BEREA — This will be a unique training camp for Mike Holmgren.
And not just because his right foot in is an orange cast following surgery to ease longtime joint pain under his big toe.
For the first time in his 23-year NFL career, Holmgren doesn’t enter the season as a coach. He’s Browns president, and that means no whistle allowed.
“I’m very encouraged. I believe we will be improved,” he said Wednesday as he addressed the media before the start of training camp Saturday. “I’d like to say I’m as excited as I’ve ever been, but I’m always excited at this time of year.
“It’s the same, and the difference for me is my role, obviously.”
Holmgren’s passion and gift for coaching didn’t disappear just because he took a year sabbatical, then chose to retain Eric Mangini as coach. Holmgren has admitted he doesn’t know how he’ll handle the change, and recently told USA Today there is a “possibility” he could coach again.
So maybe being relegated to a golf cart for the next five weeks — which breaks his rule about sitting during practice — is just what Holmgren needed to smooth the transition. It’ll be impossible for him to run out onto the field and step on Mangini’s toes.
“To make anything work, the people that have to make it work have to decide they are going to make it work,” said Holmgren, who entered and exited the media room on a scooter. “I’m committed to that.”
Holmgren didn’t always appreciate the “help” of the front office while he was coach, so when he took the Browns job he asked himself what kind of president he wanted to be for his coach.
“I’m trying to be that type of person, that type of guy, support him, answer questions if necessary,” Holmgren said. “But really, if I thought I couldn’t do that or I thought (Mangini) couldn’t do it, then I probably should have made a different decision way back when, but I didn’t.
“Do I think this will be difficult for me? We’ll see. We’ll talk after a couple months of watching games. I suspect I’ll get a little antsy about stuff, but that’s natural.”
The hiring of Holmgren in January has invigorated a fan base desperate for a winner and distraught after the betrayal by LeBron James. Holmgren went to two Super Bowls as a head coach and brought credibility and a sterling reputation to the bumbling Browns. Holmgren spends a good chunk of his time dealing with the franchise’s business issues — he admits some of the meetings aren’t fun for him — but it’s always been offense that gets his blood pumping. He made his reputation as an offensive coordinator in the West Coast system but has resisted forcing his philosophy on Mangini and coordinator Brian Daboll — despite a passing offense that ranked last (129.8 yards a game) in 2009 and baffled Holmgren with its ineptitude.
“There is more than one way to move the football and there is more than one philosophy,” said Holmgren, who said he didn’t approve of Cleveland’s system last year. “This is a good group of coaches.”
The coaches stayed true to their beliefs, but have asked questions of Holmgren and adviser Gil Haskell and incorporated aspects of the West Coast. “I think they are doing a few things different,” Holmgren said. “I’m comfortable with our involvement, which is minimal. “The guys come into my office all the time, we have healthy conversations. I believe it’s a very, very healthy situation and communication that way.” The biggest reason for Holmgren’s optimism is veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme. He’s coming off an eight-touchdown, 18-interception season, but is viewed as a significant upgrade to the Derek Anderson/ Brady Quinn carousel.
“I think that our quarterback play should be more consistent, so start there,” Holmgren said. “If you did nothing else, if you had more consistent play at quarterback and everyone else played the same, you should be better.
“I’ve said all along I think Jake’s a fine player. The ball is getting where it’s supposed to be. He shows great leadership. I am really glad we have him.” Holmgren touched on a few other topics.
- He said the team has had good discussions with the agents for first-round pick Joe Haden, the team’s lone rookie yet to sign. Dallas’ Dez Bryant (the 24th pick) was the NFL’s only firstrounder signed before Wednesday. Holmgren said the lack of first-round contracts makes negotiations difficult with Haden, a cornerback chosen No. 7. “You just need a domino to go and then it just explodes and happens,” Holmgren said. “We have had good discussions with Joe’s agents and I am hopeful that he will get in without too much loss of time. “It’s very important for the young man. If they wait too long, they miss some really valuable stuff. It’s hard to catch up in most cases. But I’m not discouraged. I think we are making progress.” Holmgren said there’s still a chance Haden will be in camp by Saturday.
- Nose tackle Shaun Rogers (leg), defensive lineman C.J. Mosley (leg) and cornerback Coye Francies (undisclosed injury) will begin camp on the physically unable to perform list. Holmgren expressed confidence that each would be able to pass the physical and join practice at some point during the three-week camp. Rogers and Mosley finished last season on injured reserve following broken legs and missed offseason practices.
- The NFL hasn’t informed the Browns of any discipline it will take against Rogers and defensive end Robaire Smith, who were caught with a gun at an airport in separate incidents. Holmgren expects Rogers to be suspended, but hopes he isn’t. “I like both of them, I really do,” he said. “I think they are pretty good guys, but you do screwy things sometimes.” Commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to visit the Browns next Thursday and could announce the decision then.
- Holmgren said season ticket sales are at 93 or 94 percent of the goal. Season tickets remain available, and fans will have the opportunity to purchase them during visits to training camp.
- Coming Friday: A look at the biggest issues facing the Browns during training camp.
- Coming Saturday: A look at the most important players to watch during camp.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.