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Smolenski replaces Joe Banner as Eagles president–it’s “just business”…

We interrupted our coverage of “Cleveland Browns simulation ops” at Eagles OTA’s Thursday to take in the breaking news— Joe Banner out as president of the club, Don Smolenski promoted from within…

Don Smolenski joined the Eagles in 1998 as the club’s vice-president and chief financial officer.

Smolenski, who began his career as a public accountant with Arthur Andersen, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Amherst and a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Hartford. His first foray into sports was as chief financial officer for the International Hockey League, where he oversaw all league financial issues and played an integral role in the expansion of the league from 12 to 19 teams.

Naturally the original speculation was Banner lost a power struggle with head coach Andy Reid and G.M. Howie Roseman over control of personnel contracts and expenditures. Banner, the guy who coined the term “Gold Standard” as the measure of efficiency in Eagles salary cap management over his 18-year run with the club, was being politely ousted in favor of younger and more player-friendly executive talent.

I waited for the press conference at 2:30 P.M. EST before coming to any such sinister conclusion. Garry Cobb did not wait—he lit into Joe Banner mercilessly in his gcobb.com column:
“I was told by an NFL source about Joe Banner asking a public relations expert why he was so hated by Philadelphia sports fans. He was a genius when it came to the salary cap, but he couldn’t understand why fans didn’t like his “it’s all about the bottom line” style. Any survey of Eagles fans or Philadelphia sports fans would show that Banner is one of the most disliked individuals in Philadelphia sports.  I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the vitriol I would hear from fans at the mention of Joe Banner’s name.  He seemed to always say the wrong things or the right things in the wrong way.”

“Banner has always been a public relations disaster. It was always about the numbers with Banner.  It’s one of the main reasons that the company is worth more than a billion dollars right now. He didn’t care how people felt about him or his business style, if the numbers were right. If the numbers weren’t right, he didn’t care who the team was saying good-bye to and that included beloved Eagles safety Brian Dawkins.  Banner didn’t mind being the bad guy, in fact he kind of liked it, but his friend and boss Lurie, hated being hated. Lurie is a billionaire now.  Thanks to Banner he has all the money he needs, but he also wants to be liked.  He doesn’t want to own the most hated sports team in the city.  He wants to be liked by the city and the fans.”

“Banner had some tremendous achievements during his tenure with the Eagles, but a good public image isn’t one of them and it ultimately cost him his job.”
—- Garry Cobb (you can read the whole article at http://www.gcobb.com )

There are so many ill-deduced and unbalanced conclusions drawn about Banner and the actual business of classic management succession in Cobb’s piece, I don’t know where to begin. After viewing the presser Thursday afternoon, I came away with a much kinder understanding of the situation.

It’s just business— and business is good for both the Eagles and Joe Banner right now.

Owner Jeff Lurie: “We are making this announcement today because [Banner] is looking for a greater challenge, and in Don Smolenski I have a highly regarded, very worthy successor as president of this team,” Lurie said. “Joe and I have achieved a great deal since I acquired the team. From building Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex, to driving the work of the Eagles Youth Partnership and, of course, our successes on the field, Joe has been an integral part of everything we have done.”

It’s not as simple as Lurie says it is, but it is a benign situation…and good business. Joe Banner was getting restless for new challenges, and Smolenski was getting restless for a promotion.

Joe Banner wants to run a successful franchise while he is still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy the challenge. He wants to buy ownership in an NFL team, which is not going to happen in Philadelphia. It is almost as simple as that.

Joe Banner is almost 60 years old. He is at a crossroads between early retirement and a chance to run a team his way. Banner and Lurie have been personal friends for 44 years and Eagles colleagues for nearly 20 years. There is no secret animosity between them. Both simply realized business could be done better with a change of methodology.

What really made Joe Banner’s way of running business his good old-fashioned way obsolete in Philly was the new CBA and the evolved salary cap structural limits enforced by all teams now.  Now there is no longer a need to go to war with every high-draft or franchise-star player at contract time. Banner’s confrontational style of business negotiation has become irrelevant in Philly. There probably should not have been a contract extension fight with Desean Jackson in 2011. Andy Reid and Howie Roseman wanted to get that deal done. They don’t want their players fighting with Banner anymore. To that interpretation, Banner doesn’t want to be fighting Eagles players anymore, either.

Banner could adjust to a new committee style of business leadership in Philly if he wanted…but Banner has enough personal clout of his own to take his game to another town. Right now it suits him. It’s good business for Banner to buy into and run a team like the Buffalo Bills for the next 10 years if he can. It’s the challenge of the job that he enjoys. Even Banner has realized his style of work in Philly is done. And that’s good business for all involved. It yielded great dividends for the Eagles’ operational success. And it made Joe Banner a rich man.

Smolenski, commenting on his promotion, said, “I’m honored to accept the leadership of more than 200 terrific Eagles employees, who share our passion for building the strongest organization we can for Eagles fans in Philadelphia and around the country.” He also had praise for Banner, who will remain with the Eagles for the time being as strategic advisor to owner Lurie. “Joe has been a great friend, teacher and mentor,” Smolenski said. “His support and confidence have been instrumental to my growth and development in the organization. As the Eagles’ new president, I’m excited to build on the work we’ve done together over the years.”

Likewise, Banner had praise for Smolenski. “Don is one of the unknown jewels in the NFL,” Banner said, “and so deserving of this chance to help steer this great franchise going forward.” Lurie described the changes and an “executive succession plan that puts in place a next generation of front office leadership.”

Garry Cobb sees a more negative conclusion to be drawn from all this. He sees Reid and Roseman ganging up on Banner with a “it’s Joe or it’s us” mentality. But I just don’t see it or feel it that way after experiencing the presser. Body language can be pretty telling. My sense of it all is Banner feels free, with a lot of power at his disposal to find a team he can call his own again.