April 24, 2014

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Joe Banner says next Browns GM needs to be good scout

CLEVELAND — CEO Joe Banner hasn’t completed the first wave of interviews for the Browns’ general manager job and wouldn’t disclose the names of the “half dozen” candidates on the short list.

But Banner acknowledged having a front-runner and said the ability to scout is the most important quality.

“We want our player personnel department to be the best evaluators/graders of players both in the league and coming into the league in the league,” he said Tuesday following a news conference to announce the changing of the name of Cleveland Browns Stadium to FirstEnergy Stadium. “That’s the goal. So somebody who can do that well and lead and train a staff of scouts to do that well, that’s the primary criteria.”

Banner didn’t have a timetable for the completion of the search that began when general manager Tom Heckert was fired Dec. 31. The search intensified after coach Rob Chudzinski was hired Friday.

“We’re trying to finish the interviews as quickly as we can,” Banner said. “At that point, we may evaluate whether we want to add any additional interviews or select from the group we’ve met.

“But we’re near finishing the first kind of wave of people that we wanted to interview, so hopefully we’ll move forward quickly.”

Owner Jimmy Haslam has been pleased with the process.

“We are making good progress and we’ve interviewed some outstanding people,” he said.

NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi and Chiefs director of pro personnel Ray Farmer have been mentioned as leading candidates. Banner declined to confirm or discuss either or identify his front-runner.

“We didn’t answer before and we won’t now,” he said when asked if Lombardi was still in the mix.

Lombardi worked in Cleveland’s personnel department from 1987-95 and worked with Banner in Philadelphia in 1997-98. He hasn’t been part of a front office since Oakland fired him in 2007.

Farmer was labeled the favorite to land the job in Cleveland by profootballtalk.com. He’s overseen Kansas City’s scouting of all professional players for seven years, and before that was a pro scout for four years with the Falcons.

Farmer was a fourth-round draft choice of the Eagles in 1996 during Banner’s tenure and played linebacker for three seasons before a knee injury cut short his career. He played safety at Duke.

San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble and Seattle vice president of football administration John Idzik have also been mentioned as possibilities. They are in the mix for other GM openings across the league.

Banner said someone with a scouting background slanted toward pro personnel like Farmer has would have to prove to the Browns he could handle the draft.

“That would be part of their challenge in an interview, to convince us that all facets of this — which certainly the most important part of it is the college draft — they could do really well,” Banner said. “If they were coming from a pro background and couldn’t convince us of that, they wouldn’t be the right person for the job.”

Banner said the title of the hire will likely be general manager, but it could be director of player personnel. He expects to make a single hire for the department and said the division of power — Banner is expected to keep final say over personnel moves — hasn’t been an issue.

“I guess it could theoretically be, but the people we’ve wanted to speak to we’ve been able to so far,” he said.

Banner said the personnel department assembled by Heckert remains intact, and director of player personnel Jon Sandusky attended the news conference at the stadium. Banner said he may interview a member of the staff for the GM job, which would likely be Sandusky or director of college scouting John Spytek.

The next GM will be able to make changes to the personnel department, most of which would occur after the draft in April. In the meantime, the current staff continues to work as the offseason gets cranking.

“We’re in preparation for free agency, and obviously the draft is year-round,” Banner said. “So our guys are getting ready to go down to the Senior Bowl next week, the pro department’s focusing on certain players and positions we think we’ll be focused on potentially in free agency. So it’s business as usual really.”

Coaches coming

Banner said Chudzinski has hired part of his coaching staff, but the team wasn’t ready to announce the additions.

“It doesn’t kind of make sense to do it one at a time,” Banner said. “I think we’re pretty close to having enough that we’ll kind of put out an announcement as to what’s happened so far and then update it as it goes.”

Banner wouldn’t confirm Norv Turner as offensive coordinator or say if both coordinators had been locked down.

John Pagano was reportedly Chudzinski’s choice for defensive coordinator, but he might remain with the Chargers. Mike McCoy was hired Tuesday as San Diego’s coach, and Union-Tribune columnist Kevin Acee reported he wants to keep Pagano.

The Browns are expected to retain special teams coordinator Chris Tabor and offensive line coach George Warhop. No members of the defensive staff are expected to be kept.

Talking change

  • The Browns will likely have new uniforms in 2014. The helmets won’t change. Haslam said he notified the NFL the Browns would like to consider possible uniform changes. It’s a two-year process. “So if we do make any changes, it will be for the 2014 season,” Haslam said. “And write this down, we’re not touching the helmets.”
  • Haslam ruled out adding cheerleaders. “They don’t fit Cleveland,” he said.
  • The Browns are still deciding whether to switch from natural grass to FieldTurf. The Browns have always played their home games on grass. “I want to be real careful there because there are some strong feelings,” Haslam said. “Some people are real strong artificial surface and some are real pro grass. We are going to take a look at everything.”

Extra points

  • Banner wants to consolidate all of the team’s employees inside Browns headquarters in Berea. Football operations, media relations, community relations and new media are housed in Berea, while sales, marketing and alumni relations are at the stadium. Banner has already met with architects to renovate the Berea facility to fit everyone.
  • Banner confirmed Sashi Brown was hired as in-house counsel. He will assist Banner with the salary cap. Brown had been general counsel with the Jaguars.

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