Browns Principal and Managing Partners Dee and Jimmy Haslam (4.27.21)

 

 

Opening statement:

Dee Haslam: “We are really happy to see everybody – you kind of are all really small [on Zoom] (laughter) – really excited to be with you today. Obviously, just a great week. We could not be more fired up about the draft here at the Browns but also just hosting the draft here in Cleveland. Just a great community, the national exposure has just been tremendous. It is so much fun to wake up and watch Good Morning Football and hear them nonstop talking about Cleveland. That is just the best thing and to see the beautiful views. Of course, it is so nice to be able to celebrate our great weather here in Northeast Ohio. Hopefully, that continues through the rest of the week. I could not talk about the draft without thanking Mayor Frank Jackson for just the tremendous job the city has done helping us get the draft, and also, (Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland President & CEO) David Gilbert and Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission for all of the hard work they have done for this. It is just tons of volunteers and lots of people who have worked tirelessly to pull off this event. It is absolutely stunning. Of course, we have to thank the NFL and the entire staff there that are putting on a great show. Very excited to be hosting the draft this week.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “Thanks, Dee. We would be remiss if we did not thank the frontline workers who for the last 15 months have just done a tremendous job and will be appropriately recognized at the draft by having great seats, which they so richly deserve, and at the same time, to encourage everyone out there in Ohio and across the county who have not gotten their vaccine to do so. Dee and I are fully vaccinated. Our entire senior business team is. Our entire coaching staff is. We are strong believers in the vaccine and feel really strongly, and we tell everybody, whether it is family members, players, coaches or people we work with in business, we encourage them strongly to get the vaccine. Obviously, excited about the work that (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry) AB, (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta) have done in getting us ready for the draft. I will tell you, it is a lot. Although, we are glad to be where we are, it is a lot harder to pick at 26 than at 1, 4, 10, 15, 16 or some of the places we picked in the past. We are excited to see what our team can deliver.”

 

On joking that Berry said they would tell media who the Browns plan to pick at No.26:

Jimmy Haslam: “I do not think Andrew said that (laughter).”

 

On how different it is for the Browns to pick at the end of the first round as opposed to earlier:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think it is different because you are picking at 26 versus, like I said a couple of times, we have picked at one, both times we knew what we were going to do, at four and 10, etc. There is a tremendous number of great college players like there always are, but there is a reason the NFL has you select in reverse order to how you finish. It would be nice if you could finish high and pick high, but it does not work that way. Andrew and team have been working hard literally since the season has been over. We know they are well-prepared and ready to go.”

 

On Cleveland being showcased as a light to the world as a sense of getting closer to normalcy and the pride of the city having the opportunity to do it:

Dee Haslam: “Absolutely. Now, all of the safety protocols are in place. We have a vaccinated area. We feel very confident that we can pull off the event safely. I do think it is going to give people some excitement to get out. There are a lot of people I know who are planning on tailgating, coming downtown and experiencing the draft like they would normally experience a game, even though they are not going to be up close to the stage but just want to experience it. We encourage people to do that – social distance, of course – but I think it is going to be a tremendous time in Cleveland and lots of fun.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “The great thing about the draft is it is free. As Dee mentioned, there are still some COVID limitations out there, but anybody can come to the draft – you [do need] a ticket, and it is free. We know with the tremendous love of football, particularly the NFL, that our fans and everybody has in Northeast Ohio, we will have a great turnout. We are really happy, as Dee mentioned, for our fans, for NFL fans and obviously, for the City of Cleveland, which will be front row to the nation the next several days.”

 

Dee Haslam: “You actually need a ticket for the vaccinated area [and NFL Experience]. You can come down to enjoy the rest of the environment, of course.”

 

On Cleveland hosting the draft with COVID-19 restrictions and if there is optimism the Browns and the city may be able to attract another draft in the near future following a successful event this year:

Dee Haslam: “That would be our hope. We are doing a great job. I think we are going to have a great crowd down there – obviously, not near what we would of had if it been completely open – but I do think we are being smart about it. We are being careful and smart and starting out with the size that we think we can handle. Like I said, the city is going to be open. There are going to be lots of areas to go to enjoy the draft so you do not necessarily have to be right up on the stage. I do think it is a great example of what you can do. Our hope is that it opens up Cleveland not just for the draft but people see what a great place it is for all kinds of events. We think it just showcases Cleveland terrifically.”

