July 29, 2014

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New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam introduces himself to Cleveland

BEREA – New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III wore an orange tie and a Browns pin on the lapel of his suit. He was introduced by president Mike Holmgren, and accompanied by his father and wife.

But Haslam took the podium alone and never sat down during the 25-minute introductory news conference. He was polite in dealing with the reporters who packed the media room at Browns headquarters and delivered a couple of messages to Cleveland fans.

He opened by saying there’s “zero chance” he will move the franchise. He quickly added his goal for the team.

“We have one mission only: Bringing winning back to Cleveland,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be a winning franchise. If we aren’t, I’ll accept the blame.”

Haslam, who’s owned a minority share of the Steelers since 2008, referred to Pittsburgh as “the other team” and said he’ll have no trouble rooting against the Browns’ fiercest rival. He said he learned a lot from the Rooney family, Pittsburgh’s longtime owners.

“Our main goal is to return it to a real rivalry,” he said. “The Rooneys do things the right way.”

Haslam said he’ll keep his main house in Knoxville, Tenn., but will buy a house here. His wife, Dee, was heading out to look at homes this afternoon. Haslam will also maintain his job as CEO of Pilot Flying J.

He said he’ll sell naming rights to the stadium at some point and was noncommittal about changing the traditional, plain uniforms. But he made the distinction between cosmetic and culture changes.

Haslam repeatedly said he’s only been in town one day so he isn’t an expert on the Browns or the town. But he quickly grasped the passion for the team from the bellman at the hotel.

“I was attracted to the Browns by the excitement and the importance of football and the Browns to the community,” he said.

Haslam wouldn’t discuss details of the $1 billion sale from Randy Lerner, but said Lerner’s become a friend. He said the process took only 31 days.

Haslam called it “inappropriate” to talk about possible personnel changes, including the reports former Eagles president Joe Banner will join him in Cleveland. Lerner remains the owner until the NFL approves the deal. Haslam said he expects the owners’ vote to be in October at the owners meetings, but said it could happen sooner.

Haslam said he wasn’t very familiar with the Browns until he first talked to Lerner on July 2. Since then he’s been studying all aspects of the franchise.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert. I plan to get there,” he said. “But it looks like a good young team on the upswing.”

Haslam said Holmgren is probably sick of him asking questions. And when he’s not bugging him, he’s picking the brain of general manager Tom Heckert.

Haslam plans to continue the learning by attending the Family Night practice at the stadium Wednesday night and shaking hands with fans. He will also watch the first preseason game from the stands.