Puskas: Hey Browns, where’s Lombardi?

The NFL draft is April 25-27. Cleveland Browns fans — where is your team’s general manager?

The answer is that you’re apparently not supposed to know or care. Mike Lombardi’s hiring by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner was so popular, the team has stashed the new GM somewhere and isn’t letting him anywhere near the hostile Cleveland media.

Can you imagine this scenario playing out in New York or Boston? A team hires a guy to fill an important, high-profile position within the organization, knowing full well that opinions on the hiring were running 10-1 against because of the guy’s history there and after bringing him aboard anyway, he disappears for weeks as free agency begins and the draft is approaching.

You’d be right in assuming that wouldn’t play in New York or Boston. It shouldn’t be happening in Cleveland, either.

But something odd did happen to a Browns general manager. Remember George Kokinis, who was brought in as GM after the organization hired Eric Mangini as coach? At some point, a rift developed and Kokinis was never heard from again, except when he was escorted from team headquarters after being fired in 2009.

The mystery endures to this day.

There seems little mystery about why Lombardi is missing in action.

Banner admits the Browns are running interference for their new GM, telling The Plain Dealer the organization is shielding Lombardi from the press because he’s “a bit of a lightning rod.”

Sorry, Joe. Part of the job of an NFL team’s general manager is to deal with the media, even if a good number of them had reservations about his return to Cleveland.

And with good reason.

Lombardi’s first go-around with the Browns did not end well. He joined the team as a scout in 1987, became director of pro personnel in 1989 and director of player personnel in 1993.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Browns’ downward trajectory as a franchise coincided with Lombardi’s increasing influence in the team’s power structure. But enough people believed Lombardi bore a significant amount of responsibility, so when rumors began circulating that Banner intended to bring him back, the overwhelming feeling among fans and the Cleveland media was that it was the worst idea since New Coke.

But Lombardi got the job on Jan. 18, and aside from his initial news conference, Cleveland has seen as much of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run as it has of the Browns’ new GM.

Lombardi might even be less popular than Cleveland’s never-caught serial killer of the 1930s, but it’s time for him to face the media — and by extension the Browns fans — and let everyone know what he’s doing to turn around this moribund franchise.

Of course, there is something to be said for some modicum of secrecy so the rest of the league’s GMs are in the dark about your intentions, but it’s silly and unprofessional for Lombardi to be barricaded in Berea.

Unless Lombardi is in the federal witness-protection program, he needs to be front and center as the draft approaches. After all, he was hired to handle the Browns’ personnel moves and the organization has a bunch of them to make to become relevant again for perhaps the first time the beginning of his first stint in Cleveland.

Ed Puskas is the sports editor at The Vindicator. Email him at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.

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