Johnny Manziel grew anxious as he waited backstage at Radio City Music Hall during the first round of the NFL Draft. When he would be selected was out of his hands, but he tried to speed up the process with a text message to Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
“We’re sitting there and they keep showing Johnny on TV and Johnny and I are texting and he shoots me a text and he says, ‘I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. I want to wreck this league together,’” Loggains said Thursday on ESPN Radio in Arkansas. “When I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach. I’m like, ‘This guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.’
“As soon as that happened, Mr. (Jimmy) Haslam said, ‘All right, pull the trigger. We’re trading up to go get this guy.’”
The Browns did, acquiring the No. 22 pick from Philadelphia and taking Manziel.
The story of the text went viral overnight. The phrase #wreckthisleague trended on Twitter on Friday morning as the story circulated and Browns fans got their hands on it.
“It shows you what type of competitor the kid is and I got to spend so much time with him leading up to this process,” said Loggains, who’s from Arkansas. “I feel like I know him very well. I had a good relationship with him. That’s the type of kid this guy is. He wants to do well. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s excited to be a Brown.”
Manziel told his version of the story May 9 in an interview with the team’s radio show. He said he was texting Loggains and coordinator Kyle Shanahan throughout the night, discussing scenarios in which he’d be picked.
“This is where I want to be, let’s do this. Let’s stand on the table and let’s go,” Manziel said of his message to the coaches.
Loggains’ insight into what happened in the draft room again brought up the question of what role Haslam played in drafting Manziel. Haslam and general manager Ray Farmer have insisted Farmer made the call without any pressure or urging from Haslam in response to conjecture that Haslam stepped in and forced the pick.
“As soon as I decided to come take this job in Cleveland, I knew that our owner liked Johnny a lot,” said Loggains, who was hired in February. “You go through this whole process. I think I worked out 14 quarterbacks, went to their schools, ate dinner with them, spent time in the classroom with them, brought them to Cleveland. Once we finished all our evaluations, it was Johnny’s name at the top of the list and then there was everyone else. I knew we needed a quarterback and we were very high on Johnny.
“I knew there was a good chance if he was there at some point we were going to take him or even move up to go get him.”
Loggains confirmed rumors the Browns tried to move up to get Manziel even before the trade with the Eagles.
“Mr. Haslam and Coach (Mike) Pettine had called me down to the draft room a couple times throughout the night and we had almost made trades with Tennessee (No. 11) and Dallas (No. 16) and backed out,” he said. “We were sitting there and Coach Pettine keeps texting me, and we’re going back and forth and we’re going, ‘Hey, does Dallas take him here? No, they won’t. Does St. Louis take him at 13?’
“We knew we had to get in front of the Chiefs (at No. 23) because we knew they would draft him.”
Loggains said he and Shanahan played a significant role in the process. Loggains was called into the draft room from his office whenever taking a quarterback was possible.
“It’s not a cone of secrecy whatsoever,” he said. “We were very involved, which is always good for a coaching staff when you get to choose your own quarterback.”
The pick of Manziel on May 8 sent a jolt of electricity through the frustrated fan base, and any information about the former Texas A&M quarterback is quickly consumed. The next opportunity is this morning when rookie minicamp opens. Manziel will be joined by the other five draft picks, 12 rookie free agents and some tryouts.
The Browns are trying to contain the Manziel Mania by limiting access. National media were denied access, and local media will only be allowed to watch approximately 15 minutes of stretching and individual drills. Before the Manziel pick, reporters were going to be allowed to watch the whole practice and come back Sunday.
The restrictions didn’t stop Sports Illustrated from putting Manziel on its regional cover with the headline “Johnny Better Be Good.”
Loggains said the immensity of Manziel’s celebrity isn’t a surprise to the Browns.
“I think already he’s got the leading jersey seller in the whole league in front of guys like Brady and Manning and Brees,” he said. “This guy comes with a celebrity like no other ... He’s Johnny Football and everything that comes with it.”
Despite the unparalleled hype that preceded him, Manziel is fitting in with his teammates.
“So far, we’ve had him here since Monday, he’s been a great teammate, he’s been very quiet around the veterans. He just works hard,” Loggains said. “Everyone’s intrigued by him because of who he is. They just want to see that you work. Once you work, you become part of the team and they’ll embrace you.
“In the NFL, it’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s 12 to 14 hours a day … you got to show these guys how much football means to you.”
Haslam said Monday at a luncheon that Manziel enters as the backup to incumbent Brian Hoyer. The organization is trying to manage expectations and attitudes, but Loggains is confident in his rookie.
“I think we can throw him out there right now and I think he’s gonna be one of the most exciting players in the NFL, run around and make plays like he did at Texas A&M, we all saw,” Loggains said. “But there’s some things fundamentally (Manziel must work on). He needs to become more comfortable in the pocket, and he needs to learn how to play under center.
“He spent a lot of time with (quarterback coach) George Whitfield in California working on some fundamentals. There’s some other things he needs to continue to work on … mainly playing in the pocket and being able to win on third down throwing the football.”