CLEVELAND - Looking fit and trim in a gray Browns T-shirt and brown shorts, Browns owner James Haslam didn't look like a man whose company is being investigated by the FBI.
Haslam spoke with reporters for about 7 minutes during the early stages of the first day of training camp. His message was one of winning on the field while providing fans with an enjoyable experience.
It was an upbeat message from a man who has been hit with numerous legal challenges since the FBI raided his Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville last April. Financial documents were taken in an attempt to gather more evidence on a supposed scheme by Pilot to cheat unsuspecting trucking customers out of promised rebates.
Cleveland Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, left, talks with owner Jimmy Haslam during the Browns first day of training camp at the team’s camp in Berea.
Outwardly Haslam is the picture of confidence. He spoke with the same passion he did last August when he was introduced as the team's new owner.
If Haslam is suffering financially, it's not noticeable by his actions. He recently concluded a significant improvement in the Browns Berea-based headquarters. There are plans for a major upgrade of First Energy Stadium beginning in January, and away from football Haslam recently opened a Pilot franchise in the Canton area.
Haslam assured fans that his legal issues won't hinder the team's operations in any way.
"I said this on Aug. 3. We're committed to owning the Browns for a long time," Haslam said. "I understand in Cleveland there's a great deal of uncertainty because of past history but the fans shouldn't worry. Our family is going to own this asset for a long time.
"We feel privileged to not just own a NFL franchise, but to own the Cleveland Browns with all the heritage and history it has. There's absolutely no worry about cash flow, and I think if there was we wouldn't be doing the things we did at Berea, we wouldn't have signed the free agents and we wouldn't be talking about doing the things we plan to do at the stadium."
Haslam again took time to apologize to fans for another unsettling offseason.
"I apologize for the negative attention this has brought to Cleveland, the Browns and the NFL," he said. "I mean that sincerely. I'm going to stay very focused on two things - one, making sure we've corrected some of the things at Pilot Flying J that led to some of the accusations that have been made. Secondly, and more importantly, to do the things we talked about at Cleveland. We've assembled a really good team here. If you ask people around the building, there are no distractions. Everyone is entirely focused on winning games and providing a great experience for our fans."
The words of encouragement won't be digested well by the entire fan base, many of whom showed up for practice Thursday. They've been hurt too many times dating back to Art Modell's decision to move the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
The Lerner family owned the Browns from 1999 until Randy Lerner sold it for $1 billion last summer. That ownership had no legal problems outside of football, but it was hindered by poor player personnel decisions and questionable coaching.
Haslam brought a fresh, energetic personality to the scene last year, which played well to fans who had grown tired of Lerner's hermit-like style. All was going well until the FBI raid.
There's still a possibility that the FBI could uncover enough evidence to seek an indictment against Haslam. That's a topic he prefers not to talk about.
"Our style is to be very transparent," he said. "When the government investigation began on April 15, one of the first calls we made was to the NFL. We've been in constant contact with them. They've been supportive in working with us and we're very optimistic on the outcome."
Haslam is ever the optimist, even when the water is coming over the floorboard.