BEREA — Browns president Mike Holmgren wasted no time in starting the search for a new coach after firing Eric Mangini on Monday morning.
Contrary to the hopes of many Browns fans, the scope of the search will be much wider than Holmgren’s office overlooking the practice fields.
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He didn’t rule out coaching again, but said he’s not a candidate “at the present time.” He won 174 games in 17 seasons, reaching three Super Bowls and winning one.
“I’ll always be a coach,” Holmgren said. “To tell you right now that I would never coach again, whether it’s here or any place, that probably wouldn’t be honest.
“As of right now, I am the president of the Cleveland Browns and my job is to find the right coach available for this job. That’s what I am trying to do and that does not include me right now.”
The search for the 13th full-time coach in franchise history began with the Browns requesting permission to interview assistants on other teams about an hour after Mangini was let go. Holmgren wouldn’t reveal the names of any candidates, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was one of the targets.
Holmgren put no limitations on the search — NFL or college, unproven assistant or former head coach, runs the West Coast offense or doesn’t — and said he wouldn’t rush it.
He also said trying to maintain continuity from the Mangini Era isn’t a priority, which could lead to a switch to a 4-3 defensive scheme and a roster overhaul.
“My goal is to find exactly the right person for the job of head coach of the Cleveland Browns and who can eventually someday lead us to the championship,” Holmgren said. “That is my only goal.”
Holmgren said owner Randy Lerner put no budget restrictions on the hire, despite owing Mangini almost $8 million for the two years remaining on his four-year contract. Holmgren conceded the competition for the top coaches would be fierce across the league but insisted the Browns job is attractive.
“This is one of the great jobs,” he said.
As has been the case since he took the omnipotent president job in December 2009, Holmgren seemed conflicted Monday afternoon when discussing the possibility of coaching again. As the 45-minute news conference continued, he sounded less likely to take the job, as if he were re-convincing himself that it’s not the right decision.
He said Lerner asked if he wanted to coach and that he discussed it with wife Kathy. At 62 years old, Holmgren might not be willing to resume the grinding lifestyle after being away from it for two years.
“I really know what it takes to coach, the time necessary and the emotion to do it correctly,” he said. “Unless I was 100 percent sure I wanted to commit, I don’t think you’re being fair to anybody.”
Mangini, who will turn 40 on Jan. 19, hoped to continue coaching the Browns. But a second straight 5-11 season for a boss who didn’t hire him was too much to overcome.
“I think my expectations for the team and for this season were higher,” Holmgren said. “We want to win here in Cleveland and we did not win enough games this year.”
Mangini was in a good mood before the 10 a.m. meeting with Holmgren, even though he knew his fate. Mangini then addressed the team for about 20 minutes.
“It definitely wasn’t hi-bye,” tight end Benjamin Watson said as the players cleaned out their lockers for the offseason. “There are relationships there. In football, you go through a lot of emotions with people, from laughing to crying to being angry to jubilation.
“I know it was tough for him. It was tough for us to hear it.”
Mangini, who was a ball boy with the Browns in 1994, went 10-22 with Cleveland and is 33-48 in five years as a head coach. The Browns finished 2009 on a four-game winning streak to save his job, but ended 2010 with four losses, including a 41-9 embarrassment to the Steelers at home Sunday in the finale.
“The experience coaching the Cleveland Browns the past two years has been tremendous,” Mangini said in a statement released by the team. “I have a deep respect for the players that I have coached the past two years and how they have made a profound difference in changing the culture — a tougher, smarter, more competitive, selfless team that never gave up.”
Mangini’s tenure is tied for the second-shortest in Browns history with Chris Palmer (1999-2000). Bud Carson lasted less than two years in 1989-90. Mangini’s .313 winning percentage is second-lowest to Palmer’s .156.
“Our goal was to build a team for long-term success,” Mangini said. “The core characteristics we were dedicated to, I believe, will help achieve that goal, and have provided a strong identity for this football team and have helped to create a positive foundation upon which the organization can continue to build.”
Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme played for Mangini for only a season, but came away impressed.
“It’s disappointing. He’s a very good man, he’s a very good coach and he’s someone I’m glad I got to know, glad I got to play for,” he said. “You learned a lot of football. As a player you have to feel responsible also that you didn’t get it done.”
The Browns are looking for their fifth coach since returning to the NFL in 1999. They’ve gone 64-129 in the 12 seasons, including nine with double-digit losses. Holmgren wants this hire to be his last.
“I don’t want to do this again, so I have to get this one right,” he said. “I really think I have to get this one right for organizational continuity, for the ability to keep people in place for a long period of time to develop the organization.
“I have high expectations and I’m not going to settle.”
Holmgren said he hadn’t talked to former Buccaneers and Raiders coach Jon Gruden and former Panthers coach John Fox – two of the highest-profile candidates.
“Those two fellows I know very, very well and they are outstanding football coaches,” he said. “It seems as though there are going to be a number of changes in the league so I would suspect that those two guys would be candidates on a lot of people’s lists.”
General manager Tom Heckert will be directing the manhunt with Holmgren. Other possibilities being mentioned are Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Scout.com reported the Browns submitted interview requests for Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
The Browns assistant coaches are under contract for another year. Holmgren gave them the week off and said they’ll reconvene Monday. Their fate is tied to the next coach.
Holmgren addressed the team when Mangini was finished and was described as “passionate.”
“You understood how bad he wants to win, and he didn’t come here to lose,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “I believe in those guys.”
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