Policy steps down as CEO of Browns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2004

BEREA - In a few weeks, the Cleveland Browns will have a new team president and chief executive officer.

Their coach isn't changing.

Carmen Policy announced Wednesday that he is stepping down May 1 after five years as the club's top executive. He will be replaced by John Collins, an NFL senior vice president of marketing and sales.

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Policy will remain with the club through the 2004 season as an adviser.

''That means I will get paid and that means I really won't have to work that hard,'' he quipped.

Cleveland's front-office restructuring came as a surprise to some but not to owner Randy Lerner. With Policy's help, the 41-year-old Lerner had been planning to bring in someone closer to his age to run the business side of the Browns almost since the day he inherited ownership from his late father, Al.

''This was the plan from the beginning,'' Lerner said.

With one-half of the organization undergoing a facelift, Lerner said he has no intention of messing with the football operations side - the one belonging to coach Butch Davis.

Lerner insists Davis has no job worries despite the Browns going 5-11 last season.

''I would not fire Butch right now under any circumstances,'' Lerner said. ''It makes absolutely no sense to me. I think Butch is a winner.

''He was part of a winning team at Miami in the 80s, a winning team at Dallas in the 90s and it was a championship level team (at Miami) long after he was gone. You judge leadership based on what you leave. And I think he can do it with the Browns.''

Lerner was asked what will happen if the Browns have another sub-par season in 2004.

''What happens is we have a big problem on our hands, because you have to win,'' Lerner said.

Policy's decision to give up his control of the Browns was made nearly two years ago.

On the day following Al Lerner's death, Policy arrived at work and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of losing his close friend and business partner.

''It was surreal,'' Policy said. ''I had a feeling it would be different from that day on.''

The change moved closer to permanence with the hiring of Collins, 42, who has negotiated more than $1 billion in sponsorship deals for the NFL.

''What we're doing is right for the Browns,'' Policy said. ''When it became perfectly obvious we had our guy, that prompted us to make our move. The plan was complete.''

Policy was hand-picked by Al Lerner when Cleveland was awarded an expansion franchise and returned to the league in 1999 following a three-year absence.

But Lerner's death changed things for the 61-year-old Policy, who recalled arriving at the team's offices and sensing a huge void.

''I opened the door and it was like someone had sucked the air and the life out of Berea,'' Policy said. ''He was a major presence for this organization. I'm talking about the aura, and the inner power of the man.''

Collins, who has worked in the league office since 1989, is intrigued by working for one of the 32 teams he represented while brokering deals across boardroom conference tables.

''It's pretty hard not to get excited about the opportunity to come to Cleveland and join the Browns,'' Collins said. ''This is a team environment and that feels really good to me.''

Policy emphasized he wasn't retiring or leaving to pursue any other opportunities. There has been speculation he could head an ownership group if an expansion team is awarded to Los Angeles.

At Randy Lerner's request, Policy signed a contract extension last season through 2008. The deal was structured so Policy could slowly turn over more responsibility to Lerner, who said he'll be more visible but will maintain a low-profile.

''My role models are the Packers under Lombardi, the Browns under Brown, the Cowboys under Landry, the Steelers under Noll, and the 49ers under Walsh,'' Lerner said. ''I don't know who owned those teams unless I do big-time research. It seems to me it's about the coach and organization and it's about total support.

''Those are the role models. Those are the ones that win.''