On Banner, And Lessons Learned

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If you’re like me, you find Joe Banner to be an oddly fascinating study. If so, you’ll especially enjoy the anecdotes that Peter King unearthed about Banner’s final days as boss in Cleveland.

The scene is set around the interview Banner and the rest of the Browns’ brass held with head coaching candidate Ken Whisenhunt this offseason. Whisenhunt interviewed for the same position last year but the gig instead went to Rob Chudzinski, who was promptly fired after a 4-12 campaign. He wanted to know why he didn’t get the job the first time around.

The Browns’ CEO who was in both interviews, Joe Banner, told Whisenhunt he didn’t think the staff he was putting together at the time was “a championship coaching staff.”

Whisenhunt, one NFL source said, was peeved that a man who had never coached and who’d been involved in football mainly on the business side would sit in judgment of his potential coaches.


“Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship coaching staff?” Whisenhunt said, with an edge in his voice.

That scene, another source told The MMQB, illustrated a big reason why owner Jimmy Haslam made the bombshell announcement he made Tuesday, firing Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi after their first full seasons on the job. Haslam became dubious about Banner’s football acumen and during the coach-search process following the firing of rookie coach Rob Chudzinski saw what a potential roadblock to success Banner would be. Add in Banner’s brusque and sometimes confrontational style that rubbed many around the NFL the wrong way, and you’ve got a good read on why Haslam stunned the NFL with the late-morning announcement.

It makes you wonder how the interview between Banner and Chip Kelly went, doesn't it?

A couple things strike me here. One is the importance of having the proper power structure up top, and how critical a strong head coach is to the stability of that structure. Recent Eagles history proves that point pretty well. When Andy Reid was in firm command, Banner's influence could only extend so far. He had plenty of say -- even when it came to personnel -- but Reid had firm enough footing to maintain authority over the football side of the operation. When Reid found himself on shakier ground, the dynamic shifted. Banner and Howie Roseman fought for the power that was suddenly up for grabs. Now three men were pulling in different directions. Many of the moves during this time ran counter to what we had come to expect under a Reid-led team. He had lost control.

An unbridled Banner is not a good thing, as Cleveland discovered. There are business people and there are football people and it's never a good idea to have one too deep in another's territory. You need a head coach -- and a system -- that can keep trespassers from coming over the wall.

The Eagles learned their lesson in this respect, it seems, and arranged their power structure accordingly. Banner's successor, Don Smolenski, is an integral part of the operation but is not overly-involved in the personnel side of things. Roseman takes the lead in the draft process and is responsible for gathering players that fit Kelly's criteria, and the head coach shapes the 53-man roster. All three report directly to Jeffrey Lurie.

In Smolenski, the Eagles found kind of the "anti-Banner" in terms of his approach and personality. It's unlikely his style will ever be described as "brusque and sometimes confrontational." He works mostly in the background  and identifies well with the fan base.

This is no coincidence. The Eagles are very much aware of the rift that occurred between the team and town, even during some of the franchise's most successful years. Banner wasn't solely responsible for this, of course, but his rocky relationship with the fans was emblematic of a larger overall problem. They have put in a great deal of work to try and bridge the divide.

All of this is a reminder of the delicate balance needed within an NFL organization, where a person can be of tremendous value in one environment and a detriment in another.

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  • Andy

    Banner: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

    • Rambler

      The only green this Banner sees is when he lowballs a player’s request for more money.

  • G_WallyHunter

    Maybe he’ll come back as vice president..

    • BHOtheLiar

      No, he and Hillary are too much alike.

  • Philadelphiaphanphour

    The rift that occurred between the team and the town was because the town wasn’t smart enough. So, Lurie temporarily solves that by getting an even smarter coach. Hopefully we are smart enough not to run another elite organization out of town.

  • CSpangler

    The Whiz event is the one thing Banner got right. Having Whisenhunt immediately means you arent assembling a championship coaching staff. Unfortunately for Whiz he doesnt have Kurt Warner any longer to bail him. I say hes gone in 3 yrs from Tenn.

