Former Eagles president Banner out as Browns CEO

Joe Banner leading a tour of the Browns' renovated facility in August. MARK DUNCAN / AP
Joe Banner leading a tour of the Browns' renovated facility in August. MARK DUNCAN / AP
Posted: February 13, 2014

In January 2013, executives from the Eagles and the Cleveland Browns flew to Arizona to interview Chip Kelly. The Browns' brain trust included former Eagles president Joe Banner as CEO. The Eagles' brass all had close connections to Banner - owner Jeffrey Lurie was his childhood friend and former boss, and president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman were once Banner protégés.

After initially rebuffing the NFL, Kelly eventually chose the Eagles.

The Browns settled on Rob Chudzinski and fired him after one 4-12 season, moving on to their third coach in three seasons. The Browns had become a punch line, to the point that a reporter asked team owner Jimmy Haslam if the Browns were run by the Three Stooges.

On Tuesday, the Browns announced that Banner was out as CEO. Officially, he will help the team in a transition role through the spring. But it was an abrupt ending to Banner's second act as a football executive. After 18 years in Philadelphia, he effectively lasted just 16 months in Cleveland.

"I cannot thank Joe . . . enough for what he has done for me personally and for our family, in terms of teaching us the NFL business," Haslam said at a Tuesday news conference. "I don't know if I've ever met anyone smarter or who worked harder, [a] better negotiator, than Joe."

The Eagles did not comment on the Browns' decision.

Banner's intelligence, work ethic, and negotiating prowess received similar praise during his Eagles days, but he had a negative public perception in Philadelphia, and he did not appear to improve that image in Cleveland.

Banner was one of the faces of the Eagles for nearly two decades, often bearing the criticism for unpopular decisions.

In June 2012, Lurie wanted to streamline the front office. Roseman, Smolenski, and then-coach Andy Reid all had defined roles and reported directly to Lurie. It was a different structure than what existed with Banner, who had his hands in football and business operations.

Haslam used that same word - "streamline" - when making Tuesday's announcement. Banner, who had final say on football decisions, was out with general manager Mike Lombardi, a former Eagles employee. Their front office structure is now similar to what Lurie implemented in Philadelphia, with the coach, general manager, and president all reporting directly to the owner. They used to report to Banner. There will not be a CEO in Cleveland.

"It is bittersweet leaving the Browns organization," Banner said in a statement released by the team. "I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Jimmy Haslam and helping him set the infrastructure for this franchise. I am proud of the talented individuals we brought in to help lead this team and feel that the Cleveland Browns are in good hands moving forward."

Banner similarly used the term "bittersweet" when describing how he felt after the Eagles made their front office changes.

The Browns' top three decision-makers all have Philadelphia connections. President Alec Scheiner grew up in Lower Merion. Coach Mike Pettine Jr. grew up in Bucks County and coached William Tennent and North Penn. General manager Ray Farmer played for the Eagles from 1996-1998.

The Browns' turmoil could be traced to the end of the 2012 season. Cleveland fired general manager Tom Heckert, a former Eagles executive; and coach Pat Shurmur, who became Kelly's offensive coordinator. It was clear that they targeted Kelly. They were the first team to meet with him, and initial reports suggested that Kelly was close to accepting the job.

"Erroneous," Kelly said last February of those reports.

After the Eagles hired Kelly, Banner told Sports Illustrated that the Browns actually passed on Kelly, considering him "too much of a gamble."

"We removed ourselves from the process," Banner said. "We really liked Chip. He's intriguing, a very different thinker, and very smart. But you could see he was uncertain what he wanted to do. . . . If there was no ambivalence, we may have offered him the job."

Kelly said that the decision was never between the Eagles and the Browns and that the only NFL team he was willing to coach was the Eagles.

"I just thought for me, the Eagles was the best opportunity," Kelly said last February. "It wasn't an elimination of anything, I just felt Philly was the best fit."

What became clear after one season was that the Browns' subsequent plan didn't work, creating an image of disarray and leaving Banner out as CEO. The Eagles won the NFC East title, and the future is as bright as it's been since Banner held an office in the NovaCare Complex.