The Cleveland Browns Newest Vice President of Player Personnel:
After jettisoning general manager Tom Heckert a few months ago, the Browns needed to fill the void with a strong talent evaluator. Many were interviewed, including Ray Farmer (Chiefs’ Director of Pro Personnel) and John Idzik (Seahawks’ Vice President), while interest seemed to be high on Tom Gamble (49ers’ Director of Player Personnel). However, the Browns were looking to turn back to the clock and hire the man who was with the team two decades ago and, more recently, a member of the NFL Network – Michael Lombardi.
Getting to Know You:
Lombardi’s history with football began in Hempstead, New York, as he played for Hofstra University. In the years between 1977 and 1981, the newest VP of Player Personnel was a defensive lineman and long snapper for the team. Upon graduation, Lombardi headed west to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) – head coach Harvey Hyde gave him an opportunity as the position of Recruiting Coordinator.
After four years on the job, the football man took a crack at the NFL. Hall-of-Famer Bill Walsh hired Michael to be a scout for the San Francisco 49ers. This responsibility allowed for Lombardi to evaluate and make critical decisions regarding collegiate athletes. In his first season, the team selected Todd Shell in the first round (a disappointing linebacker from BYU), John Frank in the second round (an average tight end from Ohio State), and Guy McIntyre in the third round (a five-time Pro Bowl guard from Georgia). In 1985, the 49ers took Jerry Rice in the first round (arguably the best wide receiver in NFL history); they did not have a second round pick, and Ricky Moore in the third round (a less-than-stellar running back from Alabama). In 1986, there was not a first round pick, the second round choice was Larry Roberts (a solid defensive lineman from Alabama), and the third round netted two picks – Tim McKyer (a long-time cornerback from Texas-Arlington) and John Taylor (a two-time Pro Bowler who caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl twenty-three). Judging from these drafts, the franchise selected one home run in Rice, a few very good players, and several misses.
Over the next decade, Lombardi was employed near the shores of Lake Erie. Working with the Cleveland Browns organization, he earned the title of Pro Personnel Director in 1987 until 1991 (under the Marty Schottenheimer and Bud Carson regimes). Following that time period came the label of Director of Player Personnel, alongside Bill Belichick. Lombardi was given a multitude of tasks; including deciding on collegiate and professional personnel, advisor of salary cap and player’s contracts, and manager of scouting. He oversaw the draft from the years from 1992 through 1995, with limited success.
Picks like running back Tommy Vardell at number nine overall, Patrick Rowe (wide receiver) in the second round, and Bill Johnson (a defensive tackle) in the third round headed a disappointing 1992 draft. The following year included selections of Steve Everitt (a very good center) in the first round, a mediocre defensive lineman in Dan Footman in the second, and a journeyman linebacker from Middle Tennessee in Mike Caldwell during the following round. In 1994, the Browns did not have a second round pick; they chose Antonio Langham at number nine overall (an average cornerback from Alabama) and Romeo Bandison (a disappointing defensive tackle from Oregon). Craig Powell (linebacker from Ohio State) and Eric Zeier (quarterback from Georgia) were the team’s first two picks in 1995. None taken in the first three rounds over the period were Hall-of-Famers, let alone one of the best at their position. Many view this time as a failure for Lombardi, who could not acquire great athletes on his watch. When the team moved after the 1995 season, the talent evaluator was again looking for work.
The St. Louis Rams hired Lombardi for a “desk job” the following year – he simply prepared reports for ownership to advise them regarding prospects as their next head coach. In 1997 and 1998, the Philadelphia Eagles hired him to work with Joe Banner as the Personnel Department Manager and an advisor on player contracts and salary cap issues. This relationship likely helped with the recent hire of Lombardi to the Browns (occurring fifteen years later). During the implementation of new head coach Andy Reid, the franchise went in another direction and looked for a different candidate to make personnel decisions.
It was Al Davis who was the next owner to take a chance on Michael Lombardi. The long-time member of the NFL became the Senior Personnel Executive (while evaluating professional and collegiate players and veteran contracts) from 1998 to 2007. Like his previous stops, the drafting over this period was full of mistakes and not enough excellent picks. There were three exceptional first-round selections during this period – Charles Woodson (1998), Sebastian Janikowski (2000), and Nnamdi Asomugha (2003).
Decent selections during the decade include players like Jon Ritchie (1998 – third round), Matt Stinchcomb (1999 – first round), Jerry Porter (2000 – second round), Napoleon Harris (2002 – first round), Fabian Washington (2005 – first round), Stanford Routt (2005 – second round), and Zach Miller (2007 – second round). However, there was a plethora of disappointing draft picks too; Tony Bryant (1999 – second round), Derrick Gibson (2001 – first round), Marques Tuiasosopo (2001 – second round), Langston Walker and Doug Jolley (2002 – second round), Teyo Johnson (2003 – second round), Robert Gallery (2004 – first round), Jake Grove (2004 – second round), Michael Huff (2006 – first round), Thomas Howard (2006 – second round), and JaMarcus Russel (2007 – first round).
Following the 2007 season, Lombardi switched to covering the sport through the media. In 2008, he became a freelance writer for SI.com (writing weekly articles) and founded NationalFootballPost.com – along with being the Editor-In-Chief. After a two year stint, it was on to NFL.com – Lombardi was able to continue to find employment through on-line media. Additionally, in 2008 the NFL Network hired him for NFL Draft programs, and Michael became a full-time host shortly thereafter. He was successful in making the jump to analyzing professional football on television, but Michael wanted to return to the league. When the Browns (Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner) came calling, it was an easy answer.
2013 – New Year, New Opportunity:
The fact that Lombardi will be the VP of Player Personnel instead of General Manager paves the way for Joe Banner to be heavily involved with selecting members for the roster (via trades, free agency, and the draft). This is perfectly acceptable for a CEO in the NFL, except Banner does not have a great deal of experience in this area. Instead, he is known as a salary cap manager, contract negotiator, and an off-the-field expert (administrator/strategist). Banner has stated that personnel decisions will be made collectively among a few within the organization (including Chudzinski and possibly Haslam).
Personally, this is an unimpressive hire; I do not think Michael has done a great job selecting personnel, no matter which franchise he was working for. I hope he has made the necessary adjustments and can listen to others in the room. Lombardi was roasted by the media in his initial press conference; I hope he has a chip on his shoulder and will put everything into this job. Perhaps then, Michael can be successful – but like many Cleveland fans, I am not optimistic at this point. I am willing to reserve judgment on him (though) and see how things play out over the next few months – as well as years down the road.