For weeks, the Cleveland Browns have appeared to be a franchise in turmoil.
That perception was bolstered Tuesday with the announcement the organization's front office is getting a major shake-up.
General manager Michael Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner are out, and Ray Farmer will take over as GM while assuming control of football operations immediately.
"The purpose of these moves is to unify our team with one, unequivocal goal: Provide our fans with the winning organization they have long deserved." team owner Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. He praised Banner and Lombardi but added, "We simply wanted to give Ray this opportunity that he's earned. We wanted to move forward under his leadership and capabilities."
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The unity Haslam seeks could be tough to achieve given the manner the club has been upended the past six weeks, though he bristled at suggestions the Browns are immersed in chaos.
"I would disagree with that," said Haslam at Tuesday's press conference. "I think that's a perception that you all (media) have set out there.
"I will just tell you that the people I talk to around the country ... think this is an outstanding opportunity here in Cleveland."
First-year coach Rob Chudzinski was fired hours after a 4-12 regular season ended, yet the Browns took nearly a month to hire Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as his replacement. The team was apparently rebuffed by hot-shot offensive coordinators Adam Gase (Broncos) and Josh McDaniels (Patriots) during its coaching search, putting Cleveland behind the eight ball in terms of its draft preparation.
Haslam rebuffed the popular notion that the team botched the interview process and scared off candidates.
"I think the reports of people not wanting to talk to us are inaccurate, OK?" Haslam said, insisting he wouldn't do anything differently. "But I think most importantly, I think we got a great head coach. And I said that when we were up here three or four weeks ago, and I feel even stronger watching Mike work, watching his leadership and watching the staff he's put together."
Farmer's elevation may not be as big a setback given his internal promotion, but the appearance of such flux at the 11th hour could sully Cleveland as a free agent landing spot.
Still Haslam is happy with a leaner power structure, something he'd previously discussed with Banner.
"I felt like the previous setup was a little bit cumbersome, and I think the way we're organized now is much more streamlined," he said. "It'll be much more efficient and much more clear in terms of who's in charge of what."
Farmer, 39, joined the Browns last year as assistant GM after seven seasons in personnel with the Kansas City Chiefs. He interviewed for the Miami Dolphins' GM job last month before dropping out.
"That job was not right for Ray Farmer," he said of the Miami post while claiming he didn't know his new role in Cleveland was imminent. "Just that simple. It wasn't right for me."
Farmer said he received a new four-year contract with his new title. He will have final say on the team's 53-man roster.
"Ray has a tremendous football IQ, he's compelling, and he understands the types of players we need to acquire and develop in order to win in Cleveland," Haslam's statement said. "He embraces his partnership with Mike Pettine, which is critical in helping build the right team. Ray will provide excellent leadership in our front office."
On the plus side, the team has plenty of cap room and a load of draft picks, including two first rounders and seven selections in the first four rounds.
Farmer is optimistic about a new day with Pettine.
"I think we're going to work well together," said Farmer. "I think we both have the same thing in mind, which is making the Cleveland Browns a winner."
The Browns have gone 9-23 over the past two seasons, largely coinciding with Haslam's purchase of the team in 2012. He took over halfway through that season and brought in Banner immediately and Lombardi last year.
"It is bittersweet leaving the Browns organization. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Jimmy Haslam and helping him set the infrastructure for this franchise," Banner said.
"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."
President Alec Scheiner will remain in charge of the Browns' business operations
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