If nothing else, Mike Brown is a fascinating human being. Over the years, my opinion of him has come full circle.
When I was a kid, I didn't think about him. Kids don't typically think too much about who owns their favorite team. As a teenager, I grew to dislike him thanks largely to my Dad explaining the details of the stadium deal to me. As a young man, I hated him and would stay awake at night thinking of ways to forcibly wrestle control of the team away from him. Into my thirties, however, I softened on him. Now, I'm just mildly curious about him in general.
As an owner, he is firmly of the "old guard". He fights for his small-market share and rarely goes along with the other owners when voting on league policy. He is the poster-boy of what a penny pincher looks like, and I get the sense he is not well-liked among his peers.
As a football executive, his overall body of work is putrid. For long stretches of this facet of his career, he barely maintained a standard of professionalism. The team he fielded led by the coaches he hired acted more as a minor-league team dressed in NFL attire than anything close to resembling "the bigs". For years, he notoriously skimped on his scouting department and whole decades of losing were squarely blamed on this fact alone. To his credit though, recent drafts have gone swimmingly for the Bengals and is a major reason why the team looks so formidable today.
As a person, however, the guy simply seems weird. Based on the minimal behind-the-scenes looks that Hard Knocks has given us regarding the personality of the enigmatic millionaire, it seems safe to say that Mike Brown lacks what I would describe as healthy social skills. His interactions with other people seem strained and uncomfortable and he seems like he was raised by robots rather than humans. Maybe his dad was too much of a big-shot to raise a well-balanced son. Perhaps not living up to his father's legacy stressed the man to the point of becoming a complete oddball-the speculation is endless.
This personal quirk of his was on display Tuesday night during the second episode of this year's Hard Knocks. While dining with three unnamed fossils at the Bella Luna, a man, presumably one who worked there, asked the football owner about Margus Hunt. Mike Brown gave a reply, but as he did so, he didn't look once at the man who asked him the question but rather kept his eyes fixed to one of his fellow diners as he expressed concern that Hunt may not easily assimilate socially with his teammates.
It's this kind of subtle yet pervasive weirdness that makes it hard to defend the man to anyone, really. How can we like an owner who doesn't act like a person?
Another thought-provoking element of his response to the restaurant's owner was that Brown harbored these concerns about Hunt's ability to be comfortable on the team, yet he drafted him in the second round. I know that Brown has shed his self-made moniker as a redeemer and that he is only going to obtain people he feels are solid citizens, but I would be surprised if he hadn't worried about Hunt on an American football team before drafting him. It's this kind of paradox thinking that keeps me baffled by Brown's decision making.
Speaking of Hunt on the Bengals, I get the sense that he could become bored with football soon and I can see why Brown is worried about him. My knowledge about the situation is extremely superficial as I have no inside scoop about anything concerning Margus Hunt, but he does seem to be treated as an outsider and not making friends on the team could absolutely become a problem if it's true. We all knew he would be a raw player with supreme athletic ability and he has clearly impressed those around him with some of the things he can do, but if football stops being fun, Michael Johnson's perceived replacement might become a much murkier picture to predict.
As for Brown, though, I do attempt to defend him from time to time. I am convinced that he is an intelligent guy. I think the direction he steers his team is a bit self-serving and his mom-and-pop model of business is a dinosaur in the professional sports industry, but I also think he really does want to win. Underneath the desire to win, though, is the dogged determination to do things his way. Again, I don't know Mike Brown at all or his way of thinking, but I think he would rather fail running his business his own way than to succumb to outside pressure or imitate his competitors. If putting his family in front-office jobs keeps the team from winning, then that is a shame, but he may be able to sleep better at night knowing he has set them up comfortably. And honestly, the future of the team looks bright despite the nepotism going on inside Paul Brown Stadium.
There will be a day when I will attempt to write a book about the man and maybe speak to him myself. I would then have a better insight into what I am writing about today. I also would like to collect every statement he has ever given in public to analyze and attempt to understand exactly what planet he may hail from, but until then, I will remain convinced that he is pretty much a socially-awkward son-of-a-legend who probably has had a hard time making genuine friends throughout his life. So despite our feelings about the football side of things, it seems safe to say that Mike Brown is probably not on the short-list of folks you would like to hang out and drink a beer with.
Mojokong-drunk with speculation.