November 26, 2014

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Browns: Lerner relishes team’s solid start

 BEREA – Randy Lerner was just like every other Browns fan after the 34-7 opening loss to the Steelers. Frustrated, fuming, fed up.
But Lerner isn’t just a fan. He’s also the owner. So he called Monday morning meetings, dissected the organizational procedures and tried to make improvements.
“I would like to think that I did play a role in keeping things together,” he said Wednesday during a rare press conference with beat writers. “I wouldn’t by any means call it a very important role. Everybody pitched in.”
Lerner said he had extensive discussions with coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Phil Savage and senior vice president of business operations Mike Keenan. Some of the meetings were one-on-one, others were as a group.
“All four of us dug in and put our heads together and figured out how to strengthen the resolve within the building,” Lerner said. “If I were to point to one thing that came out of those discussions, it was probably the head coach’s reliance on team captains. They did step up and communicate maybe in a way that was slightly more direct than they had.”
The team held a players-only meeting and responded with a 51-45 win over the Bengals. The Browns have won three straight home games to reach the bye week at 3-3.
“I don’t think you can overstate how good it feels to be 3-3 after being 1-5,” Lerner said, referring to last year’s record.
He admitted he didn’t see the turnaround coming following the Pittsburgh debacle, but credited stability for effecting the change. That doesn’t mean it was easy.

“There is statistical data to help support staying the course while you are absolutely feeling that you want to drive change,” Lerner said. “So, yeah, it’s definitely hard, but it’s made slightly less difficult by trying to rely on competent people that are around you that understand this business and are going to prevent there being some sort of big reactionary crisis. Rather than a crisis based on a pretty thoughtful analysis.”
Lerner, who relishes his privacy and shies away from on-camera interviews, gave some of the credit to Crennel, who was considered by many to have entered the season on the hot seat.
“He weathered it very professionally and very effectively,” he said. “He took the hit square on himself and continued to keep the team poised and their attitude in a place where they could move forward. He deserves a lot of credit for that.”
The biggest on-field change following Week 1 was the trade of starting quarterback Charlie Frye. Derek Anderson stepped in and has thrown 14 touchdowns.
“That was a difficult move, a conspicuous, high-profile move. And it worked without a doubt,” Lerner said. “It was a very crisp, quick, difficult decision that has to be considered very, very successful.”
The unexpected .500 record has some fans and players dreaming of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the year Lerner took over after his father, Al, died. Lerner said the playoffs are the goal every year, but he declined to predict a postseason appearance or place those expectations on his team.
“I don’t know if I would necessarily jump on that bandwagon,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody who doesn’t wear a uniform would necessarily jump on that bandwagon.”
He has broader goals for the remaining 10 games.
“To have players make the Pro Bowl, for us to play in a way where people who know football and support the Browns feel like we’re playing well,” he said. “We’ve got to win games, we’ve got to win a lot of games and we’ve got to do it in a way that creates a sense that we’re continuing to build and move forward.”
Lerner touched on a number of other subjects in the half-hour session.
The recent success of the Cavaliers and Indians:
“When you pull for Cleveland teams and you see a game like (Tuesday) night and you see your kid going absolutely berserko and not going to bed on time, I think it’s amazing. I understand the implication: You don’t want to be the team that’s not doing as well as the other teams. I’d like to think that there are a stronger set of values and emotions that govern these things. The overwhelming emotion is a lot of pride and enjoying watching it.”
The hardest part of ownership:
Realizing the first five years didn’t yield anything that would contribute to the sixth or seventh or eighth year. That’s nobody’s issue and business but mine to work on. I just know we didn’t have players. If you don’t have players, you’re not going to do well in this business.”
His desire to see rookie quarterback Brady Quinn play:
“Not right now. I think it is so much more important right now to get Brady as much observation experience as possible. I think Derek Anderson has been inspired and I’m pretty caught up in that, frankly.”
A possible regular-season game in Europe, where Lerner owns a soccer team:
“I wouldn’t volunteer the Browns. I think the Browns spent enough years outside Cleveland in the ’90s. I want to keep them in Cleveland, and I want them to play in our stadium.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.