On one of the most important days of his life, Jimmy Haslam III didn’t surround himself with an entourage of business associates or friends.
The Tennessee billionaire also didn’t have security guards shadowing his every move or handlers keeping him out of the public eye.
Instead, the new owner of the Browns proudly attended his first training camp practice with his father, Jim, and his wife, Dee.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way, really,” Haslam said Friday in a sitdown interview with the Chronicle-Telegram. “When we bought into the Steelers, that was for Jimmy, but I told my wife if we bought the Browns, it had to be for both of us. She’s wearing orange today, so she’s all in.”
The 58-year-old Knoxville native then chuckled and added: “When I asked my dad if he wanted to come today, he said, ‘What the hell do you think?’ Of course, I knew he was going to say that. I can guarantee he was more fired up about it than we were. It’s good to be able to share this with him.”
Family clearly comes first to Haslam, who finalized his purchase of the Browns from Randy Lerner less than 24 hours earlier. His entire ownership group consists of relatives, all of whom were integral in Pilot Flying J Travel Centers becoming one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.
Sharing that philosophy with his new employees immediately endeared him to Cleveland’s top two quarterbacks, both of whom are married and also part of close families.
“It spoke volumes to me that he brought his wife and his dad out here,” backup Colt McCoy said. “They seem like wonderful people.”
“You can tell they’re a tight unit and they preach family, so do we as a team,” starter Brandon Weeden said. “I do think it’s cool that he brought them with him today.”
“Cool” also aptly describes Haslam’s demeanor, which enabled him to own the room at his introductory news conference. Standing 6-foot-2 and wearing a blue suit with an orange tie, his modest southern accent instantly charmed many cynical media members and fans.
After hitting all the right notes and making a strong first impression at the podium, Haslam moved upstairs to the Browns’ executive offices for private sitdowns with beat reporters.
To his credit, he politely answered all questions, punctuating many answers with stories that illustrated his love for the sport.
Haslam said he plans on selling the naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium because “we’ve got to take advantage of some of these revenue opportunities,” but “respected tremendously” the decision made by Al and Randy Lerner not to do so. He added that he won’t put his family’s name on the facility.
The father of three and grandfather of four also expressed a willingness to change the Browns’ iconic uniforms, but admitted modifying their orange helmet would be controversial.
“I can tell it’s a bigger issue than I thought it was. I probably better keep my dang mouth closed,” Haslam said. “So no time soon (on the helmet change), how’s that? I can tell it’s a big deal, though, so we’ll tread very carefully there.”
Though he and his wife will continue to live year-round in Knoxville, where he is the CEO of Pilot Flying J, Dee spent the afternoon shopping for a second home in Northeast Ohio.
Haslam noted that it was only a 55-minute flight between the cities, which made the Browns a wonderful match for indulging his passion.
“Listen, there’s a lot of luck involved because there are only 32 NFL teams and the ones way out west were not a possibility because of where we live,” the former high school running back, wide receiver and safety said. “Candidly, we thought this opportunity would come later rather than sooner, and we never thought it would come with a franchise like this one.
“We like all sports, but I like football best.”
And so begins a new era in Cleveland sports, which promises to be both interesting and extremely eventful.
Make no mistake about it, Haslam expects the Browns to win a lot of games and make a lot of money — just as soon as the NFL approves the franchise’s transfer of ownership.
But like all great businessmen, he stressed that surrounding yourself with smart people was the only way to succeed.
“Dad and I were taking showers after practice and he said, ‘What do you think?’” Haslam said. “I told him, ‘I think we’ve got a lot to learn.’”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.