July 31, 2014

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Mike Holmgren says Browns will stick with the plan that’s in place

BEREA — President Mike Holmgren was frustrated, disappointed and ticked off by the Browns’ 4-12 season that ended Sunday.

Holmgren

But he wasn’t discouraged.

“We have a lot of questions moving forward as an organization that we are trying to fix,” Holmgren said Thursday. “We’re all disappointed in the record of the team this year. But we do recognize as an organization some really good things, things you can build on and things that give us hope.”

Holmgren, who shared a podium with general manager Tom Heckert for a 70-minute news conference, reaffirmed his faith in Heckert and first-year coach Pat Shurmur. He said the Browns have the right plan in place to reverse the fortunes of the floundering franchise, and he won’t abandon it.

“We have a philosophy on how to build the team,” said Holmgren, who’s watched the team go 9-23 in his two seasons. “It’s not necessarily the quick fix and I know that can be a frustration at times. But generally speaking we’re going to stay the course here.”

It’s too early to tell if that applies to quarterback Colt McCoy, who struggled with his accuracy and dropped to 6-15 as a starter.

Holmgren and Heckert said good things about him, but didn’t rule out adding a starting quarterback through free agency or at the top of the draft.

“He did some very fine things and he played young at times,” Holmgren said. “Was I pleased? Yeah, in a lot of the stuff he did. My opinion of Colt has not changed.

“Having said that, heck, we don’t know what’s going to happen and I’ve had that conversation with Colt as well.”

Holmgren was much more decisive when asked about Shurmur, who was heavily criticized for his game and clock management after a few costly blunders. Shurmur also served as offensive coordinator and play caller, but said Tuesday he’ll hire a coordinator who may call the plays.

“Part of it was being in that situation for the first time where you’re juggling a lot of balls on the sideline,” said Holmgren, who led the Packers and Seahawks to the Super Bowl as a coach. “The second thing is our youth and inexperience. All those things will be improved next year — game management, clock management, whatever you choose to decide was a problem.

“There’s a learning curve. But I know this about the coach of this football team: He is good and he is smart and he will do what he has to do in a very unselfish way to get the team going in the right direction. Pat is very willing to do whatever it takes. That in itself is a healthy and good sign.”

Shurmur impressed Holmgren amid the struggles.

“I think his perseverance and his ability to handle adversity was tested, and I thought he kind of emerged,” Holmgren said, “(with) a few scars.

“It’s never easy your first year. But there was some stuff that went on that was a little unusual. Does he need to take a vacation? Absolutely. Is he the same guy I hired? Yes, and he’s gonna come back stronger. He did a lot of good things in somewhat of a tough situation at times.”

Holmgren said he’s committed to Shurmur long term. Not only does he believe in Shurmur, he believes in stability.

“I have the utmost confidence in Pat to get this done,” Holmgren said. “No one’s on the hot seat. We understand what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do, understand what happened on the field. We have a good coach, and we have a good coaching staff.

“You don’t get to where you want to get to by blowing it up every two or three years. You work through the bumps together. You hang in there. You get smarter. You get better players. You learn more about one another, but also know you gotta trust the people that run it. So between Pat and Tom and me, we’re gonna hang in there together and we’re gonna get this done. We will get it done.”

Is McCoy the right quarterback to finish the job? That was a popular topic with Holmgren and Heckert, and will dominate the offseason discussion. The first question Thursday was: Is McCoy the franchise quarterback?

“I think he can be, he could be,” Holmgren said. “I’m not ready to say that yet. I’m not ready to anoint Colt yet.”

Heckert said the evaluation of McCoy continues and will include meetings today with the coaching staff.
“We think he’s got enough talent to be a player for us,” he said. “We think he will get better.”

Holmgren said he’s seen quarterbacks struggle early, only to figure it out and carry their teams to the playoffs.

“It usually happens that way,” he said. “Very few guys in my years in the league have come in and shot lights out. And if you’re in the process of being a young quarterback playing for a team still building, particularly on offense, it’s doubly hard.”

The quick fix Holmgren referred to would be making a huge splash in free agency by signing a handful of big-money, high-profile veterans. Heckert believes it’s smarter to build through the draft, then supplement with the right couple of free agents.

“We don’t want to go out and sign 10 free agents, but if there’s a guy we like and hopefully there is, we’ll definitely go after him,” Heckert said.

Including a quarterback?

“It’s probably not the way we’re going to go, but you never know. It’s still early,” Heckert said.

Backup Packers quarterback Matt Flynn is scheduled to become a free agent and could be a fit. Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck — who took Holmgren to the Super Bowl — were found on other teams’ rosters, Green Bay runs a similar West Coast system and Flynn is stuck behind Aaron Rodgers.

“I hate to keep saying it, but it’s way early. We have a lot of evaluations to do,” Heckert said. “We’re gonna get the best players we can at any position.”

Flynn made his second career start Sunday and set Packers records with 480 yards and six touchdowns.

“That’s pretty good,” Holmgren said. “When you go into your second start and you break the records that have been held by Bart Starr, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, that’s a little unusual.”

The last time Holmgren addressed the local media, he was defending the team’s handling of McCoy’s concussion in Pittsburgh. He was irritated with reporters and objected to claims it was “business as usual” inside Browns headquarters. With the Browns finishing with a worse record than the 5-11 of the previous two years, fans have wondered what’s changed.

“I think it’s a little unfair to this group. They’ve had only one year — not even a full year,” Holmgren said. “The difference is we’re going to stay the course.

“The growing pains are difficult. I understand that. We know what we have to fix.”

The fans’ frustration is at an all-time high, but Holmgren said the season-ticket sales are “hanging in there.”

“The people in this area and this state and, for that matter, the Browns Backers all over the country love this football team,” he said. “They will hang in there. They don’t like it, they’re frustrated, they have kind of a suggestion as to how to do it better, but they’re not leaving. And I suspect that our fans are going to be there for us.

“The fans here have been a little longsuffering. And so we are driven, we put pressure on ourselves to do the right things to get this thing turned around and going in the right direction. I want our fans to know that. I think the next couple years are very, very, very important in determining how this is going to go. I’m a little upset with our record, but I’m not discouraged. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of good things, and you start with some of our young players.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.