July 26, 2014

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Browns’ Mike Holmgren talks future, and desire to stay put

BEREA — Mike Holmgren knows what he’ll be doing for the next six weeks, concluding with representing the Browns at the NFL owners meetings in October. There he will cast the team’s vote to approve Randy Lerner’s sale of the franchise to Jimmy Haslam.

Holmgren

That might be Holmgren’s last official act as Browns president. He could be voting himself out of a job, and out of town.

Holmgren hopes that isn’t the case. He wants to complete his five-year contract that runs through 2014.

“I hope so. That’s what my plan is,” he said. “I’ve never quit anything in my life.”

Holmgren spoke for 40 minutes Monday. He touched on a variety of subjects, but the most popular was the impending sale of the team that is expected to sail through the owners’ vote.

Holmgren joined the Browns because Lerner’s management style allowed him to assume a huge role within the organization and perform his duties without interference. Haslam has only been around for a little more than a month, but Holmgren knows Browns headquarters is in for a change.

“Whether it’s talking about the Browns or his businesses or anything, he’s pretty hands-on,” he said of Haslam, who will also attend the owners meetings. “I’m kind of finding that out myself as we go here. Randy wasn’t that way. That was one of the reasons that I was able to come here.

“So different personalities, different ways of doing stuff.”

Holmgren stopped there. He wouldn’t get into hypotheticals, including if his big personality would fit working for Haslam.

“What’s wrong with my personality?” he said. “Let’s slow down a little bit on that stuff and see where it takes us.”

Holmgren said he hasn’t asked Haslam about his plans for the front office, nor has agent Bob LaMonte discussed Holmgren’s future with Haslam.

When asked by reporters multiple times, Haslam has refused to talk about any personnel changes he might make. But he’s widely expected to hire former Eagles president Joe Banner, whose expertise is the business side of the organization. That might not leave enough room for Holmgren.

Would he still want to stay if his role changed?

“That’s a pretty good hypothetical there,” Holmgren said. “Let’s just see how it goes. I can’t answer that right now.”

Holmgren thinks the people inside the organization have done a good job staying focused and carrying on as if it’s business as usual. Lerner remains involved and they talk every week.

“We’re all just doing our jobs,” Holmgren said. “Jimmy gets a chance to see them work, see what we do and then whatever happens happens.

“But really, it’s a time period now that’s a little different for everybody involved.”

“Mike’s the president and I’ve seen him do the things that he’s done as president since I got here 18 months ago,” Shurmur said.

With a new boss in town, there could be more pressure to accelerate the rebuilding process and try to win now. But general manager Tom Heckert stayed true to his plan to get younger, build through the draft and not chase veteran free agents. The 15 rookies on the 53-man roster are evidence.

“I don’t want to say it startled me, but it’s a pretty young group,” Holmgren said. “Before we tee it up I’d hope Pat would give me a chance to talk to the group. My message would be: We are young and everyone knows you’re young and you can make excuses like that forever and ever. But the simple fact is no one will care.

“I know they are smart and they care and what we lack in experience my hope is we’ll make up for it in enthusiasm and intelligence and skill.”

Haslam has been briefed on the players as individuals and the roster as a whole.

“My feeling is he is realistic,” Holmgren said. “He knows we’re young. He’s asked a lot of football questions and he is well aware of our situation.

“We’re building the foundation so the team can be good for a long time. We are just in that beginning stage now where we are pretty young.”

Holmgren said on multiple occasions in the offseason the front office had a sense of urgency and he expected a jump in the win total from four in 2011. He wasn’t going to be satisfied with just five or six.

Is the team poised to live up to those expectations?

“I hope so,” he said. “Anytime we actually talk about the numbers and the wins and losses, I get a little squirrelly, and I don’t mean to backtrack or anything like that.

“It’s just our schedule, we’re playing the NFC East, our division’s tough. But having said that, I think we’re gonna be a better football team this year.”

Holmgren is in his third season in Cleveland, but Shurmur is starting his second. The five-year program isn’t near completion.

“This football team, even though it’s young, is physically much better,” Holmgren said. “We have better players, we have better depth.”

Some would argue the Browns have two starters at quarterback in rookie Brandon Weeden and backup Colt McCoy. The worry is if Weeden struggles, a segment of the fan base will be calling for McCoy.

“I was concerned about that after the draft,” Holmgren said. “I felt the same way about Colt, I love him. He’s a great kid. Any time you get a new quarterback and the incumbent who’s not starting anymore, the first time an interception is thrown, everybody likes the other guy. That’s not just Cleveland. That’s every place.

“My biggest concern, however, was how he was going to handle it. He has a lot of pride in his ability, which he should. He’s been a starter, and now he wasn’t starting for the first time in a long time. Since that time I was concerned, he has chosen to handle it about as well as you could handle it. Now I’m less concerned about that whole thing than I was in April.”

And Holmgren feels Weeden is ready for the starting role.

“He’s right on schedule for what I thought he would be,” he said. “But I would caution people he is a rookie and he’s gonna be as good as any rookie starting coming into the league.

“He’ll function as a quarterback as well as anybody in my opinion coming into the league, but he is still a rookie and it’s difficult.”

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