July 25, 2014

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Mike Holmgren bids farewell, last day with Browns is Friday

BEREA — Mike Holmgren swears he hasn’t committed to a return to coaching and hasn’t even decided if he’ll take another job in football.

Holmgren

But he knows his work is done with the Browns after less than three years as president.

“We are going to fly to Phoenix on Saturday and catch my breath a little bit and take it easy and ride my motorcycle,” he said Monday in his trademark Tommy Bahama shirt. “I honestly don’t know if I’m going to go back to work immediately or not and I don’t know if it’s going to be in football.

“I really haven’t given it much thought other than the fact there are no plans right now.”

The top of the Browns’ organization has been in transition since Randy Lerner decided to sell the team to Jimmy Haslam in July. The sale became official in October and the changeover is complete.

Holmgren’s last day as president will be Friday. He gave an informal farewell news conference Monday afternoon, then was followed by new CEO Joe Banner, who’s been on the job less than a month but is firmly in charge.

When Banner was hired, Holmgren was no longer needed in his role atop the organization. He said last month he wanted to stay for the rest of the season but wouldn’t if the situation became awkward.

“That’s kind of what happened,” Holmgren said. “Clearly there have been good meetings, talking about personnel, talking about players, talking about how we do things. But I was starting to think I come to work, I go to practice and talk to players and coaches. But as far as contributing I was done.

“I had already passed the baton.”

Banner said Holmgren was helpful, professional and supportive during the transition and that he would’ve been “more than happy” to have him stay for the final five games.

“I just respected that he felt like at this point he’d done what he could,” Banner said. “But I really had a lot of chance to spend time with Mike and it was fascinating and helpful to understand everything from his theories about an organization to his coaching philosophies to his evaluation of this team and this staff to his own theories about the role that people like Jimmy and I can play best in supporting a coach and helping an organization be successful.

“So I’m really appreciative of the time we had together. I think it helped me. I learned a lot through it.”

Holmgren made headlines and angered Browns fans when he said last month he missed coaching and would consider a return to the sideline. After a report he was interested in replacing Dallas coach Jason Garrett if the job came open, he fanned the flames when he talked to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on the field before the Nov. 18 game in Dallas.

Holmgren said he knew the photo op could cause a stir, so he called Jones to ask if he wanted to avoid a public meeting. Jones told him they’ve always talked before games and would continue.

“We talked about the stuff we always talk about — family and the Salvation Army,” Holmgren said. “We have a good friendship and if we handle this properly it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Banner said the meeting at Cowboys Stadium had nothing to do with the timing of Holmgren’s departure. He also said Holmgren’s contract doesn’t restrict his future employment.

“Mike’s free to do what he wants next in this field or whatever he’d like to do,” said Banner, who declined to reveal the specifics of the contract. “He has talked about the love he had for coaching and how much he enjoyed it when he did it. He didn’t really go into what his current wishes may be, but it’s clear he loved the time he had a chance to be a head coach in the NFL.”

Many Browns fans remain upset that Holmgren never coached here. He had two opportunities, but kept Eric Mangini for a second season in 2010, then hired Pat Shurmur in 2011.

“The decision when I came here was to run the organization and enter into a new area and that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t want to coach anymore at that time.”

The Browns went 12-31 in Holmgren’s tenure and didn’t come close to reaching the playoffs. But he feels he solidified the business operation, especially with the hiring of executive vice president of business operations Bryan Wiedmeier, and likes the progress the team has made in his five-year plan.

“I really can feel good and the guys who have been here can feel good about what the future holds. But time will tell,” Holmgren said. “We’ve got the house a little bit in order and I think that helped a little in the big business deal that took place.

“I came in wanting to change this and make it successful and give the fans what they deserve, and my thinking is that you will see that in the next couple years.”

Banner has said change is inevitable but believes the organization made “very strong” progress under Holmgren, who made his pitch for Banner to keep Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert.

“I believe in the guys that are here,” Holmgren said.

Banner will make those decisions after the season, but again praised the work ethic of the coaching staff and its ability to keep the team playing hard despite a 3-8 record. The third win came Sunday over the Steelers, and Banner was asked if that helps Shurmur’s case to be retained.

“It’s not gonna be that kind of a micro decision,” he said. “So we’re really still focused on these qualities that we’re looking for that will lead to long-term success and trying to keep the evaluation on that level.”

Banner said Holmgren’s insight was helpful and he puts “a lot of weight” on Holmgren’s opinion. But many factors will go into the decisions whether to keep Heckert and Shurmur.

“I’ve met with both of them and there’s no question that they feel very good about what they’ve done and they’d very much like the opportunity to see it through,” Banner said.

Holmgren didn’t get that chance, but is grateful for his time in Cleveland.

“I’ve been around football a long time and know about all the great players for the Cleveland Browns, but until you are actually working here and seeing the passion of the fans, you don’t understand until you’re here,” he said. “I am very thankful that I got this opportunity to do this.”

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