The NFL is hosting its Career Development Symposium this weekend. Among the many panels during the event will be the “Expectations of Ownership” discussion, which will be headlined by Jimmy Haslam and Stephen Ross, who own the Browns and Dolphins. If I were aspiring for a sustained career in the league — and why would I otherwise attend the symposium? — they’d be toward the bottom of owners from whom I’d seek counsel.
First and foremost, neither Haslam nor Ross has proven to be particularly adept at running his football team. To be fair, Haslam has only owned the Browns for two seasons, so the jury is still out, but in that time he’s fired two head coaches (Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski) and two general managers (Tom Heckert and Michael Lombardi).
Whether or not Haslam was aware of the prolonged, systematic fraud of customers by the Pilot Flying J gas station chain, for which he’s the CEO, he certainly presided over it. Ten employees have now pled guilty to federal charges in the case, and the company’s President Mark Hazelwood and Scott “Scooter” Wombold, vice president of national accounts, just left the organization with little notice or explanation last week.
Stephen Ross bought the Dolphins in early 2009; since then, the team is 35-45 with zero playoff appearances. In 2011, Ross courted Jim Harbaugh as head coach while Tony Sparano was still under contract. When Harbaugh spurned Miami for San Francisco, Ross gave Sparano an extension. (As Dan Le Batard wrote this past January, Ross has acknowledged his own naivety in expecting agent confidentiality, though one could argue that the biggest blunder was failing to land the eccentric/effective 49ers coach.)
Ross also presided over the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin debacle last season, which was something that went far beyond something as simple as one player picking on another — it was institutionally tolerated, and even perpetuated. Investigator Ted Wells’ report alleged that OL coach Jim Turner bought a male blow-up doll for an unnamed offensive lineman who was called a “faggot” by his teammates, and that head trainer Kevin O’Neill laughed off abuse of Martin and an assistant trainer.
After Martin left the team, but before everything boiled over, his agent called team general manager Jeff Ireland to discuss the abuse. Ireland’s reportedly proposed solution for Martin was for him to “punch” Incognito. The GM, who asked Dez Bryant if the receiver’s mother was a prostitute in the lead-up to the 2010 Draft, was fired this offseason, as were Turner and O’Neill. (As of early March, O’Neill was weighing a wrongful termination suit.)
Ross and Haslam may yet shepherd turnarounds of their franchises, but nothing they’ve demonstrated thus far in the NFL suggests they’re knowledgeable about staffing organizations that meet their expectations. What are they going to say? Don’t be like all the people we’ve fired? It’s akin to Brady Quinn lecturing Johnny Manziel about what it takes to be a successful quarterback.
The NFL can’t be expected to just trot out the garden variety “good” owners in Robert Kraft, Dan Rooney, and John Mara over and over, but no assistant coach could possibly be excited to spend his weekend listening to Ross and Haslam spout clichés about accountability and doing things the right way.
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