CLEVELandMILIDH Posted March 28, 2010 Report Share Posted March 28, 2010 Q&A with Browns general counsel Fred Nance: 'There's reason to believe' in Berea Chris Stephens / Associated PressBrowns general counsel Fred Nance on the new regime in Berea: "Once Mike Holmgren came in, one of the first things he did was to gather every employee in the building and [he] sat us all down in a room and talked about what he was about, where he’s headed, how he does things and it was like flipping that light switch on ... And it’s like a giant weight was lifted because the uncertainty was gone, it was clear what direction we were going.”CLEVELAND, Ohio -- When the Browns bolted for Baltimore in 1996, Fred Nance was former Cleveland Mayor Mike White's point man in negotiating with the NFL for an expansion team. So Nance, who later became a finalist to replace retiring NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2006, has a history with the Browns and pro football. His involvement with the Browns took a decidedly visible turn last December, when owner Randy Lerner hired him as the team's general counsel. Lerner didn't attend the NFL owners meetings in Orlando last week. Instead, the team was represented by Nance, new President Mike Holmgren, General Manager Tom Heckert, Bryan Wiedmeier (executive vice president-business operations), Matt Thomas (vice president-football administration) and head coach Eric Mangini. Nance, regional managing partner of the Squire, Sanders & Dempsey law firm in Cleveland, discussed his role with the Browns, his relationship with Lerner and the team's direction under Holmgren: (On his relationship with Randy Lerner and how far back that goes.) Nance said he and White actually began working closely with Lerner's late father Al, even before Al was awarded the franchise in 1998. "[Al] was engaged with the mayor and me in helping us to understand sort of how the NFL thinks and what's important to the NFL and what Cleveland would have to do in order to position itself well to make a case to do something that had never been done before, which is to promise the award of a new franchise before the old team had even left town. "So over the back of that I got to work with Al and, of course, once Al won the sweepstakes to own the team, again I got to work directly with Al because of the things that he wanted in the deal, the enhancements that he wanted put into Browns Stadium on his own nickel, lots of issues like the name of the stadium, operational issues. So over the back of that I got introduced to Randy, and Randy and I began working together more closely over the past several years." (On how he wound up as general counsel.) Joshua Gunter / The Plain Dealer“The combination now of the vision of Holmgren, a guy with his NFL credentials, the quality of people that he’s put in the front office and the improvements, the upgrades that we’ve made on the scouting and coaching staffs have really, I think, given people not just hope but a reason to believe that there’s a real chance for success here," said Fred Nance. Nance said Randy Lerner, not long after his father died, invited him to dinner to get a better sense of what was happening in Cleveland and how the Browns could become more involved in the community. About 18 months ago, Lerner began asking him to get involved in representing the team in various legal matters. "As things unfolded, and it was clear there were transitions that would be necessary, he asked me to become more directly involved and it sort of built upon itself until finally in December he asked me to become general counsel of the team." (On why Nance thinks fans don't realize that, according to him, Lerner has a deep appreciation for Cleveland. ) "Because he doesn't like the spotlight. He doesn't like to take credit for things. It's not his nature. I don't think it's an overstatement to say he's a bit reclusive in that regard. But that doesn't mean he doesn't care and it doesn't mean he hasn't more than put his money where his mouth is." (On whether he ever suggests to Lerner that the owner might make himself more visible to demonstrate how active he is with the team and that losing bothers him as much as it does the fans.) "I wouldn't suppose to put myself in that position. I think he is able to do things that he thinks are important to him. He doesn't really care about recognition or what other people think. I don't think that's much of a priority for him." (On why Nance, not Lerner, presented Holmgren to the media the day the Browns announced their new president.) "Because I was asked to. But I know what you're asking me for, more fundamentally, why didn't Randy Lerner choose to do it? I think the advent of the Mike Holmgren era is something that's fundamentally changing the Browns, has the potential to do so much in terms of both the performance on the field as well as reinstating the Browns as an institution in this town. He didn't want to do anything to take away from it. His focus is on making the right decisions, providing the resources and stepping back and getting out of the way. That's his modus operandi." (On his role in recruiting and signing Holmgren.) "Finding, I had nothing to do with. That was Randy Lerner's doing. I did have the privilege of being involved in discussions with coach Holmgren and his agent before they made the decision to come to Cleveland. I actually did the negotiation of the (five-year) contract itself -- obviously subject to pretty clear parameters that Randy Lerner