Even if you’re not a fan of the Cleveland Browns - even if you’re not a football fan at all, or for that matter, even if you wouldn’t know a football if you hit you squarely in the head – what the Browns did recently is a great, great lesson for you.
Indeed, no matter what you do for a living, you need to pay attention to the team’s firing of Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown.
So, you might say, what is an executive vice president of football operations and what, exactly, does he do?
Executive vice president of football operations is a totally unnecessary $10 term when a 50-cent one would do just fine. He is the team’s general manager. As such, he is the highest-ranking official on the football side of the organization. He reports to only one person, the owner of the team. In the Browns’ case, that is Jimmy Haslam.
All this is important to know in understanding why the Browns parted ways with such a high-ranking official when there were still four games – 25 percent of the regular season – left to go. Usually, high-ranking big executives in the National Football League are fired, and hired, in the offseason.
When the boss at your place of employment – whether it’s the big boss, such as the owner, or simply your immediate boss, or both – gives you an order, you follow it. When he gives you something to do, you do it.
Your job, as an employee, is obviously not to stand there and debate the worth of such an order, such a task. You might think it is the best idea ever, or you might think it is a terrible idea and the misguided wisdom of a madman. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter one bit. You just do it, as the catch-phrase in the ads for a well-known sports clothing company implores us to do. That’s not hard to figure out. It’s only common sense.
Think about it, if the boss wanted your opinion on the matter, then he would ask for it. But when you don’t hear him ask for it, then it is your duty to do as your told. It is to your distinct advantage to do so – unless, of course, you are independently wealthy and don’t need to be concerned with your job security. But that’s probably not the case, because if you were in the money, so to speak, then you wouldn’t be working in the first place.
So you just have to buck up and carry out the order, whatever it is your boss tells you to do. When you get to be the boss – when you’re the person signing the paychecks of everyone in the company -- then you can make the decisions and give out the orders. But you’re not there yet.
Brown was in violation of this principle – this cardinal rule of business, whatever the business it is, football or otherwise – in a variety of ways over an extended period of time.
And, to make it even more egregious, he did it brazenly, defiantly and publicly so, as if he were almost trying to rub Haslam’s nose in it, tweak him.
When Haslam hired him in 2016 as executive vice president of football operations – Brown was actually promoted to the position from executive vice president/general counsel, a job he had had from 2013 – the owner told him in no uncertain terms to get a franchise quarterback. Haslam gave him that order oh, perhaps, 100 times.
Why? Because it was clearly, emphatically Brown’s No. 1 task. Even if he messed up all the other tasks – in fact, even if he ignored those other tasks – all would have been well with his standing in the company, and with Haslam. if he just got a big-time quarterback.
Haslam’s order was certainly understandable. Quarterback is the most important position not just in football, but in sports overall, at all levels. If a team has a great quarterback, then it has a great chance to win. And if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.
It’s just that simple.
You would think that someone who had already been under the employ of the Browns for two years would know that the club needs a quarterback. The Browns have needed a quarterback for 24 years, since then head coach Bill Belichick unceremoniously cut team icon Bernie Kosar.
Oh, sure, Brown got a couple quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, but not with picks in the first round, where most of the great ones are, but in the second and third rounds. This is despite the fact the Browns had picks at the top of the first round and could have used them on a quarterback. But Brown kept trading out of those picks for other ones further down in the first round, which he used to take players at every position under the sun except quarterback.
If you‘re the big boss – if you’re Jimmy Haslam – and you know that the total rebuilding of your football team doesn’t really begin to take shape until that franchise quarterback is acquired, then you’re not just mad, you’re seething, absolutely seething.
What in the name of Brian Sipe is going on?
But that’s not all of it. Actually, it’s just one part of Brown’s legion of misdeeds – a big part, to be sure, but only one part nonetheless.
Haslam also gave Brown orders to make a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for their second-string quarterback, AJ McCarron. He didn’t ask Brown if he thought it was a good trade. He simply told him to do it.
But the Browns flubbed the trade in terms of sending the right paperwork on time to the NFL office.
It’s a very simple procedure. If Brown were a carpenter, it would be like him knowing how to pound a nail straight with a hammer.
So, then, did Brown, who would have had to surrender two of his precious draft picks in the trade, purposely hit his finger with the end of that hammer?
What does common sense tell you?
Finally, a huge aspect of Brown’s job was to get along, and work together, with Browns head coach Hue Jackson. That’s a no-brainer. They needed to make decisions as a single entity – the braintrust of the organization – to do what was in the best interest of the Browns. It wasn’t what Brown wanted singularly, or what Jackson wanted singularly, but what they wanted as a pair.
Haslam was paying both men millions of dollars in salary, so for him to expect them to put their egos aside and, if necessary, agree to agree to disagree and push the Browns forward with their decisions, was not a lot to ask.
Instead, Brown kept cutting Jackson’s legs out from under him, in so many words. ignoring the coach’s input and simply going ahead and doing what he wanted to do personally. Time and time again, much to Jackson’s chagrin, Brown did that – so much so that, for Brown’s last month on the job, the two men did not speak a word to one another unless absolutely necessary.
Whether it’s a football team, a foundry, a flower shop or a fruit farm, that kind of relationship between the club’s second- and third-most powerful men is a recipe for disaster. An entity can’t function that way.
And the Browns didn’t.
Which is why Haslam fired Brown and, at the same time, announced that Jackson would return for the 2018 season.
It’s all because of basic business principles – not some complicated football-related thing, mind you, but rather a simple one that all of us, regardless of our professional backgrounds, can understand.
So listen to your boss. Do what he or she says.
It’s kind of important.
In fact, your job, wherever your spot at on the organizational structure, depends on it.