Browns owner Jimmy Haslam promised fans on Tuesday that he’ll still be heavily involved in all aspects of the team — including free agency and the draft — despite reassuming his role as CEO of Pilot Flying J, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.
“I want to assure everybody I’m more excited today about having the opportunity to own the Cleveland Browns — which is a very distinct and rare privilege — as I’ve ever been,” he said in a phone interview. “I still plan on being heavily involved in all key Browns decisions.”
Haslam raised concern with his passionate fan base on Monday when he announced he was returning to his longtime job as CEO of the family truck-stop business, telling his hometown Knoxville Sentinel News, “this is about me realizing my first love is running Pilot J and wanting to return to that job.”
But Haslam said he’ll spend no less time with the Browns despite taking his old job back from former PepsiCo president John Compton, who is now strategic advisor to Pilot Flying J, the Browns and the Haslam family. Haslam turned the CEO role over to Compton on Sept. 11 and became chairman instead.
“My time in Cleveland is not going to change at all,” said Haslam, who has a home in Bratenahl with his wife, Dee, and was named to the Cleveland Clinic board of directors last week. “During the season we’re there a day or two a week and we’re there on weekends or wherever we’re playing. We’ll be very active and very visible during training camp and we’re obviously going to be there a lot during the free agency and draft periods which are obviously so important to the future of the Browns.
“We’re going to be there as much as we need to be to insure success. We feel great about the team we’ve put in place but we’re still going to be highly involved and I think you saw how much we were there from August to December. We’re going to have a big presence in Cleveland.”
Haslam stressed that he’ll still be one of the team’s four decision-makers, along with CEO Joe Banner, coach Rob Chudzinski, and Vice President-Player Personnel Mike Lombardi.
“I probably will not go to the [NFL] combine next week, but I wasn’t planning on going before this so that hasn’t changed anything,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of representatives there. I’ll be [in Cleveland] the day before the combine. We’re going to have an all-day meeting on our free-agent plans. Then I’ll be there after the combine to analyze it and finalize our free agent plans which I believe the key dates are March 12-16.
“The next really two and a half months, with free agency and the draft, are vitally important to the Cleveland Browns and we’re going to be heavily involved.”
He said he’ll help decide on all key player acquisitions in free agency, trades and the draft, April 25-27.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Joe and I had an hour and a half conversation [Monday night]. I was driving back from Nashville after visiting stores all day and we went through where we are on all the key personnel, both coaches, players, etc. and we’ll continue to be very involved.
“I know people always ask who has the final say, and this is going to be a collaborative effort just like we’ve described before.”