gave me -- but I got a chance to talk to Mike Holmgren about Cleveland, about the importance of this team to this community, and I think it really resonated with him because he's had that experience. He had it in Green Bay. He had it in Seattle." (On how active Lerner is now that he has Holmgren to run his team.) "He is [at the Browns headquarters in Berea] when he's needed. He's available for constant communication, and without talking about his travel itinerary, Randy is available for specific needs when we have to have him, but he's always available for communication and he's got his finger on the pulse of what's going on." (When is he needed? For what kinds of things?) "Sometimes there are seminal events that involve, perhaps, certain key personnel or certain key decisions, and if we need him, he's there. Then he's in Berea periodically even when there isn't something special going on. I'll put it this way, he gets around." (What is your role as general counsel?) "I would say my role is a bit nontraditional from things you might normally associate with being a general counsel. And by that I mean, I'd say I have three major functions. The first is to take care of the big legal issues. There are day-to-day things handled by other people with legal training within the organization that I'm not involved in, but if there are major legal issues I am responsible for either their handling or supervising the handling of those. "Then there is the Browns relationship with the National Football League. ... One of my responsibilities is to help the team on league-related matters. And the third thing -- I'm very much ensconced within the community, so one of my roles is to make sure the Browns come back to the place of civic leadership, civic asset, being part of the heritage and fabric of this community that it should be. And so one of my jobs is to make sure we reconnect the Browns to this community." (How does Berea feel different pre- and post-Holmgren?) "In a word -- dramatic. It's like asking me what my office is like with the lights off versus the lights on. There was understandably an air of uncertainty, unease toward the end of the season because of how tough a season it had been, how inevitable some changes were. ... But once Mike Holmgren came in, one of the first things he did was to gather every employee in the building and [he] sat us all down in a room and talked about what he was about, where he's headed, how he does things and it was like flipping that light switch on because it went from uncertainty and an uncomfortable situation to one where there's a dynamic leader in place who's a decent guy, who's a good communicator, who has the stature within the league to not only attract talent but to build fundamentally, the most important thing -- a football organization that has a fighting chance for success. ... And it's like a giant weight was lifted because the uncertainty was gone, it was clear what direction we were going." (On why Nance believes Holmgren has infused some optimism, both within the organization and with fans.) "The combination now of the vision of Holmgren, a guy with his NFL credentials, the quality of people that he's put in the front office and the improvements, the upgrades that we've made on the scouting and coaching staffs have really, I think, given people not just hope but a reason to believe that there's a real chance for success here. "Now we've still got a long way to go. Obviously, the quarterback change is a fundamental one. I don't think the last chapter to that story has been written yet because its entirely possible that, with 12 draft picks, there might be a quarterback in there, there might be a quarterback in the future." (On how he juggles time between the Browns and the law firm.) "The answer is it really depends on what's going on. I am spending the majority of my time on Browns matters, but what I do ebbs and flows." (He was, for instance, intimately involved in the undisclosed settlement with former General Manager George Kokinis.) (On whether Lerner, who also owns Aston Villa of the English Premier Soccer League, likes football or soccer better, and on rumors that Lerner has an Aston Villa tattoo but none for the Browns.) "I think that is just silly. (Laughs.) I'm not commenting on his tattoos or lack thereof. (More laughter.) I'll just say that goes to my prior point: The fact that you hear things like that says people are speculating. People care. People want to know, does mom love me best or my brother best? I think what people ought to know is actions speak louder than words, and the things that Randy Lerner has done to be supportive of having a team here and continuing to pour money into it -- large sums of money into it." (On the dynamic of the Browns' newly-structured front office at the NFL owners meetings.) "It is both collaborative, in the sense that Mike Holmgren seeks the views, opinions and experience of others, but there is no question that he is in charge and the final call is his. ... In the final analysis, Mike's got his hand on the helm." (On the NFL's union contract and the chances of a lockout or strike in 2011.) "We've been asked by the commissioner's office not to make any public comment on the collective bargaining discussions, so I won't, other than to say the players and the owners need each other. This will ultimately be resolved and we'll be playing football." Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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