BEREA — Cleveland will meet Jimmy Haslam III for the first time today.
Browns president Mike Holmgren, who said he wants to continue in his job, got a head start in getting to know the next owner of the Browns. They talked briefly on the phone Wednesday night and had dinner Thursday night.
“It was nice to hear his voice,” Holmgren said Thursday afternoon of the phone conversation. “He said the same thing about me. He was very cordial, very polite and seemed like a nice fellow, but we’re going to sit down and spend some time together.”
An introductory news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Browns headquarters. Haslam is expected to watch training camp practice in the morning.
Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J Corporation, finalized a deal Thursday to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner. ESPN reported the price at just over $1 billion.
The sale won’t become final until approved by the NFL. It’s expected to happen quickly, but there’s no timetable set. Until then, the Browns senior executives remain in their jobs.
That hasn’t stopped the questions about Holmgren’s future. He was hired by Lerner in January 2010 and signed a five-year contract reportedly worth $8 million a year. Holmgren was asked if he expects to be president through 2012.
“I hope to, but we’ll see,” he said. “I’ve been in this business a long time and we’ll just see how that goes. Right now anything like that would be premature.”
Former Eagles president Joe Banner will be part of Haslam’s management team, according to multiple reports, but his specific role is unknown. Holmgren was asked if he could see himself working with Banner.
“I’m not going to go there right now,” he said. “We’ve known each other for a long time. He worked along with (Eagles owner) Jeffrey Lurie, who I respect tremendously, and of course (Eagles coach) Andy Reid, who worked for me for a while.”
Banner was Philadelphia’s president for 11 years before resigning in June. He could replace Holmgren and take the same role in Cleveland, work alongside him or hire someone new.
Many people within the Browns organization know Banner from time together in Philadelphia. General manager Tom Heckert worked with him for nine years in the front office, coach Pat Shurmur was an assistant for 10 years and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron as assistant for one.
Banner also oversaw the trade in 2010 that sent cornerback Sheldon Brown and linebacker Chris Gocong to Cleveland.
“Obviously he helped bring the Eagles from when the Lurie (family) bought it to what they are now,” Gocong said. “I think he’s a great businessman, and we’ll see what he can do here.”
Before the trade, Brown and Banner had a public feud over whether Brown deserved a new contract.
“Look, I enjoyed my team in Philadelphia, I had a great run there and I like the way this organization is going,” Brown said. “And whatever the leadership is in this organization, I think it will move in the right direction and I plan on enjoying my situation here.”
Holmgren said the biggest surprise of the sale is the timing. Such a significant move usually happens in the offseason, not as the team embarks on the season. The initial announcement of negotiations between Lerner and Haslam came last Friday on the first day of camp.
“I think right now, honestly, the focus is on these guys and getting the football team ready,” Holmgren said. “We’re all excited about the possibilities for this year and trying to keep it as best we can business as usual around here.
“Pat and those guys are doing a heckuva job. We’re having a great camp so far.”
Shurmur said he isn’t worried the commotion will disrupt the preparation.
“I have no fear about any of that because I trust my coaches, I trust the players,” he said. “I’ve watched the work that they’re doing and I have no fear.
“I think we’re moving full steam ahead. That doesn’t bother me one bit at this point.”
Some players were discussing the sale in the elevator Thursday night, but veteran linebacker Scott Fujita said it hasn’t come up much.
“After the initial news last week, there was some talk about it and just kind of the surprise factor,” he said. “But once again, then you’re onto the next meeting and film session, a workout and a practice and you forget about that kind of stuff quickly.
“So, yeah, we all know that it was looming. We all know that it’s kind of big picture hanging over our heads, but no one’s gonna let that break our focus.”
Haslam bought a minority stake in the Steelers in 2008 and will have to sell before he can buy the Browns. Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney was complimentary toward Haslam in an interview with Foxsports.com, calling Haslam a “fine guy” who “knows the game” and would be an “excellent partner” in the league.
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