When we talk about the future of the Cleveland Browns, we have a tendency to turn it into a question of who Joe Banner will keep or fire. Certainly that makes a lot of sense with first-time head coach Pat Shurmur; he’s a first-timer in his position and the wins haven’t really piled up making the case that he should continue being a head coach anywhere let alone in Cleveland. It seems logical that he is at the will of his new employers.
Tom Heckert is a different story.
Heckert was reportedly making calls this past August inquiring about new jobs. Those rumors ended up being denied, but the fact that they ever even surfaced is instructive. While Tom Heckert might be under contract with the Browns, he certainly carries his own amount of leverage in this scenario and might just be the one who pulls the trigger on getting out of Cleveland as opposed to being fired.
Why would Tom Heckert want to leave his job with the Browns? Certainly he might have some desire to follow through with the roster rebuild he started here in Cleveland. If he has truly laid a foundation of talent that the team can build off of, it might be a real point of frustration for Heckert to leave and see someone else take it to the next level should that happen. Still, I’m left drawing on my own experience working for various bosses over time.
I was a financial analyst at a big corporation and my five-plus years in that corporation taught me something very valuable about the working world: Jobs are just titles, and they have descriptions, but those jobs vary wildly and drastically depending on who your boss is. I’ve always gravitated toward bosses that I wanted to work for and tried to find ways out of working for bosses I didn’t want to work for. So imagine if your first boss hired you and you were left to be an autonomous department working for a guy who was spending, say, 30 hours per week in the office. Then, that boss retires and is replaced by a control-freak workaholic.
[Related: Joe Banner in Cleveland: When the circus leaves town]
Joe Banner might be a genius. Nobody knows for sure, but one thing’s pretty apparent: Joe Banner will be logging many hours in Berea – certainly you have to think far more than Mike Holmgren – and he will be quite active in overseeing everything that goes on. Obviously, Browns fans hope he is a genius and is wildly successful, but that absolutely doesn’t mean that Tom Heckert signed up to be a GM like this. It might be the same title and the same money, but to say it’s the same job today as it was before Jimmy Haslam III bought the team is almost absolutely false.
So, while this isn’t a report or rumor that is informed by a bunch of sources, if you look at the proliferation of rumor and you look at all the chess pieces on the board, it’s reasonable to predict a couple of ways the pieces could move. Namely, I’m starting to consider that even if the Browns decided that Heckert’s done a good job and would have wanted to keep him, he might not want to continue his employment under the new set of circumstances. I’m not even saying that I think Tom Heckert and Joe Banner hate each other. But I know a lot of people in my life that I like and respect immensely that I absolutely, 100 percent wouldn’t want to work under.
As always, we’ll see how it all shakes out, but I’m less and less optimistic that Tom Heckert will be back. I think Heckert is one of the brightest spots for the Browns since 1999 and I love most of what he’s done with the Browns’ roster but between he and Joe Banner, there’s just no indication in the proverbial tea leaves that this situation is tenable for either one of them. With each passing day and each additional Mike Lombardi rumor the Browns logo on Tom Heckert’s golf shirt fades a little bit more. If we could see his phone records from August we also might find that Heckert’s okay with that.
(Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer)