BEREA — Mike Holmgren regrets the win-loss record and that he won’t be around to finish the rebuilding project he started with the Browns.
But he isn’t finished working in football, and may even return to coaching.
Holmgren met with the local media for likely the final time Tuesday in a 45-minute news conference. He is in his final days, weeks or months as team president and looked back on an unsatisfying 2½-year tenure that ended prematurely with the primary goal unaccomplished.
The Browns are 10-29 since he took over in January 2010.
“We did not win enough games,” he said. “But I’m hoping the table is set for the future.”
Holmgren believes he made a positive impact across the organization, fixing the variety of problems that led former owner Randy Lerner to search for a “serious, credible leader.” Holmgren’s convinced the team is headed in the right direction and will soon be a winner.
He won’t be around to see it.
When Jimmy Haslam bought the franchise from Lerner and hired Joe Banner as CEO, the need for Holmgren vanished. He oversaw the organization and handled league business for the reclusive Lerner. Banner will run the day-to-day operations and Haslam will be an out-front, hands-on owner.
“It was always my intention to honor my contract, if not more, but the sale of a football team certainly changes the dynamic and it changed the dynamic for me,” said Holmgren, whose five-year contract runs through 2014 at a reported $8 million a year. “My time was shorter than I had hoped, but I understand what happened.”
Haslam said last week Holmgren would stay through the end of the season, then retire. Holmgren said he’ll help with the transition to Banner, who starts Thursday, but isn’t sure he’ll stay for the remaining 10 weeks.
“I think I can help a little bit, but if it gets cumbersome or uncomfortable for anybody, then, heck, I don’t want that to happen,” he said.
And he didn’t sound like a man ready to retire.
“I said this was my last great adventure. I thought it was going to be longer,” said Holmgren, 64. “We’ll see what happens.”
Holmgren spent 23 years as an NFL coach before joining the Browns in the new role. He was a head coach for 17 years and went to three Super Bowls. He wore the ring Tuesday from the one he won, 1996 with Green Bay.
Does he want one more stint on the sideline?
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “I know this: I learned a lot of things in the last three years. One of the things that I thought I knew and now I’m sure, I do miss the coaching part of it. I really do, so …”
Many Browns fans had to be crushed to hear this. Much of the excitement when he arrived was with the idea he would coach. But he kept Eric Mangini for a second season, then hired relative unknown Pat Shurmur in 2011 after taking himself out of consideration.
“I thought a lot about it, what I was willing to do, what I wasn’t willing to do, who I thought I could hire,” Holmgren said. “At that particular time, I wasn’t ready to do it again. I thought I’d be shortchanging the organization. It’s not that I didn’t think about it, I did, but I made the decision and full speed ahead.”
Despite being called “Coach” by everyone in the building, Holmgren’s role remained in the front office. He remade the organization, hired general manager Tom Heckert and Shurmur and tried repeatedly to find the right quarterback.
“I think it’s been a three-year period of fixing things,” Holmgren said.
His legacy in Cleveland isn’t finished being written, but for now it’s a lot of money for a lot of losses. The next great hope who fell far short of expectations.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” Holmgren said. “What I learned is, as the president, what happens on the field on Sunday, you have no control over really. You’re just watching.
“I’m glad people were excited. I was excited. I feel bad that we weren’t able to deliver more on the field while I was here. But I also honest-to-goodness feel there is good times ahead — soon. And I’ll be rooting hard for this group from wherever I am in the next couple of years, because I think it will happen.”
Holmgren expected his plan to finally turn the Browns into a winner to take four or five years. That’s a large reason he’s sorry to be leaving so soon. It never got a full chance to work.
“I know what we tried to do and I know how we were foundationally trying to build the team,” Holmgren said of concentrating on the draft and using free agency sporadically. “Philosophically I wouldn’t change that. I think that’s the way you build a team, if you have time to do it.”
His optimism for the near-future starts with the roster that had the youngest Week 1 starting lineup in the NFL since 2000. He credits Heckert for adding the talent.
“I don’t think you can get a better general manager than Tom Heckert,” Holmgren said. “I think he’s tremendous. Hard-working guy, great personality, knows the college players, knows how to put a winner together.”
Holmgren has talked repeatedly with Haslam about the attributes of Heckert and Shurmur but knows it could fall on deaf ears. He also sees rookie Brandon Weeden as the answer to the team’s longtime problem at quarterback.
“I think there’s a bright future because the organization has found its quarterback,” Holmgren said. “He’s an excellent passer. I like how he leads.”
Holmgren may end up in the Hall of Fame five years after he retires for his coaching career, but his time in Cleveland will be considered a low point.
“I’m just going to catch my breath a little bit at the end of the season,” he said. “Kathy and I are going to some place where it’s warm with those little drinks with the umbrellas in them and just kind of think about what the future is all about. I want to make good decisions moving forward.”
Holmgren touched on a number of other subjects:
- Staying for the rest of the season: “I want to feel like I’m contributing,” he said. “My emphasis is going to be the football side of it. If I can help one player be a little bit better this season or one coach be a little bit better at some of the things I know how to do, then that could happen. We’re going to take it a day at a time and see how it goes.”
- If there was ever a chance for him to stay in a different role: “I don’t think so,” he said. “Quite honestly, it hasn’t been talked about, and I understand that.”
- The idea he didn’t work hard or put in long enough hours: “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “When I was here, 100 percent of me was here. Every part of me was here. And so I don’t feel I have to apologize for anything that way.”
- His infamous sound bite last season telling the media not to come to him for playoff tickets when the team got good:
“I broke Holmgren’s rule No. 5 that day, because I came into the press conference and I was mad,” he said. “I wasn’t angry at you guys. I was just angry at the situation we were in (dealing with the aftermath of Colt McCoy returning to the game with a concussion). So I came in here and it wasn’t my proudest moment. I apologize to you. I shouldn’t have said it. And I pride myself on having more poise than that and I didn’t.”