Managing and Principals Partners Dee and Jimmy Haslam (7.24.23)

Opening statements:

Dee Haslam: “Welcome, everybody. We’re really happy to have you here at the Greenbrier. I mean, this is such a perfect place to kind of kick off our season and have all of our players together and spend 24/7 really bonding together is such a great way to start our season. But really appreciate you being here.”

Jimmy Haslam: “Good to see everybody. And I think first, I guess Kevin (Stefanski) and then Andrew (Berry), I think they’ve laid the good base for what is going on in the football world. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t say how proud were of Deshaun (Watson) yesterday. He has come a long way in the last year and has worked extremely hard on being a better person, a better man, and a better teammate. I think all of us have gone through ups and downs in life, and I think, you know, you learn a lot more when you go through the downs. I think you see a different Deshaun Watson today than you saw a year ago. So we have been witnessing that all along. It was good. He did a tremendous job in the team meeting on Saturday night and I thought a nice job with you all yesterday. So we’ll be glad to answer any questions you have.”

 

Jimmy, how has he (Deshaun Watson) come a long way? 

Jimmy Haslam: “I think personal development. I think he has learned a lot about himself and what he can and can’t do. I think he’s learned who you can trust and who you can’t trust. I think Deshaun has always been humble. I think he’s even more humble. And I’ll be honest, I think the time away from football, the time away from teammates, et cetera, he now values that more than he ever has – not that he didn’t before. And you can see Deshaun, who’s always been a leader and last year was in an awkward scenario – was he going to be here? Was he not going to be here? Jacoby (Brissett) was a pretty good leader in his own right. He was kind of in never ever land, and this year you can see him emerging as a team leader. He’s definitely one of the hardest workers on the team, so we’re excited.”

 

You suggested last year that with counseling, you might see the allegations against him differently. So a year later, do you think that’s the case? Have you asked him if that’s the case? 

Dee Haslam: “No. He spends a lot of time in counseling and I leave all that to the professionals. His counselor, evidently, he’s grown really close to. I think he has said over and over, I have learned so much, and hopefully he’ll continue to grow through that process.”

 

Jimmy, do you consider this kind of like the first official year of the Watson era with the team? 

Jimmy Haslam: “That’s probably fair to say, Tony (Grossi). I mean, last year was tough, right? It was tough on all of us. And Deshaun it was certainly the toughest on him, tough on our coaching staff, tough on our players. Big adjustment between Jacoby and Deshaun. I think that’s fair to say. Might be the first time we’ve agreed.”

 

The roster is loaded with talent. You guys made a massive investment into this team. Is this kind of a now or never year? 

Jimmy Haslam: “I think Mary Kay (Cabot) asked me the same question at the spring meetings. I think it’s really dangerous to say now or never. The NFL is unbelievably competitive, and our division, I mean, just Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, us –most people think it’s the toughest division. So do we feel the best about our rosters we have going into this year? Do I think Andrew and Paul (DePodesta) and Kevin have done a great job? We do. Are we excited about this year? Yes. To say it’s now or never, I think it’d be grossly unfair, but we’re excited about the year.”

 

How do you feel like your relationships with Andrew and Kevin have grown over these last three plus years? 

Jimmy Haslam: “Relationships take time, right? And so we’re now entering our fourth year, and so that’s a positive. And I’ll be honest, what we went through last year and really the whole Deshaun decision-making process. And then working through what was the punishment going to be and then working through that was difficult. I think as a team when you go through something like that, you either become stronger and closer or you splinter apart. And I can definitely say with us it’s important.”

 

Is there a dividing line where one side is a reasonable expectation, the other side is not acceptable this year?

Jimmy Haslam: “What I would say is, I think you all know Andrew and Kevin pretty well. We obviously know them better because we work with them every day and work with them closely. They have incredibly high expectations for themselves and I’m comfortable with their expectations themselves. I really am. I mean, these guys are winners. They’ve been winners before. They’ve done well in everything they’ve done. They expect to do well. Our assistant coaches expect to do well. Our players expect to do well and we’ll leave it at that.”

