There was a time when Joe Banner was one of the most powerful men in the NFL. He came to the Eagles when Jeff Lurie bought the team back in 1994. Banner was an outsider that many thought would prove to be a failure, but he used brains and good business acumen to carve out a key role on one of the best teams in the league.
The story is something straight out of the movies. The underdog that no one takes seriously proves to be brilliant and adept in his field. He figures out ways to be unconventional, but successful. People start to acknowledge the success and then steal his ideas. And then hubris sets in. The guy who worked so hard to make himself into something starts burning bridges and at some point finds himself left high and dry.
That’s Joe Banner from 1994-2014.
He had one heck of a run with the Eagles. Banner helped hire a pair of coaches (Rhodes, Reid) who would each win NFL Coach of the Year honors. He helped to get Lincoln Financial Field built. He had a big hand in getting the NovaCare Complex built.
Banner is best known as one of the greatest capologists of all time. He came up with different tricks and ways to exploit the salary cap situation in the Eagles favor. Almost every year, they had the freedom to sign anyone they wanted.
Part of that was due to Banner’s belief in avoiding older players and focusing on young guys. Reid happened to believe in the same thing and those two worked very well together for many years. It wasn’t until the end of the Reid era that the relationship became seriously strained. Trying to explain exactly what happened is tricky since there is a lot of speculation involved.
It seems that Banner saw himself losing his power and he then tried to do some things to re-assert himself within the organization. That obviously resulted in a power struggle that Reid and Howie Roseman won.
No relationship is perfect, but it is my understanding that Reid, Banner and Tom Heckert got along well for the most part. Then Heckert left to go be a GM on his own. Roseman filled that void and he got along well with Reid and Banner. For whatever reason, Banner started to feel he was being marginalized. Maybe, in a highly ironic twist, he fell prey to his own business model…where the younger person is the one the organization focuses on and the older guy gets pushed to the side.
Banner went to Cleveland to try for Eagles, Pt. 2. How bad was that? You can’t even call it a failure. The grade is incomplete. Banner didn’t have enough time to get the project going. He made a horrible decision in hiring Mike Lombardi to be his GM. This really felt like Banner brought aboard a sycophant. That’s a sure way to fail in the NFL. You must have strong, independent people working for you. Hiring “yes guys” will result in bad decisions.
Banner then made a questionable coaching hire when he went for Rob Chudzinski. I heard the rumor that other teams didn’t hire Chud previously is that they doubted his ability to lead a team. There is no question that he can be a good coordinator, but that is far different than being the leader of 53 men and a billion dollar organization.
Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam decided to fire Chudzinski after the disappointing season. Haslam decided that wasn’t enough and pushed out Banner and Lombardi on Tuesday.
How the mighty have fallen.
I was shocked when Banner was pushed out of the Eagles, but figured that he would rebound well. Smart people can usually figure out where things went wrong and make adjustments. You see how Andy Reid did with the Chiefs this year. Banner apparently fell victim to his hubris and didn’t learn.
Relationships are a huge part of success for executives in the NFL. Banner was very close with Lurie. He worked well with Reid, then Heckert and Roseman. That isn’t to say the guys were all BFFs, but they functioned well together. There was some kind of trust there and a unified idea of how to run an organization. Everyone was on the same page.
Banner couldn’t replicate that in Cleveland. Lombardi had no business being a GM. Hell, he didn’t deserve his job as an NFL Network analyst and writer. Then hiring Chud didn’t make matters any better. You had a brilliant capologist, idiot GM and awkward coach trying to fix the Cleveland Browns, a team that hadn’t won more than 5 games in a year since 2008 and hasn’t had consecutive winning seasons since the 1980s.
Sadly, this may be the end for Banner. He’s burned a few bridges and his lack of any success in Cleveland may ruin any chance of getting another opportunity.
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Mike Sielski wrote a good piece for the Inquirer on Banner. Sometimes being the smartest guy in the room can be tough. Of course, Jimmy Bama will never know.
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I wrote about Ray Rhodes and his good hires. He’s got a coaching tree and a GM tree now.