 

On the potential future for the area north of FirstEnergy Stadium on the lakefront now that the warehouses have been removed:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think there are a couple of issues: one, in a lot of ways having a stadium on the lake is great. On the other hand, ingress, egress and parking are less than ideal. What we hope over a period of time – there are preliminary plans underway – is to connect downtown to the lakefront in a much better, more convenient way, both particularly for pedestrians but also for cars. We hope this will further the opening up to the lakefront. We will leave what should be developed down there to others, but I think we would all agree that better ingress and egress to that area will help FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns and all the events we have there and will help develop that area.”

 

Dee Haslam: “Just opening the whole area of Lake Erie to the entire community and to the city. It is beautiful and somewhat blocked off. This is going to be a showcase of Lake Erie, and having these events there is going to provide some opportunity for other people. We are excited about it.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “Dee and I were down there last night. I am sure most of you all have been down there, too. It looks outstanding. As Dee says, it gives the city a completely different look than we have had before.”

 

On the inspiration hosting the draft has for Haslam Sports Group to draw additional major sports and entertainment events to Cleveland:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think everybody knows we are all in on Cleveland and have been for quite some time. I do not know that it benefits our sports group as much as it does. It is really an event that we play – the Browns and Haslam Sports Group – play a small role in. The City of Cleveland, the Sports Commission and the NFL play a huge role. I said this earlier, we are just really happy that really we believe the greatest football fans in the world get to see the draft hosted in their home city, whether they come down to the event or get to watch it on TV. Dee and I sat down after dinner last night and watched the NFL (Network) channel – I am sure you all have all done it – and just seeing all of these great shots of Cleveland, whether they are from the river, from the lake or downtown is great for this area.”

 

On the team’s aspirations to reach the Super Bowl next season or soon, following the team’s success last season:

Jimmy Haslam: “Listen, everybody wants to get to the Super Bowl – that is the ultimate goal – and to win the Super Bowl. We as much as or probably more than anybody understand how competitive and hard the NFL is. I am not sure if anyone else has shared this, but Kevin’s opening talk to the team, if you remember after we lost that tough game to the Chiefs back on Jan. 17 – everybody, (DE) Myles (Garrett), (QB) Baker (Mayfield) and everybody said, ‘We will be back,’ and we all want to hear that – Kevin flashed up either the last two or three years, five of the teams that made the playoffs did not make it back. Half of the teams that were in the playoffs the previous years did not make it the next year. I can assure you we all understand how hard it is to win in the NFL. I know our coaching staff, support staff and I believe our players will go in with that type of mindset because it is a tough, hard [league]. We have a tough schedule this year. We play in a tough division. As Kevin says, we have to work hard to get to where we need to go.”

 

On was most impressive about Stefanski in 2020, when Stefanski was named NFL Coach of the Year:

Jimmy Haslam: “I would say just how unbelievably [even-keel he is]. Being an NFL head coach is one of the hardest management jobs I think, there is in the country. To do it during COVID-19 is almost unimaginable how difficult it is. He was the same – you guys dealt with him in your press conferences – even-keel, steady person. Even the first week of the first time we had been in the playoffs in 20 years and he did not get to participate, he was his same even-keel, calm self the whole time. To do that in a normal NFL season is really tough. To do it in a season when you are battling COVID-19 is remarkable. I think that speaks a lot to the person Kevin is and the kind of makeup he has.”

 

Dee Haslam: “He was not calm watching that [AFC Wild Card at Pittsburgh] game after the reports we got (laughter). He is extremely organized. He is smart. Like Jimmy said, he is unflappable. I think his characteristics are just perfect for Cleveland and as a head coach. We could not be more excited about last year and this year. Very excited about Kevin and what he is doing.”