 

Doing well can not necessarily mean the playoffs?

Jimmy Haslam: “I’m not going to go there, Tony. That’s not fair to anybody who can do that. Could be extremely extenuating circumstances. I’ll just say we’re all excited about this year.”

 

Can you or how do you take the record out of the equation when you evaluate?

Jimmy Haslam: “The record will come into play. It’s not just Kevin or Andrew or Paul, it’s us too. The record will come into play at some point in time. How much you weigh it, I wouldn’t want to say. Are we playing well at the end of the year? Did we have injuries? How do we feel about our momentum? I was sitting here thinking the other day, it’s what is it? Six and a half weeks till our first game, and our last game is something like January 10 – our last regular season game. We hope to play after that. It’s a long, long season, okay. Long, long season”

 

Jimmy, how did you decide to come back with Kevin? You had back to back losing seasons.

Jimmy Haslam: “It was an easy decision.”

 

The other part there, you did change both coordinators? 

Jimmy Haslam: “We changed two of the three coordinators, yeah. It was an easy decision. There was never a thought not to bring Kevin back. We like him. I think he’s a good coach. He proved it in the first year, he did a tremendous job. Second year we had some bumps and bruises with Baker (Mayfield) and his injury, et cetera. And last year was just – it was difficult. I mean, you have all been here two days now. Listen, I’m not saying things are easy. They’re not, Terry (Pluto), you’ve been around this a long time, but we’re in a much better position just overall than we were last year.”

 

Jimmy, with the roster, with this being the best roster that you guys have ever had in your ownership tenure and probably the best coaching staff from top to bottom, doesn’t it stand to reason that expectations would be greater, that the bar would be set a little bit higher for this season? 

Jimmy Haslam: “Absolutely. I’m not saying the expectations aren’t high. I’m just not going to draw a line for you. That’s what they are. They’re high. All of us have high expectations. Everybody that works for the Browns that’s here has high expectations today. Okay?”

 

Where do things stand with the stadium?

Dee Haslam: “We’re really working hard with the city and the county and the state to work out a plan to continue to develop and remodel our stadium on the lakefront. So we’re working through it. I mean, it’s really complex, really hard, a lot of details and we look forward to continuing our conversations with the city on how we develop the lakefront. We think we’re an integral part of the lakefront, a really important part, and we want to be part of the process.”

 

The state funding for the land bridge that you guys would like to see built got taken out this time around. How does that project affect your calculus in regard to the stadium because you want to develop around it? And would you still be open to building a new stadium on an alternate site if that doesn’t come together? 

Dee Haslam: “Number one, we want to continue to have the conversations about how we remodel the stadium and stay vibrant on the lakefront. We think it’s really critical for the community. The lakefront is just an important process. Outside of us, the lakefront in Cleveland has to be developed. You need a vibrant city. That’s a really important part of who Cleveland should be. I think the connection bridge needs to happen. Regardless of what happens with our stadium, that has to happen.”

 

So right now a new stadium just is not in the talks?

Dee Haslam: “I think it’s premature to say that because we’re really focused on staying in downtown on the lakefront, but I can’t predict what’s going to happen because it’s really complex.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “I would say this – let me just say one thing, Dee said it well. These are big, complex projects, okay? They’re going to be a public-private partnership, okay? And getting that right is not easy. We do have experience from having done it down in Columbus and did it quickly, and that was not easy. It was done during COVID et cetera. But a brand new stadium, sells out every game, All-Star game there. There’s going to be substantial multifamily retail and office development around it. That’s ended up being a win. These things take time. The only thing Dee and I would say for sure is we’re not leaving northeastern Ohio, okay? That’s for sure. Our preference is to be on the lakefront. But you have to see how things play out. It will be fluid and there will be bumps on the road and it may be different in three months than it is now. Darryl, I will say this, Dave Jenkins, Ted Tywang from our business/legal side, speak almost daily – weekly, for sure, with the mayor, the county mayor, lieutenant governor, governor. We are all talking to them on a regular basis.”