  • Brandon

    Don’t agree with this article at all. What happened in Philly was that Reid initially had his power checked by Banner but then was given way too much power on the personnel side after Banner left, thus resulting in bad contracts being signed (Nmandi anyone?). It’s extremely rare for a single guy to be able to be the coach and GM for a successful team (maybe only Belichek?). A healthy power structure involves a culmination of the two football (coach) and business (GM) aspects coming together as one.

    • G_WallyHunter

      Correct me if I’m wrong but Banner was still around for all those FA signings.. he wasn’t canned until the 2012 season midway through

      • Brandon

        You might be right but he was on his way out. I remember clearly him stating he had nothing to do with any of those contracts.

        • G_WallyHunter

          Ya probably part of what got him canned, kind of believable given how bad a few of those contracts were and how he was a ‘contract expert’… All I know is he stuck around for over a year after the dream team signings..

          • Brandon

            Uh you’re wrong dude. Joe Banner left the eagles in June 2012 and he was on his way out months before that.

          • G_WallyHunter

            Ya he was still around a year earlier for all the signings. A full year before. 14 or 15 months before

        • anon

          no one had anything to do w those contracts

          • Andy124

            Nnamdi blames Kurt Coleman for those contracts.

          • bentheimmigrant

            Well, it was true. The Eagles actually tricked him into signing the contract. It was an elaborate plot that involved handing him a pen, and then having Kurt run past and duck behind a wall. Nnamdi had no idea that there was a contract on the wall when his arm involuntarily shot out.

          • RIP illa

            Yeah I remember readin that interview. Was the weirdest interview ever. No quotes, no words…just a picture of Nnamdi pointing at Kurt!!! :-)

    • Adam

      The Nnamdi and Dream Team signings was the beginning of the shift of power from Banner/Reid to Howie. I personally put those signings at Howie’s feet.

      • anon

        tried to make a name for himself

        • Adam

          Yeah, thinking we were a few pieces away from being a championship team but he learned you can’t buy a team. Seems as though he’s learned his lesson which is a trait you don’t always get in this league.

          • Andy124

            Obligatory reminder that almost everybody though the Nnambi signing was a brilliant coup and a reasonable price.

            Obligatory counter that it’s a GM’s job to know better and to be right.

            Obligatory addition that who knows how much the crap coaching and culture that was born here during that time affected that signing.

          • Adam

            Yep. Hindsight… 20/20.. the usual stuff. I had no problems with the signing when it happened. I would be interested to see how many other teams were in the market for Nnamdi at the time. I know Dallas was. It would be interesting to see if anybody in the NFL had a real idea of what type of player Nnamdi had become. Was he actually that good in Oakland or was he just not thrown to often enough to be exposed for what he was? We’ll never really know.

          • Brandon

            I believe we were bidding against the mighty NYJ if memory serves me correctly. He was entering his age 30 season. He flat out was not worth the money given to him in hindsight or foresight. There were 31 other teams smart enough to not make that deal. That deal would have NEVER been made during the Banner days.

      • Brandon

        I don’t know about that. At that point, Howie was reporting to Andy Reid so Howie would have not done those contracts if it weren’t for Reid’s blessing. I guess really no way to know who’s “idea” those moves were but I personally fault Andy more than Howie there.

  • Adam

    Is there a man that is the epitome of his personality more than Joe Banner? He looks like, and is, an evil, evil man.

  • peteike

    whats kind of funny in all this, is nobody hated him when the team was playing well in the McNabb/Westbrook?JJ heyday. He was actually making very smart moves at times up until TO and then of course Dawkins when it all came back to bite him. I appreciated him not over paying for old talent. A lot of those contracts and letting some guys go were savvy moves. Everyone chooses to remember only the bad ones and of course the disaster of the last few years when he was on his way out. It left a sour taste for the fans left without a superbowl and a rebuild in the future.

    • anon

      way of the world

    • SunShine

      What have you done for me lately kind of thing. Just a rarity find things end in a peaceful and harmonic way. I will say this…Not resigning Dawkins hurt bad…..real bad….Not just for performance reasons either

      • Earl J

        The way he handled Dawkins and then the epic collapse of the whole secondary was the tipping point.

