November 24, 2014

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Browns: Mike Holmgren wants fans to keep the faith

BEREA – These are dark days in the NFL. The first work stoppage since 1987 – because the owners and players can’t agree how to divide $9 billion in revenues – has some fans irritated and the others irate.

Free agency is on hold. So are negotiations between the league and the decertified union.

However, the rhetoric has been ratcheted up. Lawsuits have been filed, and accusations flung.

Browns president Mike Holmgren is aware of the situation, but doesn’t want to be swallowed by it. He called a news conference Monday to address the lockout imposed by the owners at midnight Friday that could threaten at least the start of the 2011 season, depending on court rulings.

“Part of the reason for today is trying to encourage our fans with my message,” he said. “At some point we’ll play football games again. It will get done. The glass is half-full, let’s keep it that way.

“I just want to encourage our fans to hang in there.”

A couple of months into his second year on the job, Holmgren believes the organization is headed in the right direction. He doesn’t want to see the momentum stopped by the impasse, and he certainly doesn’t want the fans to begin ignoring their beloved Browns.

“It has been my experience in the little over a year that I’ve been here in Cleveland, that these fans love this football team,” he said. “They can get mad at me, they can get mad at (quarterback) Colt McCoy, but they are Cleveland Browns fans. I appreciate that about them and I wanted to give them a word of encouragement. Stay with us, this is going to work eventually.

“The hard part is that I can’t give you a time right now.”

Holmgren said the Browns won’t lay off any staff or cut payroll. Many teams around the league placed lockout clauses in the coaches’ contracts that could reduce pay, but the Browns will proceed as normal.

“Our philosophy is that we are going to keep people working,” said Holmgren, who’s the top decision-maker for owner Randy Lerner. “We have a lot of good people here working very, very hard doing their jobs and we will continue to do that. It’s going to be business as usual in the building for the Browns organization.

“If the time comes where all of a sudden, financially, we are getting struck down, it probably starts with me, I’ve got to contribute to the pot.”

The labor uncertainty that’s been in the news for months apparently hasn’t overruled the optimism in Cleveland. Holmgren said season tickets are selling at a better pace than last year, and he encouraged people to proceed as normal. If games are lost to a lockout, the team will refund the cost of the ticket plus interest.

The enthusiasm Holmgren has for the future was accompanied by the reality that a prolonged work stoppage could be particularly obstructive to his team. The Browns, 14-34 the last three years, are switching to a West Coast offense and 4-3 defense and have yet to hold a team meeting or workout under new coach Pat Shurmur. During the lockout, teams are forbidden from having contact with the players.

“You could probably make an argument that if you had a new coach and a young quarterback like we have, that the situation is different than if you had a veteran coach and a quarterback that had been in a particular system for a long time,” Holmgren said. “Having said that, I am very, very impressed with our staff, and whenever we start playing again and start coaching again, we will get the team up to speed as quickly as anyone. I am confident of that.”

Holmgren is trying not to worry about things he can’t control. Like how much time the team will have to get ready for the season once the labor situation’s resolved, how free agency will be altered and which players would be the most negatively affected by a lack of offseason practices.

“I could worry myself to death if I thought too much about that,” he said. “When the time comes and we can start practicing and playing again, that’s what we are going to do.”

The only real on-field step taken was giving McCoy a playbook before the players’ union walked away from mediation and headed for the courtroom. Holmgren said the team will abide by the league’s no-contact rules, but expects McCoy to try to organize workouts among his teammates.

“The idea of giving him a playbook, I didn’t think that was bad and I think it was necessary,” Holmgren said. “That’s all we did.

“Colt showed great leadership last year. Without too much prompting by anybody, I knew that he would get guys together, he would do what he had to do to try and make the team better. That’s who he is. I fully expect him to talk to his teammates.”

The injured players who’ve been rehabbing are allowed to talk to the doctor who performed the surgery, but not at the team facility. The treatment must be conducted by a third party, who’s allowed to communicate with the team.

“All of our injured players are being taken care of and we will know their progress,” Holmgren said.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.