Carmen Policy to step down as Browns president and CEO

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Carmen Policy has decided to let someone else run the Cleveland Browns.

Policy will step down after five years as the club's president and chief executive officer on May 1 but will stay on as a consultant through the 2004 NFL season.

John Collins, currently the NFL's senior vice president of marketing and sales, will replace Policy as the Browns' top executive.

"I am ready to leave the Browns because it's the right time pursuant to the right plan, and by the way, a plan that I designed," Policy said at an afternoon news conference to announce the abrupt front-office change.

Policy (pictured, above) was hand-picked by late Browns owner Al Lerner when Cleveland returned to the league as an expansion franchise in 1999 following a three-year absence.

Policy, who emphasized that he wasn't retiring, will now serve as an executive adviser this year while helping owner Randy Lerner take a larger role in running the team.

The change was made now because Collins was willing to step in as president, and owner Randy Lerner was ready to take a more active role in running the organization, Policy said.

Collins said Policy persuaded him that Cleveland would be a good place to raise a family, become part of a community and become loyal to one club.

"This is a team environment and that feels really good to me," Collins said.

After helping build the San Francisco 49ers into a power in the 1980s as a vice president and as president and CEO in the 1990s, Policy has been unable to turn Browns into consistent winners.

His five-year tenure in Cleveland has been marked by losing records and some turmoil. The Browns are just 26-53 since 1999, including a playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 2001.

Policy fired coach Chris Palmer following a 3-13 season in 2000, replacing him with Butch Davis. Policy was then unable to stop Dwight Clark, his close friend who had followed him from San Francisco, from resigning in 2002 as the club's director of football operations following a power struggle with Davis.

Last season, Policy dismissed reports he was leaving the club.

He and Lerner's decision in January to give Davis a two-year contract extension through 2007 following a 5-11 season angered many Browns fans, who have been disappointed with the team's struggles.

Al Lerner's reluctance to step into the public spotlight thrust Policy into the role of team spokesman -- something the verbose former lawyer from Youngstown gladly accepted. But that role also directed some unfair criticism at Policy.

Randy Lerner took ownership of the franchise after his father's death in 2002. With a background in investment banking, Randy Lerner had no previous pro football experience and leaned on Policy heavily to learn the business.

At the younger Lerner's request, Policy signed a contract extension last season through 2008. The deal was structured so Policy could slowly turn over more responsibility to Lerner, who has maintained a low-profile since taking over the club.

Lerner also bought back Policy's 10 percent ownership share last year, paving the way for his departure.

Also in the past year, Policy purchased 10 acres of land in California's Napa Valley where he plans to build a home and a winery that will have his private label.

Before joining the Browns, Policy was president and CEO of the San Francisco 49ers and has longed to return to the Bay area.

Policy's tenure with Cleveland also included some controversy. Following his first season with the Browns, he agreed to pay $400,000 in fines to the NFL for alleged salary cap violations while with San Francisco.

In 2001, Policy had to apologize for comments he made following a bottle-throwing riot by Browns fans.

Collins, 42, joined the NFL in 1989 and served in a variety of roles, helping the league secure more than $1.9 billion in sponsorship rights fees from major companies. His current responsibilities include handling the league's corporate sponsorship, advertising sales and marketing.

"John is a very solid businessman," said Roger Goodell, NFL vice president and chief operating officer. "He has been an outstanding performer for the league. He's a terrific negotiator and he understands how to drive and direct value, and he's very good with people."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)