Derry: His Own Worst Enemy

Frank Derry, who worked with Art Modell, explains why the former owner isn't deserving of excuses...

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if Art Modell and his wife, Pat, contributed millions of dollars to institutions like the Cleveland Clinic or to charities for Catholics, Jews, Blacks or any other causes.

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if Art Modell "took care of" his players and front office personnel better than any other owner in the NFL.

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if Art Modell served on the board of National City Bank or spent countless hours helping the Cleveland Clinic raise money to become one of the greatest health care facilities in the world.

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if Art Modell bought a downtown hotel that turned into a financial disaster.

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if banks were hounding Art Modell and his family to pay back a loan he had to take out to pay Andre Risen his signing bonus.

The average Cleveland Browns fan could care less if Art Modell donated land near the old stadium to the city to build the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The only thing Browns fans want to know is why their team never made it to the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, all of the former are in one way or another related to the latter.

Modell, who finally broke his 10-plus years of silence and talked about the reasons behind the team's move to Baltimore during a recent interview with WTAM's Mike Trivisonno, made mention of all of the above during his nearly hour-long coming out session.

After hearing Modell, who is now out of football, explain why the move to Baltimore was necessary, one almost had to feel sorry for him.

But I didn't feel sorry for him because of the fact he is now and always will be considered a "piranha" in northeast Ohio, but rather because he was, without a doubt, one of the worst businessmen ever to step foot on this earth.

Every potential gold mine Modell touched in his final 10-plus years of owning the Browns turned into crap.

The biggest blunder came when Modell, who had a little birdie whisper in his ear that the Cleveland Indians were going to move to New Orleans, agreed to take over operations of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

By doing so, Modell held the leases to the stadium for both the Indians and Browns, plus his Stadium Corporation got revenue from loge sales, concessions and parking.

Virtually everyone close to Modell, including his wife, told him he was a fool for doing it.

But from personal experience, I know that Modell often times acted before thinking. In 1981, Modell decided to start up a team publication called Browns News/Illustrated, of which I served as editor.

One day during a meeting, a promotional idea was presented and Modell who, without doing any research, gave his full backing, not to mention thousands upon thousands of dollars. It was a total bust. That told me all I needed to know about his business savvy.

If he liked an idea, it didn't matter what his advisors said, he'd do it.

And thus Modell, who thought he would be doing the city a favor by taking the concrete monster off its hand while keeping the Indians from moving, took over what turned out to be a financial albatross.

Over a 10 year period, Modell says that between improvements, maintenance and interest on money borrowed, he poured $80 million into the facility.

He did this while the city of Cleveland was building brand new facilities for the Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a slap in the face for Modell, who was privately asked by Gateway's backers - politicians and businessmen - to give his backing to the project.

Modell did so, which was another incredibly stupid business decision. Not only was Modell going to lose a tenant that was playing 81 games a year in the Stadium, he also was going to lose the financial income form loge owners, parking and concessions.

It was a disaster that turned into a catastrophe when the politicians, who had promised they would find money to refurbish Municipal Stadium, turned their backs on him and didn't come through with any type of financial support.

Asked why he didn't try to work out a deal with the city in regards to the Stadium, Modell said, "I couldn't do that … I made the deal and I had to live with it. Too many people renege on their deals and go their own way. That's not Art Modell. I made my deal with the city of Cleveland and city council and I was going to live and die with it."

It was at that point in the interview that I wanted to barf.

Modell seemed to forget that he had an "iron-clad" contract to keep the Browns in Cleveland.

But when faced with bankruptcy, which he claims was only 60 or 90 days away, Modell said screw the contract and took his team and ran off to Baltimore.

Modell insists that he would have preferred to sell the team, but that the Stadium situation was so bad that anyone familiar with the albatross would never have paid him enough money to get him out of his financial dilemma.

To this day, I cannot believe that is true. Modell's partner, billionaire Al Lerner, could have gotten Modell out of his financial bind by just using pocket change. But Modell's ego would not allow that to happen, thus another bad business decision if you believe Modell's next statement to be true.

"I never received one nickel from the city of Baltimore or the state of Maryland to move there," he stated. "Whatever I got out of it (financially), I earned it."

Maybe neither the city nor the state paid him, but someone definitely lined Modell's pockets. And until he admits that fact, any respect I had for Modell as an owner, a boss and a friend will forever be gone.


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