired of being embarrassed by his NFL mandated employees. But then again I still think the NFL is punishing Browns fans for embarrassing the NFL following the Baltimore move. The NFL set the Browns back by the deadlines they imposed. The Browns needed one more full year to get a qualified staff together yet they had to do it all in a few months. Curiously, Lombardi was just hired by the Patriots?

    • http://poundofsadness.wordpress.com Shawn Starr

      Any time Dave! And yeah, I'm a fan of coach Pettine. Seems like a tough, honest guy.

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