        • SunShine

          In retrospect. Not finding an adequate safety and eventually becoming desperate with searching for the ‘Next Brian Dawkins’ was a sad sad ordeal.

      • Brandon

        For the record, Banner has stated the Dawkins move was one of his biggest mistakes during his time with the Eagles. So I give him credit in at least admitting he was wrong.

        • SunShine

          True that

    • Kev_H

      Why do you care how much the Eagles pay people?

      • RIP illa

        Am I missing something? Isn’t what players stay, which ones go and who comes in a direct result of how much the team pays people? Why would we not care as fans?

    • RIP illa

      I was kinda pissed when we lost Trotter!!! A little Banner is a good thing, but…everyone knows you don’t go full Banner!!! :-)

  • SunShine

    Gotta give Haslam a bit of credit here (despite placing the franchise in that mess in the first place). Bad signings but he got out of it. Better than trying to tell himself that it could work out

    • peteike

      I agree, I think a lot of Browns fans are fine with it also. He at least seems aware of his mistakes and trying to make things better. Remains to be seen of course. Moving Trent, drafting Gordon good moves.

      • SunShine

        They are still in a bad spot for not only missing out in not one, not two, but THREE of their top choices. Im kinda rooting for Pettine because the guy needs it with all that nonsense going on. Hopefully Haslam has faith in the guy but that remains to be seen

  • EricT

    I’m no Banner fan, but we built a near championship team, kept the salary cap in check, stayed competitive for nearly a decade, had stability with the roster, got a new stadium built, got a state of the art training facility and turned around a sorry ass team into a perennial contender.

    You may not like his personality. You may not like his looks. You may cringe at his voice/interviews. But he got the job done and done well for a long time.

    • anon

      maybe the cheapness that kept us competitive kept us from going over the top.

    • Kev_H

      The more influence Banner gained, the worse the team became. He did win the cap Olympics every year- at the expense of locker room cohesion. What does a fan care about that? Baltimore won a title in 2000, had cap problems but remained competitive and won it again 12 years later. As a fan, I want my team to max out salaries every year. If they don’t win the title and had money in the bank, they weren’t in it to win.

    • Dr Rick

      I can’t vote this comment down without logging in. Your point is very valid. Howeveh, something happened and he stopped being able to get the job done. Not a hater, just sayin’.

  • Sven

    I don’t blame anyone for the Nnamdi signing. Why do we forget, he was THE most coveted FA in the market then. Getting him here was an achievement, however his fall from grace due to lack of motivation, putting him in a scheme not suited to his talents is another story. That, according to me is a coaching failure.

    • bentheimmigrant

      He definitely lost a step as well.

      • Sven

        I find that puzzling as well, how could a corner who was a beast in man coverage deteriorate so much in 1 offseason. My theory is, the Juan Castillo zone was too much of a change to his set ways of man coverage. Once he lost the confidence, he always seems a step behind others even when he was playing cover corner.

  • GEAGLE

    GEAGLE EYE: Keep an eye out for the Eagles trading a late round pick to Oakland for QB Terrell Pryor.
    ..
    If the plan is to draft a developmental QB, we may elect to send the Raiders a late pick for Pryor who should soon be on the trading block. personally I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of the move, but if we are going to spend time trying to develop a taj Boyd type to eventually trade, I’d be curious to see what Chip could turn this big super athlete into

    • Sven

      What’s a Geagle anyway ?

      • Dr Rick

        He’s forgotten, but his idea re Pryor is really good.

        • GEAGLE

          Who r u? and what’s a Sven? Never mind..appologjes

    • Tom W

      No chance but thanks

      • GEAGLE

        No chance In what? Chip wanting to give up a late pick to work with him?

  • Kev_H

    You can only get away with acting like Banner in pro sports if you own a team. His approach is a certain loser in football.

