BEREA — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was a big fan of Johnny Manziel long before his team drafted the quarterback with the No. 22 pick in May.
The admiration was replaced by disappointed multiple times during Manziel’s offseason of partying.
“Johnny said it himself, he made some mistakes,” Haslam said Saturday after the first practice of training camp. “We expect better from him.
“I’m sure he’ll perform and now we’re anxious to see what he can do on the field, which is what really counts.”
Manziel has made headlines nearly non-stop since he was drafted. Many were the result of his high-profile nightlife.
He partied in big cities with big names, including Drake and Justin Bieber, and the pictures and videos are all over the Internet. A photo of him in the bathroom with a rolled-up dollar bill created the loudest reaction.
It also elicited a phone call from coach Mike Pettine and a meeting with general manager Ray Farmer.
“The really great athletes make their news on the field, not off the field,” Haslam said. “And hopefully he can look at guys like LeBron (James) and (Tom) Brady and Peyton (Manning) and (Derek) Jeter and pattern himself after those guys who make their news on the field, not off the field.”
Has Manziel gotten the message?
“We’ll see,” Haslam said.
Manziel was told by reporters Haslam hopes he learns from James and Jeter.
“Those are two of the greatest athletes to play their respective sports in this country,” Manziel said. “I’m sure they all made their mistakes at 21 or 20 years old when they first came into the league.
“But what I take away from that is you learn from the best and you learn how those guys have carried themselves, which is extremely well on and off the court.”
When Manziel was asked what lessons he’s learned, he launched into a monologue about his popularity and the buzz that surrounds him.
“When I went out on Saturday at Texas A&M, I played with an extreme amount of passion and I played with my heart on my sleeve. But more than anything, I had fun,” he said. “I have fun playing this game. It’s what I live for, it’s what I love to do.
“Same way off the field. Whether I’m going out and playing golf or going out and having a nightlife, I have a lot of fun. That’s what my life is and luckily for me, I’m living out my dream of playing in the NFL and having a ton of fun. This is the greatest life that I could have ever imagined for me and I’m loving that. So will I continue to get better at being a professional and learn lessons about life? Of course. I’m 21 years old and age is not an excuse, but I need to mature and I have done some immature things but moving forward I’m going to try and get better and handle myself better as a professional.”
Haslam was eager to return the focus to football, but he had other issues to address first. Pilot Flying J, the family business where he’s CEO, recently reached an agreement with the federal government in which it will avoid prosecution if it pays a $92 million penalty. The IRS raided Pilot on April 15, 2013.
“We said on April 16 that clearly it looks like some people made some mistakes in our company and it cost all of us dearly,” Haslam said. “We also said we would No. 1, cooperate with the government, which we’ve done and will continue to do. And No. 2, put systems and processes in place where something like this can never happen again and we’ve done that. And No. 3, make things right with our customers and we’ve done that. We’re glad to get this chapter behind us and move on.”
Haslam wouldn’t answer when asked if he was given assurances he won’t be indicted.
Receiver Josh Gordon has also brought negative attention to Haslam’s football franchise. He’s facing an indefinite suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and has an appeal hearing Friday.
“First and foremost, we care about our players and want our players to take care of themselves and make good decisions,” Haslam said. “We’re going to do everything we can to support them. But at the same time, the players have to understand they’re accountable to themselves, to their teammates, to the front office and to our fans. People have to understand that and I’ll leave it at that.”
Haslam did get to talk a little football. He said he’ll stay out of the quarterback decision and he raved about Pettine, a rookie head coach.
“He’s smart like we thought, he’s articulate, I don’t think he gets rattled easy, he’s tough and I think the players relate well to him,” Haslam said. “I think we have a good environment. We’re really excited about Mike, a quality guy.”
In Haslam’s start-of-training-camp news conference last year, he said his primary expectation was improvement from Week 1 to Week 17. The Browns lost the final seven games, and coach Rob Chudzinski was fired after one season.
Haslam’s focus hasn’t changed.
“Expectations are high that we’ll improve,” he said. “To put wins and losses on it I think is unfair. This is a long process. This is a team that has not been very good for a long time and, despite what a lot of people think, we’re actually patient and feel we have the right group in place and we’re going to get better over a period of time.
“I think we’ll have a better football team this year and we’re all going to be disappointed if we don’t.”