During a stop in Canton, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said he bumped into Troy Aikman at the Super Bowl. Haslam said Aikman had some music for his ears.
Fifty minutes before showtime, the floor where the Canton Charge is dribbling away winter was overtaken by 900 well-dressed adults taking forks to $85 steak and chicken dinners.
The star of the show wasn’t eating. Jimmy Haslam was chilling in a quiet Memorial Civic Center hallway.
A reporter found Haslam by himself on a stool and made small talk. Yes, Haslam enjoyed New Orleans. No, he didn’t make it to Roger Goodell’s Super Bowl press conference. No, he hadn’t yet done a talk like the one in Canton on Thursday night since becoming owner of the Browns.
That Canton Township property his family has added to the Pilot Flying J truck-stop family, which was Gulliver’s until the doors closed last week — will it be a Pilot or a Flying J?
“I think it’ll be a J,” Haslam said.
The small talk ended.
Haslam commenced talking about the big job of ending the Browns’ monumental losing.
The 58-year-old Tennesseean instantly took command of the main stage at the 99th annual dinner of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce. His manner was as easy as it had been in the hallway, in some ways.
He wrapped that aspect in a blaze of energy that had the crowd applauding both his business and his Browns segments.
He revealed something of his football team in sharing some small talk he had in New Orleans with Troy Aikman. The Hall of Fame quarterback, he said, came by to introduce himself one day.
“I said, ‘Yeah, Troy, I know who you are,’ ” Haslam said, drawing a laugh from the Canton crowd. “He said, ‘Norv (Turner) taught me more about football than anybody I’ve ever met.’ ”
It was Haslam’s way of saying the Browns have something with their new offensive coordinator, Turner, whose tutelage helped Aikman win three Super Bowls with Dallas.
Haslam was asked by an audience member why he hired Rob Chudzinski as head coach.
“Ability to hire a great staff,” Haslam said, was one big reason.
The other biggee: “(Chudzinski) is an innovative offense person. We believe the NFL has become an offensive game.”
When Haslam was taking over the Browns last autumn, he spent many hours with then-team president Mike Holmgren. He says the first question he asked Holmgren was, “Can Brandon Weeden play?”
Months later, the question hangs like a sword over the 2013 season. Haslam didn’t talk about it Thursday, saying media relations chief Neal Gulkis is advising him to minimize public comments about on-field matters.
At the Super Bowl, though, Haslam said Weeden will be in “a competition.” Against whom? He caught himself and said any of his football comments would be “premature.”
Page 2 of 2 - It’s a given Haslam knows the team’s detailed quarterback plans chapter and verse. He WANTS to know. One thing he keeps making clear, including in his swing through Canton, is that he will be “involved.”
He knows, for example, exactly why new defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Chudzinski are installing a 3-4 defense at the expense of maintaining the continuity of a 4-3 scheme that was respectable the last two years.
“Ray and Chud feel like the 3-4 affects the quarterback more,” Haslam said.
Haslam turned his talk to plans for improving the “game-day experience.” He drew applause when he touched fixing “a cell phone network that probably drives everybody crazy.”
He acknowledged the larger problem, bad football. The Browns are 23-57 in the last five years. They are 4-6 since the league unanimously approved Haslam’s buy from Randy Lerner.
Can the Browns win under the new owner?
“I can’t promise we can do it,” he said, “but I promise nobody will outwork us.”
He understands working without winning won’t quite work.
“We’re highly focused on two things,” he said. “One, winning ... because that takes care of everything else.”