Brown’s relationship with the organization he helped build into a national presence and a local treasure had officially come full circle.
Brown was given the role of special adviser during a news conference at FirstEnergy Stadium. He will help the team’s increased efforts in the community, particularly with inner-city schools, be an ambassador with fans and a resource for players.
“This is obviously a very special and very significant day in Cleveland Browns history,” Haslam said. “He’s not only the most famous Cleveland Brown of all time and the best player who has ever played here, but I think one of the reasons the Browns remain so popular is when a lot of us were growing up they followed 32 and 32 was their hero.”
Brown boycotted his induction into and the unveiling of the ring of honor in 2010 after then-president Mike Holmgren took away his role as executive adviser to then-owner Randy Lerner. Brown remained estranged from the franchise for a couple of years, but Haslam brought him back into the fold after buying the team from Lerner last year.
Brown talks a lot about respect. He demands it, applauds it, appreciates it — and says he found it with Haslam.
“I am very happy to be back,” Brown said. “I have a great respect for this city, a great respect for the way the fans have treated me. I have been through many ups and downs here, but the fans have always come to my support.
“I just want to say emphatically: I like the new ownership. I respect the new ownership. I will stand by the new ownership come hell or high water and I will be doing everything in my power to help the Cleveland Browns be successful.”
Brown, 77, is married with two children and lives in California. But he said he will spend a lot of time in Cleveland in whatever roles Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski see fit.
“You will see as much of me as they can stand. I’m going to be here quite a bit and I will be on call to the Cleveland Browns first,” he said.
“I’ve said very clearly that the Browns have two real goals: One is to win and the second is to give their fans a great experience,” Haslam said. “I don’t care if you’re 5 or if you’re 95, the opportunity to interact or just to see Jim Brown … I mean, I watched when he got out of the car and everybody working at the stadium, everybody’s attention immediately turns to him.
“We have a young team. I think he can help them in lots of ways both on and off the field.”
Brown wants to focus on those who’ve followed in his footsteps.
“Player engagement is where you will see me most of the time, because I think the road to a championship is definitely through your players, the attitude of your players, the health of your players,” he said.
Brown appeared in nine straight Pro Bowls and was named MVP three times. He owns team records for rushing yards (12,312), points in a season (126), career touchdowns (126), rushing touchdowns (106) and most 1,000-yard seasons (seven).
Despite retiring in 1965, he still resonates with today’s players. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said Tuesday he’s still in awe.
Brown wants to use that influence to improve the players’ performances on the field and lives off of it.
“Boy, I’ll tell you, it’s gonna be tremendous to be able to address these players,” Brown said. “I do get a lot of respect, and I would love to utilize that in every way that I can.
“Players today, a lot of them don’t have fathers. That’s not corny. And they want those relationships with elders, they crave it, but they don’t show it. When you show them that you care about them, then your advice and your instructions and your opinions become valuable and there’s a trust that’s developed. So that you can almost guarantee a certain kind of effort in a game from certain players when they’ve related to you a certain way.”
His franchise’s reunion with Brown comes at a trying time for Haslam, whose company, Pilot Flying J, remains under federal investigation regarding an alleged scheme to cheat customers of proper rebates. Two employees pleaded guilty Wednesday.
“That is my guy. I have a relationship with him, I believe in him, I stand behind him,” Brown said of Haslam. “The greatest thing I can say is I believe in him. I have been through a thousand things, but ultimately I turned out to be a decent human being.”
Brown, who has a string of arrests for assaults on women in his past, said it was difficult being away from the Browns for a couple of years but he has no hard feelings. Then he took a shot at Lerner.
“It was not a good feeling because I’m used to being around,” he said. “The main thing is, I’m very happy to have been invited back. So you have a clean slate and a happy camper.
“I think that you can’t have success if your owner is never around, doesn’t have input. I think it takes an organization from top to bottom to be successful, and I think that the team that was put together here was put together with that in mind.”
Brown and Haslam share a willingness to speak their minds.
“Jimmy doesn’t bite his tongue, so I kind of like that,” Brown said with a chuckle. “I try not to bite mine, as most of you know. But I think with Jimmy I will be a little more under control.”
That’s a relative concept for Brown, who was happy to discuss his outspokenness.
“When you have a quote 35 years ago and you’re embarrassed by it, it meant you were trying to be popular at the time, agreeing with something that wasn’t going to live,” he said. “I hope all of my quotes live forever because I try to do the right thing, and though it might cost me money and it might cost me popularity it doesn’t matter.
“Because here I am sitting with the owner of the Browns and everybody that thought I had no value gone. That’s not taking a shot at nobody. It’s an ironic kind of thing, but here I am.”