It was the summer of 2012, and Eagles owner Jeff Lurie had a decision to make.
Lurie knew that lifelong friend Joe Banner, the first person he hired after buying the Eagles in 1994, and Howie Roseman, Banner’s one-time prodigy, could no longer co-exist.
There was a clear divide in the Eagles’ front office, Roseman pulling one way and Banner pulling another way.
The situation was untenable, and Lurie was soberly aware that for the Eagles to return to the form that saw them draft well, sign quality free agents and win a ton of football games and make deep postseason runs in the early part of the decade, he was going to have to make a choice.
Howie or Joe.
One had to go, the other would stay.
It was in June of 2012 that Lurie shook up the franchise by announcing that Banner, his closest confidant for nearly two decades, would be moving on.
Roseman got a contract extension and promotion -- essentially, Lurie gave him the reins to run the Eagles.
Banner soon moved onto Cleveland and essentially got the reins to run the Browns.
Lurie said his decision to move forward with the franchise in the hands of Roseman and not Banner was the product of a detailed examination of the work of both.
“I really wanted to evaluate everything,” Lurie said. “I keep voluminous notes on talent evaluation, on not just who we draft, but who is valued in each draft by each person that is in the organization that’s working here.
“I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman.”
So Howie stayed, Joe left, and here we are just 16 months later.
Let’s take stock.
The Eagles and Browns were in similar positions in 2012. The Browns actually won more games that year than the Eagles –- five for the Browns under Pat Shurmur to four under the Eagles under Andy Reid.
Banner hired TV analyst Mike Lombardi as general manager, even though Lombardi hadn’t worked in an NFL front office in seven years.
Roseman brought in Tom Donahue, Rick Mueller and Tom Gamble, all top personnel guys who had helped build Super Bowl teams, along with highly respected scouts such as Ed Marynowitz and Anthony Patch.
In January of 2013, the Browns and Eagles held concurrent head coaching searches, both targetting Chip Kelly. The Eagles got him, and the Browns settled for Rob Chudzinski, whom they fired just about the same time the Eagles reached the playoffs this winter.
Kelly said later he never even considered going to Cleveland, and although he wouldn’t say why, we can all imagine.
Two franchises, two directions.
Since Roseman took over the Eagles and Banner the Browns, the Eagles have drafted better, hired more qualified assistants, made smarter free agency decisions.
And this past season, the whole football world saw two franchises going in opposite directions. The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6 with a playoff berth, and the Browns sputtered to a 4-12 season, losing their last seven games by an average of two touchdowns.
Banner and Lombardi fired Chudzinski after just one year, and on Tuesday, Banner and Lombardi were in turn fired by owner Jimmy Haslam.
Making the whole situation even more curious is that Banner, who insisted on making personnel decisions in Cleveland, was essentially replaced by new Browns general manager Ray Farmer –- an Eagles draft pick in 1996, Banner’s third year in Philly.
It couldn’t have been easy for Lurie to cut ties with Banner back in 2012.
They had been friends, best friends, since boyhood in Boston, and during every key move under Lurie’s ownership -- hiring Andy Reid, getting the NovaCare Complex built, getting the Linc built, acquiring T.O., signing Michael Vick, trading Donovan McNabb -- Banner was by his side, his most trusted adviser.
But Lurie knew what was at stake. Move forward with Joe to protect their friendship and lose Howie and risk continued organizational instability, or move forward with Howie and have a chance to restore the franchise to where it was from 2000 through 2008.
And here we are.
Just 16 months after the Lurie-Banner split, the Eagles are a rising young playoff team with a brilliant, innovative coach and a potential franchise quarterback, and the Browns are an embarrassing chaotic mess that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994 (with the current Ravens franchise) and just hired a general manager who wasn’t even part of the coaching search for the franchise’s third head coach in 13 months.
Is the Eagles’ success all Roseman’s handiwork? Of course not. He’s surrounded himself with good people, and he’s smart enough to listen to them.
Are the Browns’ issues all Banner’s fault? Of course not. They’ve been a laughing stock since the franchise was restored in 1999. Banner is actually a remarkably intelligent and effective manager –- he’s just not a personnel guy, and in Cleveland he failed to surround himself with the sort of capable people he had in Philly.
But there’s no question that the direction of two franchises was affected dramatically by one very difficult decision made just a year and a half ago by Lurie.
And there’s also no question he made the right call.