Holmgren steady as change looms for Browns
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Mike Holmgren was hired to bring stability to the Browns.
Three years into his tenure as Cleveland’s president, things couldn’t be shakier for the franchise.
With the team on the verge of an ownership change, Holmgren said Monday he’s hoping to finish out his contract.
‘‘I've never quit anything in my life,’’ he said.
Hired by owner Randy Lerner at the end of the 2009 season, Holmgren said he hopes to fulfill his five-year deal, which expires after the 2014 season.
‘‘That’s what my plan is,’’ he said.
Things rarely go according to form in Cleveland, and during a 40-minute news conference Holmgren left open the possibility he may not be around too much longer. Lerner’s sale of the Browns for $1 billion to truck-stop magnate Jimmy Haslam III is expected to be approved at the NFL’s owner’s meeting in mid-October — a session Holmgren plans to attend.
Once Haslam assumes control, the Browns could undergo a dramatic makeover at the top of the organization. Haslam has refused to discuss possible changes to Cleveland’s front office, and Holmgren said he has not inquired about his immediate future.
Holmgren wouldn’t comment when asked if he would stay if his role changes under Haslam.
‘‘Let’s just see how it goes,’’ the 64-year-old former coach said. ‘‘I can’t answer that right now. ... Let’s slow down a little bit on that stuff and see where it takes us.’’
Holmgren said he has had positive discussions with Haslam, whom he referred to as a ‘‘good man.’’ While the timing of Lerner’s sale surprised him, Holmgren said he doesn’t think the uncertainty has affected the Browns as they prepared for the season, which opens Sunday against Philadelphia.
‘‘I think the players and coaches have handled the whole thing beautifully,’’ he said. ‘‘Who knows what’s in the deepest thoughts of people’s minds if they don’t tell you, but on the surface and how we’re preparing and how we put the team together, I like what I see, so I think they've gone about business pretty well.’’
Holmgren acknowledged the current working environment under the backdrop of potential change has been unusual.
‘‘All you can do is what you can do and I believe in the people we have here,’’ he said. ‘‘They are going about business as usual. I talked to the whole building a while ago, not only the coaches and the football people, but everyone else in the building, and said, ‘OK, you’re good. We see light at the end of the tunnel and keep doing what you've been doing and we'll see what happens.'’’
If the Browns, who went 4-12 last season, show improvement, Haslam might decide to stay the course and keep the front office intact. However, if the Browns start poorly, and with a young roster — 15 rookies, including the starting quarterback — and brutal schedule, chances are they will, Haslam could make swift, significant changes.
Holmgren, though, senses Haslam understands the team’s shortcomings and is realistic about the upcoming season.
‘‘He knows we’re young,’’ he said ‘‘He’s asked a lot of questions, a lot of football questions, and he is well aware of our situation. But I'll stick with what I said all along, even prior to this happening, that my expectations are that we’re better this year.
‘‘I've said that before and I'll say that again and you know, that’s how we’re all judged ultimately.’’
Holmgren expects Haslam to have a much higher public profile than Lerner, who inherited the Browns after his father, Al, died in 2002. Holmgren said he continues to speak on a weekly basis with Lerner, but acknowledged the sale has altered their relationship.
‘‘It’s a time period now that’s a little different for everybody involved,’’ he said.
Holmgren said his agent, Bob LaMonte, who also represents Browns coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert, has not had any conversations with Haslam about the future.
‘‘No, in fact, I try to keep LaMonte away from Jimmy,’’ Holmgren joked.
Holmgren addressed several other topics during his news conference, among the highlights:
—He was initially worried backup quarterback Colt McCoy’s popularity among Cleveland fans would distract rookie starter Brandon Weeden. However, Holmgren praised McCoy for the way he’s handled his demotion and doesn’t think him being on the roster will be an issue.
—He’s confident Weeden can handle starting, but cautioned several times that there will be growing pains.
‘‘He is a rookie and he’s going to be as good as any rookie starting,’’ he said. ‘‘Coming into the league he will function as a quarterback as well as anyone in my opinion, but he’s still a rookie and it’s difficult. But where he is hasn’t been a surprise to me, he’s right on target.’’Continued...