  • http://www.corcommunity.com/ theycallmerob

    Great article, Tim. Just as those qualities that can’t be measured make all the difference in the lockerroom- heart, character, cohesion, and strong leadership and chemisty- play a role in any business setting. The FO seems much more familial these days, and I think Chip’s pragmatism and leadership extends beyond just his players.
    From the coaching staff, to the scouting department and Gamble, to the relationship they all have with Howie and Lurie….just some good juju all around.

  • PaoliBulldog

    Great article. The Eagles’ treatment of Mike Patterson was despicable and undoubtedly Banner-driven. You will never convince a player to run through a brick wall for an aye-hole like that.

    • tag1555

      There were a lot of fans who were very happy Patterson was gone, judging from the online boards. I think he never could outlive being a 1st round pick who turned out to be just competent, rather than outstanding.

      In any case, Banner was long gone by the time Patterson was released.

  • Michael Myers

    that look on his face…like his wife just farted,,,again,,,

  • Dr Rick

    Wow!! Outstanding article, Tim! Grand slam.

    Banner is not “the guy” to have on your team. Divisive and not good in a leadership role. Time to move along.

    The Browns are a living dumpster fire for ?how many years? I wanted Weeden to succeed, and think he still could, but not without deep and long term support.

    Once again, ownership bears responsibility.
    Let’s see: Washington – ownership, check. Cleveland – ownership, check. I’ll stop here. Not wanting to beat up on other teams.

    Forward thinking ownership is very important.

  • GEAGLE

    Let’s face it, with banner in Cleveland that franchise was dead to us. there was simply no way we could ever get a real deal done with banner guarding it’s roster against as like a jealous ex girlfriend. I’m not suggesting that they are now open to being fleeced, but I imagine they are now open for business with a new regime needing to turn over roster and make some important decisions,..

    Can’t talk about the Browns without mentioning Ward. Who would be a godsend to Byrd fans. The new man in Charge in Cleveland is a former safety, so I doubt he will undervalue WARD. It also sucks that to stick a franchise tag on a center! you have to pay him the average of the 5 top LTs and no one is paying Elute LT money to franchise a center, which means that TJ is the prime target for the franchise tag, which is a little over 8mil for safeties..
    ..
    Now the Browns have 40 Mil in cap space, so they can do whatever they want..but if you take a look at their roster, and cap, contract/expirations there are some things that weigh in the favor of Ward fans,,
    ,,,
    Browns were said to be in talks with Joe Haden making him the highest paid CB in the he history of the NFL because they didn’t want Haden to go into the season on the last year of his deal. Why wasn’t TJ WARD extended the same courtesy? Why were they ok with getting to this point where TJ is a month away from having the power to sign whoever he choses? I know Cheap Banner is gone, but I’m not so sure that I can envision that franchise fielding a secondary with one of the highest paid safeties and highest paid CB.

    And it’s not just going to be the Haden contract, that team has a TON of money invested in defense already. how many more big contracts can they allocate to the defensive side? One of the happies men to see Banner fired is Da’Qwell Jackson! He counts close to 10mil against next years Cap. banner would have never let him see that contract as is. he wouldn’t had to restructure, or possibly even pay cut but I Digress,,
    ,,,
    Jackson is making like 7mil 9 I think with bonus’s next year
    ..
    Rotoworld says whoevers extension gets done last will be the highest paid CB in the history of the NFL out of Haden and Peterson. So Haden is getting super paid
    ,.,
    KRuger is heading into year two of his 40million dollar deal making 7mil
    ..
    DT Ahyba Rubin is making almost 7mil next season

    Can they really add one of the highest paid safeties?

    They do have 40mil…but their ALL WORLD TE needs a new deal this year, Josh Gordon the year after. Haden,Jackson!Kruger all have 3-5years left on Mega Deals. can you really add a big money safety?

