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NFL owners unanimously approve Browns' Haslam as owner

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Posted Oct. 16, 2012 @ 4:40 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Updated at 4:40 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 16

CHICAGO — NFL owners swiftly approved the ownership of Jimmy Haslam III of the Browns Tuesday morning in a unanimous vote, and he suddenly found himself the object of everyone's attention at the Fall League Meeting.

"It’s exciting and it’s fun," Haslam said as he was introduced to the media. "But on the other hand, there are 100 people in the room, and they’re all looking at you. You’re not sure whether to smile or look up or look down.

"Our entire family is excited. It’s a great opportunity."

Haslam wasted no time either announcing changes. As had been widely known, Joe Banner will be named CEO of the Browns effective Oct. 25, and current team president Mike Holmgren will be out at year's end.

Banner and Holmgren will work together during their overlap period, Haslam said. No other personnel moves will happen prior to the end of the year, and that includes head coach Pat Shurmur and his staff, which earned its first victory Sunday in 11 months.

"I was excited for the coaches who, candidly, catch all the grief," Haslam said. "But I was most excited for the fans. As we left the stadium, an hour or so after the game there were still thousands of people there. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought we had just won the AFC championship."

Haslam, 58, was approved as majority owner of the Browns with support from all 32 teams Tuesday morning at the J.W. Marriott hotel during the first part of owners' general session. A room full of cheers were heard a floor below when the vote became official.

Haslam agreed on Aug. 2 to purchase the Browns from Randy Lerner as more than a billion-dollar fixer-upper. The Browns won their first game of the season Sunday against the Bengals and have been mired in losing for more than a decade.

Lerner will retain 30 percent of the team's stock. He took control of the team in 2002 when his father passed away. Lerner is not at the meeting, nor is Holmgren, who typically took Lerner's place at league events. Banner will be introduced to the media Wednesday morning and Holmgren plans to speak this week, although not on Wednesday.

Haslam said that he has met with Holmgren perhaps more than anyone else in the organization since first meeting him after taking over the team. After “hours and hours” of talking between the two and “hundreds and hundreds of questions” about “family and football,” Haslam said Holmgren came to the agreement that he wanted to step down from his role with the team and that he would not be interested in a new job title with the change of ownership.

"Mike was brought in to be the president and the de-facto owner," Haslam said. "He was brought in to do a certain role. I don’t think he wanted to do a different role."

The new owner added that Holmgren would not be in Cleveland on a day-to-day basis over the next few months but would be available whenever needed.

Banner will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the club, and that the "football people will report to Joe," Haslam said. Whether that includes personnel power (which Banner did not possess directly when he was with the Eagles up until this year) Haslam would not say. But Haslam did say he plans to be an active owner, something that could strike a positive chord with Browns fans who often griped at Lerner's sometimes laissez-faire appearance and his interest in other ventures.

"We think it’s important for ownership to be present and to be involved," he said.

Haslam and Banner first met in early July when the prospective owner was combing through a long list of interested partners and potential investors.

"I think we’ve developed a pretty good personal relationship candidly over the last three or four months and we did a lot of checking a lot of background checking," Haslam said. "This is a key hire right?"

It is. The Browns have a rabid fan base and a good core of young talent. Haslam believes that the brand is strong, but the roster needs continued improvement. The decision of what to do with the coaching staff is forthcoming. Haslam hinted that he's open to keeping the current group in place with a strong finish, but he did not rule out sweeping changes if the losing continues.

"(Holmgren) is the only personnel change we are going to make until the end of the season, and I am not at all saying that we won’t make changes after the season," Haslam said. "But this is the only personnel change we are going to make.

"At the end of the year, we’ll evaluate everything in the organization, just like we will at the end of every year, whether we win the Super Bowl or we win two games."

Haslam said he hoped to sell off his minority stake in the Steelers soon, by the end of the season. There had been some tension in Cleveland regarding Haslam being a part owner of the team's most hated rival. But the new owner of the Browns says he has soaked up his new team's fans quickly.

"I had always heard what a great football town Cleveland is and northeast Ohio, but since August 3 it has been nothing short of phenomenal.

"This is truly one of the great iconic NFL brands. If you think back to Paul Brown and arguably the greatest player of all time, Jim Brown, it’s a very special place. As we have said, we are going to do everything we possibly can to work to bring a winning team to the fans of Cleveland."

PFW editorial intern David DeChant contributed to this story

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