 

On the most gratifying and fun part of the 2020 season:

Dee Haslam: “Jimmy and I talked about it. It was really hard – every game, I think, we aged 10 years, and we are pretty old already so that was tough (laughter). It was a lot of pressure. It was a lot of pressure. It was really, really exciting. We look back on the season with a lot of great memories. I do not know how it was for all of you, but I thought every game was very tense.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “I would just say to see how happy our players and coaches were. You all know how hard the players and coaches work, how long the season is, the hours they put in, the ups and downs and the injuries, and last year, the COVID situation. Just to see how happy they were when we won games, won a lot of games, beat Pittsburgh to make it to the playoffs and beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Just to see how happy and gratified they were was at least to me by far the most satisfying part.”

 

On if it was difficult not having all of the fans at FirstEnergy Stadium last year:

Jimmy Haslam: “I just think that last game… I remember (former Browns T) Joe Thomas telling me late in his career, ‘I just want to play in a game in late December or January that is meaningful.’ We got to do that. It was Jan. 3, the last regular season game at home, playing our archrival to make the playoffs for the first time in many, many years. We had fans there, and they were great and they were vocal, but not to have 68,000 there and have it rocking was a disappointment, but it was the same thing when we went to Pittsburgh the next week and won. For our fans who have waited so long to see a winning season and then to make the playoffs, yeah, it is disappointing, but they are going to get the chance this year to come to nine home games – nine home regular season games.”

 

On if one of the Browns home games may be played in London this season, given the team was scheduled to play overseas last season:

Jimmy Haslam: “I do not think we are playing overseas this year. I do not think anybody is because of COVID. I think the NFL has announced that there will be four games out of the country, and it will be rotated. I think going forward – it used to be teams that wanted to give up a home game or had been promised a new stadium or a new Super Bowl – and I think it is going to rotate evenly and it will come off of the group that has nine home games, if you will. To answer your question, there will not be any in 2021.”

 

On if the Draft Main Stage will remain following the event or be removed:

Dee Haslam: “I think pretty much disassembled. I heard somebody else ask that question, and I was like, ‘I have not heard anything.’ I am pretty sure they put it up to take it down fairly quickly.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “It is huge, and it is impressive. I happened to drive by it yesterday, and they were showing (RB) Nick Chubb running for a touchdown. Hell, I got fired up just seeing that.”

 

On what they are most pleased with about the team right now heading into 2021:

Dee Haslam: “I think you saw it last year. It took every game. On Monday, they would start all over with a new week, left the last game behind and worked really hard. I think they have that mindset that every game counts, every game is important and let’s take it a game at a time to get through the season. I think you will see that going into this year and they will do the same thing and really focus without getting too ahead of themselves or too distracted.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “I would say how well everybody has worked together. That is something we obviously struggled with early on and the ‘alignment’ has been obviously really positive going into last season, working through COVID and obviously this offseason. I will just reiterate what I said. Dee and I were elated at how well we played late in the year, making the playoffs and winning a playoff game but way, way more stoked and happy for everybody who works in the organization because they do the real work, the hard work, whether that be coaches, players, scouts or business side. You could see how happy everybody was, even in a COVID-like environment, which was tremendously gratifying.”

 

On the Columbus Crew winning the MLS Cup after saving the Crew from a potential move to Austin and what the equivalent would be like for the Browns and their fans:

Dee Haslam: “I think Cleveland should take credit for saving the soccer team in Columbus because we heard all of the stories about what it was like to lose a team, and I think that got our attention in Columbus. Having a pro team in a city is just a big deal. Columbus to lose its soccer team would have been crushing. Look, we did not know anything about soccer. We really did not. We have always been a football family. Our daughter played goalie, but beyond that, we did know what offside meant or what happened then. We did not know anything. To buy a soccer team, we will probably ill-prepared for it, but did learn to get really great people involved in the organization. We were fortunate enough to do that. Winning the MLS Cup was just a tremendous honor. I cannot tell you how exciting that was. We were so stunned and so excited – still excited. We are opening a new stadium down there in June, and that is going to be an exciting thing. Before we open the stadium, we are having the ring ceremony. A lot of exciting things are coming forward with that. Really important for Columbus, the community and Ohio. It is a great team, and it is really important for the community. Nothing unifies the community like sports so very excited to be a part of that story down there.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “I would just say the same thing Dee articulated well with what we said about the Browns’ success is soccer organizations are smaller. I think you have 25 players total on your roster and really probably 15 of them play regularly, and instead of having a coaching staff of 25, it is probably 25 percent of that size. To see the excitement in our players, our coaches and our personnel guys that night down on the field, and it was really intimate because we had 3,000 or 4,000 people there and just us down on the field. I take Dee and I out of the equation, but it was the people responsible for bringing a MLS Championship to Columbus for the second time and to see how happy they were is just really rewarding.”