    Other Potential Target Is someone I suggested we trade for last offseason (as if banner would let that happen)..OLB Jabaal Sheard.(basically Trent Cole sized). Sheard is young, entering the last year of his rookie deal (25yr old). He makes like 970k this year and then becomes a free agent, so I’m not sure if he would be worth giving up any decent picks unless we already know we want to offer him an extension. sack totals have been going down but he hasn’t really had a consistent full time role. 2011 he had 8.5sacks and 5FF, 2012 dropped to 7-1, 2013 5.5 and 1(13 games played). This is a talented kid who was the 37th pick in 2011 and Billy Davis knows him well having coached them last year. Sheard should apeal to you Worlids Lovers who will be disappointed to see sign an extension with Pitt

    If Billy thinks that he can turn Sheard into our impact OLB pass rusher, Maybe we trade a late pick for him. Full disclosure he is considered more 4-3DE than 3-4OLB, but Billy Davis would know if he works for us or not. Kruger is making 40mil to play across from Sheard and they drafted Mingo a year ago who they will want to see play a bigger role, which reduces Sheard’s. They also have a similar OLB to Sheard in Quintim Groves who they signed last year 2year deal. THey aren’t going to extend Sheard, so if we like him enough to extend him, I’m sure they would take our extra 5th for Sheard. DaQwell,Mingo!Kruger is going to form one expensive LB core…Can they all add the highest paid corner AND a top paid Safety?

    FREE TJ WARD.. Bought to start making T shirts.

    Free Ward from the Dog Pound and my limited edition: Bring the BYRD to the Philly NEST!

    • Tom W

      Really rather have a safety better equipped to man center field and be a ballhawk and occasionally cover a slot wr. Ward is a different animal I don’t think helps our press corners nearly as much as say a Byrd or similar player.

      • GEAGLE

        Yeah I’d rather have Byrd, BuT Ward is a better option then Whittner. If we don’t sign one of those 3, then I’d bet anything either Clemons,Jenkins or Mitchell will be Eagles…unless they have the audacity to bring back Nate,,..Ward Is also NO SLOUCH in coverage, but everyone is fixated on him being a tackling machine..

        Ward may not be the centerfielder,Byrd is, but he would be the best cover guy we had since Dawkins?his cover skills are drastically under rated. I damn sure rather have Ward in coverage then Clemons, Mitchell and probably even Malcom Jenkins…when are we going to start doing our Mock Free agents? I think I identified a few future eagles. I had Cary!James Casey last year

    • tag1555

      Hard to say – Banner was there for less than two years, and there’s a lot of other franchises the Eagles haven’t done trades with during that same time as well. I never read even a rumor of a potential deal between the Eagles and Browns that didn’t happen because Banner blocked it.

  • anon

    Any thoughts on us taking a run at Jason Hatcher? This might be GEAGLE level speculation but he crushed it last season (red flag for howie i suppose) but Dallas might not have the money to keep him unless they tag him. He’s 31, but i think that’s ok for a NT, he’s probably in the prime of his man strength. He had an 11 sack season when Dallas was playing TERRIBLE on defense, you also gotta think that a lot of their DE/OLB pass rush is because of his dominance on the inside.

    I know everyone’s talking about safeties / OLBs, but i’d really like a big boy on the interior — someone that can teach Big Bennie how to play and generally occupy blockers so we can get more free runs at the QB (and so we don’t have to blitz the whole front 7 just to get sacks).

    All that said we’re probably looking for someone who is coming down the mountain instead of just hitting its peak. #hoopdreams

    • GEAGLE

      Hahaha love the pub. Appreciated

      1,..I’m going to start keeping track of how many people write my name in their post..of course these are all people who’s names I they have never seen in my post nor will they ever. Congrats, I’m re numbering..you are now NUTHugger #1 from now on
      ..
      Jason hatcher? Hahahaha not a chance silly

    • Wilbert M.

      Draft Daniel McCullers. He’s huge and we can possibly get him in the 3rd round. We definitely need a NT that demands a double team.

  • FMWarner

    I never cared that Banner was a jerk, or that he wasn’t a “Philly guy”, or that he didn’t like the fans and he didn’t like them. I didn’t care because he kept the salary cap in check, kept the roster competitive, and kept the team flexible. He even didn’t let people foolishly calling him cheap push him to make dumb moves – until the end. Then he caved, and we got 2011 and 2012.

  • DharmaBum