August 29, 2014

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Big Browns decision: Keep President Mike Holmgren or not?

The story of the sale of the Browns will continue to be written in the months and years to come.

Holmgren

Haslam

There will he hirings and firings. New marketing philosophies and business models. A corporate name on Cleveland Browns Stadium. Possibly a change to the uniform. And hopefully the fairy tale ending of a Super Bowl victory.

The first chapter opened Friday with Jimmy Haslam impressing the fans with a confident and energetic news conference. It continued Saturday with Haslam all over the practice field, trying to get a grasp on the key employees in his new business. It will likely end in the next few weeks with the NFL approving the deal and him officially becoming the sixth majority owner in Browns history.

That’s when Haslam will have to make his first big decision: Keep president Mike Holmgren for the season or let him walk away?

The answer is simple: Don’t let him go.

Let’s assume the reports are correct that former Eagles president Joe Banner will join Haslam in a similar role. He ran the Philadelphia organization for 11 years until resigning in June, leading the business side and taking a prominent role in the football operations for a perennial playoff team.

The duties of Banner and Holmgren will eventually overlap. So what?

Holmgren is under contract for a reported $8 million a year through 2014, so it’s a sunk cost. And he has repeatedly said he wants to stay and see his rebuilding project through to the finish.

That may not be realistic. The Browns aren’t a playoff contender this year and it seems unlikely Banner and Holmgren can share the executive offices for long without toes being smashed.

But for the four months of this season, Holmgren can help Banner transition into the business side while keeping the continuity necessary on the football side.

Haslam was noncommittal Friday when asked about the future of the front office, but seemed open to keeping Holmgren. He wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual.

“There might be some people who don’t like us, don’t want to work for us,” he said.

Haslam may be right. Holmgren’s deal was with former owner Randy Lerner.

Holmgren agreed to run the organization for a boss who left him alone. Holmgren set his schedule, represented the Browns at league meetings and was the biggest personality in the organization.

The job description changed with the sale to Haslam.

In two days, the differences between Lerner and Haslam were obvious. Haslam watched practice from the field, not the sideline. He did about a dozen individual TV, radio and print interviews Friday afternoon — exponentially more than Lerner did in the last few years combined.

Haslam will be the face of the organization. He will be the team’s voice in league business. He seems like a guy who would be a little too involved for Holmgren’s liking.

But I think they can — and should — make it work in the short term.

Holmgren doesn’t owe Haslam anything, and vice versa. But the stability his presence provides would be beneficial to general manager Tom Heckert, coach Pat Shurmur and many on the coaching staff who were lured by Holmgren.

Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, defensive assistant Ray Rhodes and senior adviser Gil Haskell have been friends and employees of Holmgren for decades. They deserve one final season as a team.

Haslam and Holmgren — with consent from Banner — should quickly agree to coexist for this season. They can re-evaluate in January, with Holmgren likely riding his motorcycle into the sunset.

But the best chance for a successful 2012 is keeping as much continuity as possible. And it starts at the top with Holmgren.

Browns were off Sunday and return to practice today from 2-4:30 p.m. The hotline is (877) 627-6967.

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