 

On Mayfield’s performance last season, the Browns picking up Mayfield’s fifth-year option and if the team would ideally extend Mayfield’s contract this offseason:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think we are all pleased to see the growth in Baker last year both as a player and as a leader. We all understand how important quarterback is in the NFL. We were delighted to see that. Baker deserves a fifth-year option, and he and Andrew have both addressed the possibility of things after that. We will leave that up to Andrew to decide when that happens, but we are well pleased with where Baker is. I will be honest, we are really excited to see what Kevin – Dee and I happened to walk down the steps with (offensive coordinator) Alex Van Pelt) – AVP and Baker, and if you think about it, we have our entire offense back and we have our entire coaching staff back, except one of our offensive quality control individuals who went to be a coach at Yale. To have that type of continuity, which we started to get here, on offense going into this second year with Kevin and Baker, we are really excited to see.”

 

On the significance of Berry and Stefanski being committed to developing staff members:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think it is outstanding. Dee and I are both involved in businesses on the outside, and I will say this, we have learned watching them – down to the details of having our position coaches be interviewed – practice interviewed, if you will – to be coordinators and our coordinators practice interviewed to be head coaches, and the same with some of our key personnel people. You won’t just see Andrew or Andrew and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta) this weekend. You will see a lot of the personnel group up on stage answering questions. That is obviously an opportunity for you to get to know them but also for them to develop. Both of them are outstanding. Both Kevin and Andrew are outstanding at that. Paul in his normal behind the scenes way is great about planning and thinking through those. We give them high, high marks for that practice. You saw it with the players this year – we haven’t always been in this situation – where, ‘Hey, I want to come play here. I like the environment. I think they can win.’ I do not think it will be any different for coaches or personnel people.”

 

On if it is ‘almost like you can sleep better at night knowing’ the team has leaders in Berry and Stefanski who seem to be in position to remain with the team for an extended period of time:

Jimmy Haslam: “I think you said it well – just take out almost and you got it (laughter).”

 

Dee Haslam: “What is so great about those two individuals is just how well they work together, with all of us and with everybody in the organization. They are very collaborative, and they are just great to work with.”

 

On if there is anything in particular about Berry or Stefanski that surprised them or has stood out to them so far:

Dee Haslam “Well, they are really, really, really smart – it did not surprise us. It is nice to have that around. They are really smart.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “We had all known Andrew, but we had never seen him as the top person. He was 33 when he first became GM, and he is 34 now. To see him at such a young age take control of our personnel group and lead it the way he did, and the same thing with Kevin… Kevin had been with the organization for 12-13 years and had never been a head coach anywhere. Yet, if you came to practice that first day or heard his first talk to the team, you would never think, ‘Well, I can tell this guy is new.’ They both stepped right in, they are natural leaders, they are very calm, they are thoughtful, and they plan and organize things well. I do not want to say it was a surprise because we had our expectations, but they surpassed expectations in terms of becoming the top person in personnel and the head coach in the NFL.”

 

Dee Haslam: “Yeah, great leaders.”

 

On discussions between the NFL and NFLPA about the offseason program and if there is an expectation that players will attend in-person mandatory minicamps later this offseason:

Jimmy Haslam: “We are hopeful. First of all, we are pleased to have one of our leaders (C JC Tretter) be the leader of the Players Association. The second thing I think we would say is that – I do not want to speak for all of the owners or all of the players – we are partners in this, and I think it is a partnership that has worked really well. It worked well to form the last CBA, which is going to last for the next nine or 10 years now. I think working together collectively, we will work through it. If you think about it, we played 256 games and did not miss a game, working in a very fluid situation, and I mean this as a positive, made up the rules as we went and changed the rules. I feel confident we will work through whatever we need to work through this spring in a way to set us up to have another great NFL season, which I think is what everybody in America wants to see.”

 

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