September 21, 2014

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New Browns CEO Joe Banner says record not all there is

CLEVELAND — New Browns CEO Joe Banner met with a couple of media members for a few minutes Tuesday afternoon after helping at the Cleveland Foodbank. Here’s what was learned: Banner’s family plays football in Boston on Thanksgiving, he loves his cousin’s squash souffle and he credits coach Pat Shurmur and his staff for the team’s competitiveness and effort in a series of close losses.

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“You’re learning a lot of things,” Banner said. “Obviously you’re seeing every individual player play and how they’re doing. In addition to that, you’re in a very profound way seeing the coaching staff able to keep everybody motivated, working hard, trying hard, which where the record is is something that is a good indication of the coaching staff doing a good job with the players. Those are the kinds of things you’re looking at at this point.”

Banner has been on the job less than a month and is still evaluating the entire operation, including Shurmur, whose future beyond Dec. 30 is unsettled. Banner was seated in new owner Jimmy Haslam’s box at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday as the Browns lost 23-20 in overtime. The Browns dropped to 2-8, and all but one of the losses was undecided late in the fourth quarter.

Banner saw similar struggles early in his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles before they became a perennial playoff participant. He doesn’t think the focus should be solely on the Browns’ troubles finishing.

“You just got to play good from the beginning to the end,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the play in the first quarter that you forget about by the fourth quarter that actually created the situation that was close. I think part of what you learn is that every single play in the game matters and you never know which one’s going to affect the outcome of the game, especially in a close game.”

One item high on Banner’s priority list is improving the fan experience at Cleveland Browns Stadium. He got another firsthand look at Jerry Jones’ $1.2 billion palace in Arlington, Texas.

“It’s a spectacular stadium and there’s a lot to learn and be interested in,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to look at our particular stadium with the existing configuration and figure out what may be applicable.

“There’s some challenges in the existing building, including just kind of the location, where you’ve all got to enter from one side. But I think maybe it can provoke thoughts that apply to us.”

Banner joined several players and staff members in volunteering at the foodbank. He exchanged his suit coat for a Browns apron and helped pack cardboard boxes with food to be shipped to local shelters and pantries.

Philanthropy is a priority for Banner, and this was his first opportunity to participate as a member of the Browns organization.

“So as I’m learning about everything we’re doing, I think it was important for me to see this and show my support and be out here with everybody else,” he said. “I’m amazed as I go around and learn how many things the Browns are doing. I think we have to do a better job of letting people see it so they know just how engaged we are.

“And it’s a fundamental commitment of the new ownership to be engaged in this community and be doing the right thing and trying to help out.”

Readin’ Weeden

ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski didn’t think rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was ready to start when the season began, but thinks he’s improved and has “a future in Cleveland.”

“I really did like Brandon Weeden when he was coming out,” Jaworski said on a conference call. “He was a big, strong-arm, powerful thrower that kind of had all the prototypical things you’d like to see in an NFL quarterback.

“Now when I went through the preseason, I thought starting him was premature. I did not think he was ready to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. Now he has gotten better every week. He still needs to improve, but I think he will improve.”

Jaworski said Shurmur, offensive coordinator Brad Childress and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple are good for Weeden’s development.

“I know the Browns’ staff. I know the way they coach guys. He’s going to get excellent coaching,” Jaworski said. “Now if he buys in, if he listens, he will continue to improve.

“You watch him this week. Were there some mistakes in the game against Dallas? Yes, but I thought he made some terrific throws as well. With a young quarterback, it’s all about becoming more consistent, and I’m seeing as the season progresses, he has gotten better. So I think Weeden does have a future in Cleveland.”

A stirring story

Former Browns running back Jerome Harrison’s harrowing year will be profiled Thursday during CBS’ pregame show at noon.

Harrison was traded from the Lions to the Eagles in October 2011, and a brain tumor was discovered in a standard physical. Four hours into what was expected to be a three-hour operation, the surgeon told Harrison’s pregnant wife, Michelle, the surgery would continue for several more hours because of “complications,” according to CBS’ promotional release.

The day after the 12-hour surgery, Harrison suffered a series of strokes and the family feared the worst. He was later transferred to a rehab facility in Ann Arbor, where he battled for his life.

Michelle will narrate the story on Thanksgiving as she and Harrison speak publicly for the first time since the surgery.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.