 

Dee Haslam: “I would say that we are great partners in Columbus with the city, county and state. And I think that’s our goal here too, is how can we be great partners working with them?”

 

In terms of the lakefront development, was it discouraging that the mayor’s plan to have this commission to talk about lakefront development plans apparently was botched by the county? 

Jimmy Haslam: “I don’t even know. Listen, when you work through a public process, it’s by nature and probably good that it’s messy. Okay? It’s just going to be that way. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and it’s going to take some time. And we have some time. The important thing is to get it right.”

 

How much does a winning football team help in that?

Jimmy Haslam: “I think it helps some. You’ve been here Mary Kay longer than we have, we have unbelievable fans. Support for the Browns is tremendous and I think it really comes down to dollars and cents – like a lot of decisions.”

 

The city of Cleveland bears a tremendous burden because you play at their building. So by terms of the lease, they’re responsible for that building. Is there consideration to maybe somehow find a way, because it is a region, to find maybe an alternate way of regionalizing that public-private partnership rather than just leaning solely on the city of Cleveland? 

Jimmy Haslam: “And what do you mean by that?”

 

As far as helping with the financial costs of whatever it is you guys would like to do?

Jimmy Haslam: “I think you know this, but it’s not just the city. The city of Cleveland is a smaller entity, obviously, than Cuyahoga County and certainly than the state of Ohio. I think it starts with the city, but we spent plenty of time talking to the new county mayor and lots of time talking to the lieutenant governor and the governor. There has to be three different funding sources and that’s the way it worked in our stadium in Columbus.”

 

Jimmy, getting back to Deshaun a little bit. How have you guys worked to kind of maybe grow closer to him, learn more about him beyond what you knew about him a year ago when you first acquired him? 

Dee Haslam: “Look, we care about all our players and not just how well they do on the field, but how they do off the field and how they feel about their personal lives. We try to get to know all the players. I mean, there’s a limit to how much time we spend with them, but Deshaun is an integral part of the team. We do talk to him on a regular basis. But again, we’d like to talk to all of our players. We like to be part of the conversation. Really good man.”

 

With him being in what he said, a good headspace and you guys saying you see such a development from him on the field, do you feel like he’s ready to meet the expectations that come with the trade and the contract? 

Jimmy Haslam: “It’s probably a better question for Kevin. You know, I mean, seriously. Somebody asked how Deshaun is doing so far and I said, ‘Well, in the NFL, when you’re just throwing on air, you better hit every pass right now, or you’ve got a major problem.’ So I think so far, so good. That’s probably a much better question for Kevin.”

 

You guys talk about the long-term and being patient, it’s a long year, right? But for you, how much have you guys learned to value patience in terms of the product and the people? Is that something that you guys have?

Dee Haslam: “I think Jimmy’s really learned more patience. I think being patient is very much part of the process, but you still have your expectations in there and you can’t help but really have these expectations as a team. Being patient, obviously, keeping everybody together has been really important in the development of this team.”

 

How confident are you that Kevin Stefanski is the right coach to take you guys where you need to go? 

Jimmy Haslam: “Highly confident, I really do. Being a head coach in the NFL is hard because generally you have a specialty and Kevin’s specialty is offense, quarterbacks, calling plays, et cetera. But you also have to be a leader of men and I think he’s really good at both. I don’t want to be negative towards their predecessors, but I think Jim Schwartz and Bubba Ventrone are going to be big helps to us. I do. I mean, they have great track records. Bubba was here as a player, Mary Kay (Cabot), when we first bought the team, we’ve known him a long time. We’ve interviewed Schwartz to be a defensive coordinator, a head coach. He actually lived in Nashville for a while, somebody we’ve known well. So I think both of them are going to help not just Kevin, but help our team a lot. We’re excited to have them both here.”

 

What’s your reaction to the reaction to the white helmets?

Jimmy: “I will defer to Dee and JW – they’re the experts on that. They’re the creative ones.”

 

Dee Haslam: “I like the white helmets. I think it’s really going to be a nice moment for the team. I don’t really focus on worrying about other than that I think it’s going to be a great look.”

