CLEVELAND — Jimmy Haslam’s one-week anniversary as Browns owner is today. And he still needs NFL approval to make it official.
But he’s already seen starting linebacker Chris Gocong lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, top draft pick Trent Richardson will likely need more knee surgery today and shutdown cornerback Joe Haden reportedly failed a drug test and could face a four-game suspension.
Welcome to Cleveland, Jimmy.
Do you believe in jinxes?
“No. I think that’s part of football,” he said Wednesday night. “You’re going to have some bad breaks and some good breaks, but I’m confident in listening to everybody we have a good, young team that’s headed in the right direction.”
Haslam attended Family Night at Cleveland Browns Stadium, along with 19,412 fans. In addition to watching practice from the press box and on the field, he introduced himself to new season-ticket holders at “rookie orientation” in a club lounge.
The line to shake his hand and get a picture taken was nearly as long as the one for the buffet, and the people walked away satisfied.
“The owner seems real nice,” said Willard’s Jimmy Isaac, who wore a faded Reuben Droughns jersey. “He doesn’t seem like he’s BS-ing you.”
Isaac, who bought tickets in the upper level of the Dawg Pound, was joined by his son, Jimmy III. Haslam is also a Jimmy III.
More photos below.
“Unbelievable, I mean unbelievable,” Haslam said of the fans. “I feel very fortunate that this fan appreciation night was tonight, in our first week where we can come, shake people’s hands, talk to people. It’s been a lot of fun. We got the chance to meet several hundred people, which is outstanding.
“I was telling some of my friends back home. They said, what are your two main impressions? I said first of all, I’ve never seen people who like football as much as this community does. Second of all, we need to win. That’s actually 1 and 1A.”
Haslam, wearing a Browns golf shirt and tan pants, asked people where they were from, called them by their first names and complimented the kids. He put his arm around everyone for the photos.
“He was cool, real personable,” said Eric Grosso of Parma Heights. “He thanked us for buying in.”
“I wanted to shake his hand and meet him,” Sandusky’s Shane Zavala said. “He’s very down-to-earth, a regular guy. I’m excited he got involved here.”
Haslam didn’t try to win over the fans by making a bold prediction for his first season.
“I think the Browns are headed in the right direction,” he said. “But they were 4-12 last year and they’ve had two really good drafts in a row. I think Tom (Heckert, general manager) and his team have done a nice job, but we probably still have a ways to go.
“So what I’ve told every fan tonight is, ‘Hang in there, be patient, we will work our very hardest to bring a winner here.’ I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, but I do think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Haslam watched the end of practice on the field next to Heckert. He also talked with president Mike Holmgren. Their long-term future is uncertain, with Joe Banner expected to take over as president after the league approves the sale.
“We’ve obviously interviewed and hired a lot of people in our business career and the first thing we look for is character, and they certainly have that,” Haslam said of Holmgren and Heckert. “The football knowledge seemed good. Good interchange, smart guys, good guys to work with.”
Haslam won’t attend the first two road preseason games because he had previous business meetings. He’ll be at the stadium for the exhibition games vs. Philadelphia on Aug. 24 and Chicago on Aug. 30.
He spent the day at team headquarters in Berea learning about the business side of the operation.
“It was a great educational experience for me and they’ve got a great team over there, so it’s a good learning process,” he said.
He toured the stadium last weekend to get an idea of what might need to be updated — new, bigger, high-definition video screens come to mind. He attended Steelers games here four times.
“I came over and spent a couple hours just literally walking the whole stadium,” he said. “Literally went in the locker rooms, sat in the Dawg Pound, walked all different levels of seats and got a good feel for it.
“After a period of time, we’re gonna enhance the stadium, make it a better place for the fans. Your obvious question is, what are you gonna do? And the answer is, I don’t know yet. We’re gonna hire people who help us make those decisions. It’s not gonna happen quickly. But we’re committed to doing that for the great fans in Cleveland.”
Haslam didn’t have an update on when the owners would vote on the $1 billion sale from Randy Lerner. The next owners meeting is scheduled for October.
“I assume they’ll make a call here over the next few weeks,” he said. “We’re planning on the change taking place in October at the regular league schedule. If it happens before that, it’s great. If not, we certainly understand.”
Haslam also said he’s in the process of selling his 12 percent stake in the Steelers, which he bought in 2008.
“The Steelers will control that, but I think that something will definitely happen in this calendar year, hopefully sooner than that,” he said. “That’s a process we all know is going to happen.
“We’re anxious to do that and focus a thousand percent of our efforts here.”