Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 7/28/12

With the news that Randy Lerner is close to selling his share of the Browns to Jimmy Haslam III, I’ve started to think about this current era of Cleveland sports owners. For better or worse, the men who own our favorite sports teams often come up as a topic for debate in our sports obsessed town.

Was this always the case? Sure, Art Modell was always a target (that’s what you get for firing Paul Brown) but I don’t recall sports talk radio stations fielding many calls about Gordon Gund or Dick Jacobs in the mid-90s.

From the brash, outspoken Gilbert seemingly vetoing NBA trades by himself, to PD reporter Tony Grossi getting himself fired for tweeting mean things about Lerner, and the constant complaining about the Dolans, our current crop of owners always seem to be a topic of debate.

Quick: rank the Cleveland sports owners from best-to-worst. Done? Ok. Now, does your list look similar to this:

  1. Dan Gilbert, Cavaliers
  2. Randy Lerner, Browns
  3. Larry & Paul Dolan, Indians

I’m willing to be bet that 90% of you came up with a list looking exactly like mine. I don’t know how you’d rank them any other way.

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For as much trouble as Dan Gilbert’s mouth (and his email and twitter accounts) can cause for himself, he’s far and away the best owner in Cleveland sports, no? Gilbert’s shown that he’s willing to spend the money to make the Cavs competitive. Whether it’s taking on a bad contract like Baron Davis or Antawn Jamison (Gilbert and the Cavs rank 6th in amount of luxury taxes paid) or upgrading his facilities, Gilbert clearly is willing to pay what he must to make the Cavs a first rate franchise. All of his faults aside, this alone makes him the best sports owner in Northeast Ohio.

But that’s not really saying much, look at his competition.

Randy Lerner is No. 2, not because of any great works he’s done, but simply because he’s not the Dolans. I like to think that Randy Lerner gives a crap. He’s at least willing to spend1 . Sure, he’ll personally hire Eric Mangini for a complete rebuild, then panic and hire Mike Holmgren when Mangini’s rebuild goes how, well, rebuilds usually go,2 but he’s at least making moves. He may be too shy for the job or in over his head, but you at least get in the impression that he’s trying.

And the Dolans, well. What can you say? No one is expecting them to throw hundreds of millions at guys like Albert Pujols. But when you read reports that they made $30 million off the Indians last season and then spent the offseason giving money to the Grady Sizemores and Derek Lowes of the world (instead of filling their blatant needs with healthy, in-their-prime baseball players), it’s understandable that fans will get (more than) a bit frustrated. Nevermind blowing the draft for roughly a decade and then promoting the guy who ran those drafts. But hey look, Snow Days!3

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So where will Jimmy Haslam III fit into all of this? If he has any sort of success, I think he’ll move straight to the top of these oh-so-important rankings. Gilbert has to worry about the fickle nature of NBA superstars and the Dolans, well, if the Tribe actually hits on their draft picks, they’re almost immediately out of the Dolans’ price range in a few years4 .

But in the NFL, parity is king. What’s made the Randy Lerner era so frustrating is that the NFL is the one league where small market teams can win and thrive for a number of years5 and yet they’ve still managed to stink for a decade. If Haslam can turn this Brown and Orange ship around, he’ll be a hero.

My initial concern with the new Browns ownership is that we’re going to see yet another front office shake up. It only makes sense. If you paid roughly a billion dollars for a football team, you’re going to want to put Your People in charge of it. I can’t really argue with that.

But the last thing this particular franchise needs is another house cleaning. They just got done cleaning out Mangini-era players and are just now getting their West Coast system implemented (hooray for a full offseason! And an offensive coordinator!). If Haslam clears the deck and goes in a new direction, we’re in for a whole new rebuild.

On the bright side, Haslam is currently a minority owner in the Steelers. While that makes for easy jokes6 , I like the Pittsburgh connection. Haslam said he was drawn to the Steelers for their “business acumen and conservative philosophy” which I take to mean that he’s noticed that Pittsburgh has only employed three head coaches since Richard Nixon was President7 .

Former Eagles President Joe Banner will be a part of Haslam’s group, which could be a good thing for front office continuity (as GM Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shumur are both former Eagles employees). Even if Haslam and Banner bring in their own people, hopefully they won’t stray away from the West Coast offense, so at least these last few years wouldn’t have been a complete waste.

If Jimmy Haslam III can get and keep the Browns competitive, then we’ll love him. It is that simple. Success = love. And if he’s brash and defends the city like Mr. Gilbert, well, all the better, in my opinion. Having a willingness to spend the money to get things done isn’t a bad thing either. But if he decides to clean out the front office (as is his right) and the team goes in a new direction and doesn’t become competitive… good luck. I’m not sure how much more patience Browns fans have left in them.

Also, don’t make promises you can’t keep. That never ends well.

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  1. I mean, he paid $40 million to Butch Davis, Phil Savage, Romeo Crennel,  Rob Chudzinski, George Kokinis and Eric Mangini NOT to show up to Berea
  2. I don’t mind the Holmgren hiring, but it reeked of desperation. It’s not like Lerner took his time searching, he just threw a ton of money at the first Big Name available “See! I care! Look, Mike Holmgren! The Walrus! He’ll fix it! Now leave me alone!
  3. also, it is never good for fan morale to trade back-to-back Cy Young Aware winners
  4. to be fair, part of this is a MLB problem
  5. see: Packers, Green Bay and Steelers, Pittsburgh
  6. What? Lerner sold the Browns to a Steelers fan??
  7. meanwhile, since the Rooney’s hired Chuck Noll, the list of Browns head coaches looks like this
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