For Banner, another room likely awaits

Joe Banner during his 2012 dismissal from the Eagles, flanked by Jeffrey Lurie (left) and Andy Reid.
Joe Banner during his 2012 dismissal from the Eagles, flanked by Jeffrey Lurie (left) and Andy Reid. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: February 13, 2014

The trouble with being the smartest guy in the room is that eventually you have to enter a different room. Joe Banner was that guy in Philadelphia - and, in some respects, in the NFL - for a long time. Now, come the spring, he'll be looking for work.

Banner was the chief executive officer for the Cleveland Browns for 16 months before owner Jimmy Haslam announced Tuesday that the organization would undergo a complete restructuring of its front office. Out were Banner (after two more perfunctory months of employment) and general manager Mike Lombardi - this, less than three weeks after the Browns hired Mike Pettine Jr. to replace Rob Chudzinski, who went 4-12 in his only season as head coach.

Team president Alec Scheiner will handle those business responsibilities that once were Banner's domain, and Ray Farmer will be the new GM, which means the Browns have had six general managers and eight head coaches since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999.

(Note to the Sixers and Flyers: Step up your game. When it comes to turnover, you guys are amateurs.)

It was Banner's dismissal, though, that was the most arresting aspect of what otherwise would have been just another routine overhaul for a franchise that can't seem to get anything right.

Stars form and burn out in sports all the time, even among those people who pick the players and strike the stadium deals and keep the checkbooks balanced. But Banner's fall in Cleveland was more intriguing than most, especially in light of how his tenures with the Eagles and Browns played out.

Consider the symmetry here: He had mentored Howie Roseman, who then supplanted him as Jeffrey Lurie's right hand, and he was close with Scheiner in Cleveland.

"It does seem over the past couple of years he's found himself in situations where perhaps his duties have been served by other people," said former executive and agent Andrew Brandt, who analyzes the league for ESPN. "It's just the way it's happened."

The outcome is surprising if only because Banner, who joined the Eagles' front office in 1994, when Lurie bought the team, wielded so much power and influence here. He was the Eagles' team president, and, really, their public face.

And that face frequently had a crinkled brow and eyes that widened and narrowed behind thick glasses and an expression of condescending disbelief, usually because someone had challenged Banner on any number of topics: the reasoning behind a particular draft pick or free-agent signing, the cold logic of his personnel/financial evaluations, the notion that the region's newspapers ought to devote more coverage and column inches to the Eagles - regardless of the time of the year or any sense of newsworthiness - than to any other Philadelphia franchise.

Whatever position he took, he maintained a kind of sneering adherence to it, as if he'd been written into a Law & Order script as a defense attorney. Sitting across the table from him during a contract negotiation probably would have qualified as Hercules' 13th labor.

Banner's persona, which so soured fans of the Eagles that he had to recede from the public eye for the good of the franchise's image, actually did obscure his achievements.

His approach for finessing the salary cap was revolutionary in the early 2000s. The idea of offering young, promising players stability by signing them to long-term contracts that were slightly below market value became a model for other teams. He was a driving force behind the construction of Lincoln Financial Field, helping procure more than $250 million in public funds for the project, which was wonderful for Lurie and the Eagles, if not for taxpayers.

Still, he and the Eagles never could deliver what people around here wanted most, a Super Bowl championship, and his departure from the Browns, even after such a short time with the franchise, came about in a similar context. Cleveland hasn't won an NFL championship since 1964, and when Banner and the Browns lost Chip Kelly to the Eagles, apparently Haslam - after a year-and-a-half of ownership - got tired of waiting to win.

"Obviously, Chip's had success in Philadelphia," Brandt said, "and if he'd gone the other way, you'd think he would have had success there. I haven't seen anything like this in terms of timing. Joe and Haslam got along. There was a vision. And it didn't work out."

It often doesn't, even for someone Brandt called "one of the smartest guys that I've met in the NFL." Joe Banner was that guy here. He wasn't in Cleveland. But the good part for him is that there's always another room to enter.


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