 

Are there any plans for honoring Jim Brown during the season at the stadium?

Dee Haslam: “Yes. We will definitely do something in Cleveland to honor Jim Brown and the commitment he has. He is one of the greatest players of all time.”

 

Jimmy Haslam: “Actually, we wanted to do something right after Jim died and for a variety of reasons, schedules, everybody – Monique (Brown) wasn’t quite ready – it got put off. But I can’t really think of a better way to do it than do it in Canton. Jim Brown is definitely the greatest Brown of all time and arguably the greatest NFL [player] to do it in Canton. A lot of the Gold Jackets will be there. I think it’s appropriate to honor his legacy. It’s the NFL, it’s the Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Browns doing it. And we’re honored to be part of that. And it’s appropriate, Tom (Withers), to do it that way.”

 

You’ve been working with Andrew Berry for a long time. What have you seen from him just over the years going through the whole Deshaun thing?

Jimmy Haslam: “In terms of?”

 

It’s an open-ended question…

Jimmy Haslam: “This is what I would say about Andrew. I have to remind myself that he’s younger than all our children Terry (Pluto), he’s one of those. – we all know people and you wonder, were they ever a kid? Andrew is mature beyond his years. He’s very bright. He’s extremely conscientious. He’s all about growing and how do I get better? He is relentless, too. I see it when he goes after something, whether it’s negotiating a contract or trying to get a player and not just Deshaun level – lower level players. I think he’s going to be a really, really good GM. Here again, he’s entering his fourth year – he’s 36 years old. And I think he’s going to be really good.”

 

What have you seen when you talk about the patch of internal discord of Paul DePodesta, Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski?

Jimmy Haslam: “Listen, there needs to be some tension, right? This is hard and there’s pressure and we want to win. So I’m sure there are days they go home thinking, God, I don’t want to talk to him again, about me. You know what I mean? So that’s life. But I think the three of them work together extremely well and they’re all about winning. They’re not about themselves. And as long as you’re that way, we’re going to be good. I feel the fruits of the pudding. We’ll see this year for all the entire organization, but we’re excited about the organization, the team and where we’re headed.”

 

You’ve had the same GM for four years and the same coach for four years. You have your franchise quarterback. Is this the most stable things have felt for you guys?

Jimmy Haslam: “I think so. You guys have been around, you’ve seen a lot. Yes.”

 

What’s the market like for naming rights right about now?

Jimmy Haslam: “Well, we’re going to find out. We’re in the market. And here again, Dave Jenkins and his team are working on that as we speak. I have no idea how quickly or not so quickly we’re going to go, but excited about seeing who our new partner will be.”

 

Can you summarize how you guys feel about Hall of Fame festivities coming up with Joe going in and the game and the big weekend that you guys have?

Dee Haslam: “We are so excited for Joe Thomas. I mean, this is obviously well deserved. Represents our team, just such a great player, great man. So we’re excited to be part of the festivities and to honor him. He is so excited about it. It’s fun to watch somebody be so proud and so excited about it.”

Jimmy Haslam: “And to do it right in our backyard where a lot of our fans can go. And you probably all have been, it’s a cool ceremony and you think about that whole time period – we have Jim Brown ceremony on Thursday, we play Thursday night and Joe gets inducted on Saturday. We’re having a party for him Saturday night. It’ll be a great weekend. I think Dee and I told him this – I think what says the most about Joe Thomas is who’s presenting him for the award and it’s his family. And that’s just about as cool as it gets, I think because Joe has been around a lot of great players, coaches, etc. He could have picked anybody but to pick his family, I think says a lot. So a Cleveland Brown forever and good for him. Well deserved.”

 

Jimmy, what’s been like the last few months of the NBA ownership?

Jimmy Haslam: “Well, when the first game of the playoffs, your star player goes down in 30 seconds, that’s not good. It’s been interesting to learn. It’s been a good learning experience. We did not know very much about the NBA and excited about our partnership and excited about our team. Your key player’s got to stay healthy at the end of the year and unfortunately, we caught a bad break. But excited about our new coach and our organization.”

 

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