BEREA — Randy Lerner has been a Browns fan since he was a kid. And like much of the Northeast Ohio population, he’s never celebrated a championship.
“People are exhausted from losing in this town,” Lerner said Wednesday on WTAM 1100-AM in a rare interview. “I’m exhausted, too. It’s on me.
“I’d like to think we’re moving this thing in the right direction.”
Lerner isn’t an ordinary fan. He’s been the owner for nearly a decade, since the death of his father, Al, in 2002.
So the buck stops with him.
“It’s my fault because I’ve got to be held responsible for those hires,” he said, referring to the unsuccessful front offices and coaches of the past. “It’s also my job to keep moving forward.
“Ultimately, it is my fault. We know that we have a job to do and that people are tired, frustrated, exhausted.”
The Browns went 4-12 in 2011 and have only two winning seasons since returning to the league in 1999. But Lerner expressed his confidence in president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert, who just completed their second years on the job. He believes they’re the right men to get the Browns to the playoffs and advocates stability within the organization.
“It’s not a business where you’re going to get time,” Lerner said. “But we’re not going to get anywhere if you keep turning this thing over.
“Mike Holmgren is as honorable and committed a football leader as I’ve been around.”
Lerner moved to Cleveland full time from New York this year with his son, Max, attending St. Ignatius High School. Despite being more present inside team headquarters, people outside the building continue to question Lerner’s commitment to the Browns.
“I do care,” he said. “Of course, I care. I provide and support and show up.
“It sickens me when we lose games, sickens me when we have a season like we just had. We haven’t been able to deliver. I’m motivated to get it right.”
Lerner wouldn’t reveal any inside information regarding the plans for the draft or free agency, but said the first order of business is figuring out what to do at quarterback.
“One of the things that is crucial right now to take a significant step forward is try to get this quarterback situation settled,” he said.
Does he have an opinion on incumbent Colt McCoy?
“I suddenly lose the ability to speak when I’m asked that question,” he said.
The Browns haven’t hired an offensive coordinator and aren’t commenting on the search, but they did confirm the hiring of Nolan Cromwell as a senior offensive assistant.
Cromwell, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back with the Rams, replaced Keith Gilbertson, who retired. Gilbertson spent 2011 helping the offensive coaching staff, spreading his time among the position groups.
Cromwell has been an assistant in the NFL for 18 years, including the last two as Rams receivers coach. Browns coach Pat Shurmur worked with Cromwell as the offensive coordinator with St. Louis in 2010.
Cromwell, who played with the Rams from 1977-87, has a much longer history with Holmgren. Cromwell was an assistant for 16 years when Holmgren was coach of Green Bay and Seattle. Cromwell spent six years as special teams coach and 10 years in charge of receivers.
He was NFC defensive player of the year in 1980 and ended his career with 37 interceptions for 671 yards.
Between his stints with the Seahawks and Rams, Cromwell was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M for two years. He worked for coach Mike Sherman, a former assistant of Holmgren’s and a possibility to become the next Browns coordinator.
Shurmur has talked to candidates for the coordinator opening, but the search remains private. It will likely depend on the outcome of searches around the league.
Sherman interviewed for the Tampa Bay head coaching vacancy, along with former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who’s another possibility for the Browns. The Buccaneers haven’t made a decision.