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Harris: Haslam envisions Steeler Way with Browns

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 12:08 a.m.
New Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III gestures during a news conference in Berea, Ohio, on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. The new owner of the Browns says his mission is to bring 'winning back to Cleveland' and proclaimed there's 'zero chance' he'll move the club out of town. (AP)

If you listen closely to what Jimmy Haslam III said and didn't say about becoming owner of the Cleveland Browns last week, you know he plans on turning his investment into Steelers Midwest.

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, expect Haslam, a Steelers minority owner the past four years, to remake the Browns in his — and the Steelers' — image.

“They do things the right way. They have the Steeler Way of doing things,” said Haslam, whose new team has lost 22 of the past 24 games against the Steelers. “I think now we will have the Browns way of doing things.”

It could mean Haslam wooing front office talent such as Steelers director of football and business administration Omar Khan, who wants to be an NFL general manager but is stuck behind general manager Kevin Colbert.

With former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner set to join Haslam's group, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the future of current Browns president Mike Holmgren could be in question, along with the job security of Browns general manager Tom Heckert.

The Browns are Haslam's team, and he's going to want to bring some of his people into key positions. Who better than Khan, a Steelers guy doing things the Steelers way?

On the personnel side, it could mean Haslam's Browns pursuing Steelers players such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, currently unsigned as a restricted free agent, if he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year.

The Steelers' impact, by virtue of an NFL-best six Super Bowl championships, can be felt all the way in Arizona, where coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher, has stocked his coaching staff and roster with former Steelers.

The same thing could happen in Cleveland under Haslam's stewardship.

“I'll say this: The Rooneys are everything you have ever heard and read that they are,” Haslam said about Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II during his introductory press conference with the Cleveland media. “They are class people, they do things right.”

What Haslam didn't say was how he plans on doing those things. While admitting it would be “very presumptuous and very poor form for us to make any personnel decisions or comments” until he officially replaces Randy Lerner during the next scheduled owners meeting in October, Haslam provided insight into his ownership style.

“Somebody asked me about being hands on because we run our main business hands on,” said Haslam, who owns the Pilot Flying J travel center chain. “I looked over at Mike (Holmgren) and said, ‘Mike probably doesn't want us to be hands on,' but I think our style is going to be involved. I think you'll find that we are open and transparent.”

In some ways, Haslam comes across like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, but minus the massive ego. He's upfront and gregarious and doesn't mind sharing his thoughts with the media and fans. Cleveland reporters will love him after dealing with the reclusive Lerner.

And since Haslam's paying the bills, he's already made it clear he wants to be an involved owner. Up to a point.

Haslam wasn't kidding when he said he learned a lot as a Steelers minority owner. He watched the Rooneys and their front-office staff operate, and he learned that there's a time to take charge and a time to step aside and let the experts on your payroll do their job.

“I spent a lot of time with Kevin Colbert picking his brain over the four years,” Haslam said. “... Of (Cleveland's) last 10 first round draft picks, only two (are) here, am I right? And to be honest, your first-round draft pick has to not just make the team, not just start, he has to be All-Pro.

“They (Steelers) build through the draft and those are the things that I learned there.”

Haslam's learning curve continues as he attempts to remake his Browns in the Steelers' image.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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