Lerner: Worry Not

Browns fans have at least one thing that they don't have to worry about this off-season.

Fans of Cleveland sports teams are natural born worriers. Baseball fans worry C.C. Sabathia will leave in free agency and basketball fans worry LeBron James will flee to New York when he gets the chance.

Browns fans have been worriers since Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore in 1996. And in what promises to be the Browns' most successful season since returning to the NFL in 1999, fans now have something other than the playing status of Kellen Winslow to worry about; is Randy Lerner still committed to owning the Browns for the long run?

Lerner denies reports found in several English publications that claim he plans to move to England and take active control of his Aston Villa soccer team in the English Premier League.

The stories appeared on the Internet in the London Telegraph and Manchester Guardian on May 28. No one is quoted in either story. Both reports contained the same information.

"Randy Lerner, the Aston Villa owner and chairman, is set to take over the position of chief executive officer and have a more active role in the running of the club," the story in the Guardian says. ... "The U.S. billionaire will establish a permanent residence in the Midlands next season."

Another story from the Wednesday edition of the Guardian reads: "The American billionaire has purchased a house in the Midlands and once work has finished on the property, he will be spending more time in England than in the United States."

From the time Lerner bought the Aston Villa team in August of 2006 -- while the Browns were in their second preseason under coach Romeo Crennel -- fans have worried Lerner would lose interest in the Browns in favor of his soccer team. Lerner calmed concerns by saying he has no intentions of selling the Browns.

Lerner does make frequent trips to England. A residence there will allow him to stay in the same place when he visits.

The new stories from the United Kingdom renewed concerns and made for good conversation on sports talk radio in Cleveland. Lerner is regarded as a hero to Aston Villa fans because before he came along Villa was annually one of the weaker teams in the English Premier League. Lerner has not been shy about pumping money into the English football club.

"To clarify recent reports, I'm not becoming a permanent resident/citizen of the U.K.," Lerner said. "I will not be changing the amount of time I spend with either the Browns or Aston Villa, nor will I be assuming the title or role of chief executive officer of Villa. The responsibilities of that position are currently spread among several people at the club and I am comfortable and confident continuing in that manner."

Lerner has been a hands-off owner since taking ownership of the Browns after his father, Al Lerner, passed away in 2002, yet he has opened his wallet for high-priced free agents such as Gary Baxter, LeCharles Bentley and Eric Steinbach plus recent trade acquisitions Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.

Lerner runs from the spotlight rather than seek it, and even though he is hands-off owner it was his decision to retain general manager Phil Savage rather than team president John Collins when Collins and Savage had a showdown at the end of the 2005 season. Lerner also stuck by Crennel when the Browns went 4-12 in 2006. They were 10-6 last year.



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