Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) knocks the ball out of the hand of Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) during the second half of a game in Pittsburgh, Sunday. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
PITTSBURGH: In the wake of the worst season in Browns history, owner Jimmy Haslam vowed to defy his nature by exercising patience.
The Browns set a franchise record for losses in a season by finishing 1-15 with Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the finale. Their consolation prize is the coveted No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft.
But disgruntled fans who want heads to roll at team headquarters in Berea will be disappointed because Haslam said he’ll stick with coach Hue Jackson and the analytics-driven front office led by head of football operations Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry.
“Really pleased with Hue and really pleased with our personnel group,” Haslam said outside the visitors locker room at Heinz Field. “I think we have the right people in place. It took us a while to get there, and I’ll take all the responsibility there. I think this time last year we said this is going to be multi-year rebuilding. It is.”
Haslam, the self-proclaimed “most impatient person in the world,” has fired three regimes since he bought the Browns in October 2012. He even ousted one group after just one season on the job.
Now he’s preaching continuity, even though the new regime yielded the most disappointing results yet in its first season. Although the Browns avoided becoming just the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 with a Christmas Eve miracle against the San Diego Chargers, they’re the 10th team to go 1-15, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They even won one game less than when they went 2-14 as an expansion team in 1999.
“We’ve learned from our previous mistakes, and I think it is important to have continuity,” Haslam said. “But I think until you get the right people in place, you’ve got to keep making moves. … I feel very strongly we’ve got the right group together, and I think they’re working exceptionally well together.”
One report suggests otherwise.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported Sunday unnamed team and league sources said Jackson would urge ownership to add a proven, old-school talent evaluator to the front office to provide checks and balances for Brown, who has control of the 53-man roster despite lacking a traditional football background.
Haslam said he doesn’t plan to make an addition.
“If we do, it will be Sashi and Paul and AB’s call,” Haslam said. “But we feel good about the people we’ve got in place.”
Brown and DePodesta are scheduled to join Jackson in a news conference at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
After the game, Jackson insisted he believes it’s important to stick to the organization’s plan.
“Me and Sashi are in lockstep trying to get this football team to be the best it is,” Jackson said. “We’re going to get there. That’s all I can tell you. We are together. We know what we’re doing. We have work to do.”
“There’s no divide here. We just need to get better. That’s what we need to do from the top down, and we’ll do that.”
Haslam identified three keys to reversing the fortunes of the franchise this offseason: re-signing key players, being “appropriately aggressive” in free agency and drafting exceptionally well.
In addition to possessing the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since they had it in 1999 and 2000, the Browns own the 12th selection, which they acquired last year by trading the No. 2 choice to the Philadelphia Eagles. So they’re armed with plenty of ammunition as they continue their eternal search for a long-term answer at quarterback.
“The Cleveland Browns, including on our watch, have not made good decisions in the draft,” Haslam said. “We need to reverse that and reverse that this year, and we’ve got a great opportunity.”
He added it’s premature to judge the 14-man draft class assembled last year by Brown and Co.
Haslam directed all of the blame for the disappointments at himself and his wife and co-owner, Dee, calling their performance “totally unacceptable.” The Browns have gone 19-54 since they assumed control of the franchise. The Browns have lost 25 of their past 27 games and 33 of 37.
“We haven’t made good decisions along the way, so we’ll accept the blame,” Haslam said. “Our record as owners is terrible, but we’re not giving up. Has it been fun? No. Is it discouraging at times? Yes. But are we going to give up? No. We’re more than ever determined to get this right.”
Although the Steelers rested their offense’s top stars in preparation for the playoffs and still handed the Browns a franchise-record 13th consecutive road loss, Haslam pointed to his team’s effort as a source of optimism and said he “could not be more pleased with the job” Jackson and his staff have done.
“I think there are bright spots, but let’s be realistic,” Haslam said. “We’re 1-15. I don’t want to sugarcoat things. We’ve got a ways to go.”
And the Haslams will travel the arduous road with the bigwigs they have in place.
“We really view ourselves as stewards for our great fans, and we need to be a heck of a lot better stewards than we have been,” Haslam said. “Has it been harder than we thought? Absolutely. But we’re going to do this. [The fans] deserve better than what we’ve given them, and we’re going to get it right.”