Browns President Mike Holmgren met with reporters Monday afternoon. Here is a transcript from the press conference:
Browns President Mike Holmgren press conference 3-14-11
(Opening statement) -- "First of all, before we get too official here, I hope I didn't bring you in here under false pretense. You probably have been reading all of the stuff and we don't have a lot more to add, other than the fact I thought it was important to have a conversation with you in keeping with what we've tried to establish in the past year about communication between the club and the people that cover us.
“It's an interesting time, to say the least. What I wanted to let you know and everyone know if possible, is that it is our feeling and hope that we will play football games. We've worked very, very hard to begin to establish a program that will win and we are proceeding along those lines. It's going to be business as usual in the building for the Cleveland Browns organization. As you know, the draft is coming up at the end of April and even with the work stoppage, the draft preparation and everything prior to that time is the same as always. We will be working hard to prepare for the draft and then have the draft.
“My hope was, as was Randy Lerner's and we were excited about the potential of it getting ironed out through mediation. That was the way it was going and then most recently, as you all know and are well aware, it is now gone into the court system. We will play football again, the tough part is knowing exactly when. Our hope is that it gets worked out. I believe everyone wants it to work out. I just want to encourage our fans to hang in there. I know I've said it before and I'll continue saying it, until the point where they can feel real good about where our football team is. But they've been so good so far in the year plus that I've been here. They are a sense of encouragement to me, and I appreciate that. This will have a good ending as well and we'll get back to playing football like we all want."
(On how concerned the work stoppage will set the team back) -- "I have talked to Pat (Shurmur) about this and he is prepared and understands what the situation is. I think you could probably make an argument that if you had a new coach and a young quarterback like we have, that the situation is different than if you had a veteran coach and a quarterback that had been in a particular system for a long time. I think it would be foolish to say that it's not different. It is different. Having said that, I am very, very impressed with our staff, and whenever we start playing again and start coaching again, we will get the team up to speed as quickly as anyone. I am confident of that."
(On how much prep work was done prior to last Friday in anticipation of the lockout) -- "Not a lot. There were memos that we received dealing with this. The whole purpose is that everyone is on a level playing field during the time that the season ends through the potential lockout. We had our quarterback come in as an example, and we did give him a playbook, but that was about it. We are going to abide by what the rules that the league has set down and what they would like all the teams to do during this particular time and we are going to do things in a correct way. As eager as a player might be, we are going to stick by what we are supposed to do."
(On what happens to injured players who were working out at the facility) -- "They can be treated and talk to the doctor who did the surgery. It has to be off campus and the treatment has to be conducted by a third party, but that third party can be in communication with us. All our injured players are being taken care of and we will know their progress. There is no communication now between the club, club employees and the players and if we just stick by that rule then some of these other things have to go another way."
(On if he thinks Montario Hardesty will be 100 percent by the time games are played) -- "Well he'll be back from his surgery for sure. His leg was progressing just exactly the way it should. They were all, including Hardesty, feeling good about where he was. Now, his contribution is up to him. We drafted him, we believed he'd be a great contributor to us last year, and now we're probably in the same boat we were last year. Very optimistic, he feels good and we have our fingers crossed that he can stay healthy."
(On if anyone in the organization was laid off due to the work stoppage) -- "No. Our philosophy is that we are going to keep people working. When I said business as usual in the beginning statement I was really referring to that. We have a lot of good people here working very, very hard doing their jobs and we will continue to do that."
(On if there were any preliminary negotiations with fullback Lawrence Vickers before the lockout and what his intentions are with him in terms of free agency) -- "Not to my knowledge. Because of this, all comments on moving forward with players and/or contracts, I really can't talk about right now."
(On if Vickers was tendered) -- "The league hasn't given out who was tendered and who wasn't yet. Until they do that, we are not going to comment on tenders."
(On if it's fair for fans to buy tickets with no assurance of games in 2011) -- "We are trying to do this as fair as we can. I'm hopeful and optimistic that things will be able to get done and we'll play. If in fact that happens then fans should buy their tickets. If it doesn't happen, we have made a decision that we will refund their money for any games missed plus interest. That goes for any ticket that is sold in the stadium, from regular seats through suites and so on."
(On how much information was given to quarterbacks and other players beforehand) -- "I thought with the quarterbacks in particular, the idea of giving him a playbook, I didn't think that was bad and I think it was necessary. That's all we did. Colt has shown great leadership; he did last year. Without too much prompting by anybody, I knew that he would do this. He would get guys together; he would do what he had to do to try and make the team better. That's who he is. He sees himself as a quarterback first of all, as does Seneca (Wallace), Jake (Delhomme) or any of the guys who were in here, as leaders of the football team so they are going to act a certain way. He was the only one that I even talked to prior, and this was three or four weeks ago. I fully expect him to talk to his teammates. I expect that to happen."
(On if there are any lockout clauses in the coach’s contracts) -- "When we talked about our philosophy and how to handle this, we are going ahead without any of that stuff. If the time comes where all of a sudden, financially, we are getting struck down it probably starts with me, I've got to contribute to the pot, although, I will go on record that I am not working for one dollar a year."
(On if he has seen any difference in ticket sales or sponsorship sales because of the uncertainty) -- "No. I think our season tickets, believe it or not, in my last meeting with those fellas, and (Brown Senior Vice President of Business Development) Jim Ross does a marvelous job, as does our sales team, there is an excitement and our numbers are better than they were at this time last year. We have a message that we are trying to get across. Part of the reason for today is trying to encourage our fans with my message. At some point we'll play football games again. We'll play. It has been my experience in the little over a year that I've been here in Cleveland, that these fans love this football team. They can get mad at me, they can get mad at Colt McCoy, they can get mad at anybody, but they are Cleveland Browns fans. I appreciate that about them and I wanted to give them a word of encouragement. Stay with us, this is going to work eventually. The hard part is that I can't give you a time right now."
(On if progress had been made during the CBA negotiations and time just ran out) -- "I read the same stuff you did. During the mediation process with both sides there wasn't a lot of information coming out of there. I was hopeful, but again, now it's in the court system and other than wishing it was still in mediation I really don't have any comment on that. I was encouraged, like most people, and now we are in a new thing."
(On Colt McCoy's rookie season and how he projects for the future) -- "I think he played like a rookie at times and then he far exceeded my expectations at other times. It coincided with the games we won and a couple games that we lost. To do what he did with very little practice time and what we talked about against New England, the Jets and New Orleans and was pretty remarkable for a first-time starter in the league. Over the course of a season you get young people who are thrust in a position, like he was, and then every once in a while you go "Oh boy." I've had this conversation with him. I said "You know what, it can be a humbling experience this game" and just when you think you've got everything figured out boom, you realize there is a whole lot more to learn. Did he exceed expectations from me? I would have to say yes, because I didn't expect him to play. Is there a huge upside and much more to come? I would say yes to that, too, because he is a young man just learning to play the position in our league."
(On how switching to a West Coast offense benefit Colt) -- "I've always said the offense is very quarterback friendly. You can take quarterbacks of all different sizes and skill levels, plug them in and still function pretty well if the quarterback works hard at it, is intelligent, makes good decisions and has good timing. If you also have a quarterback with great physical tools, then that's even better. They are all created just a little bit differently. I'm very encouraged in seeing what Colt has done so far, just like Seneca. Seneca knows this offense very well and will be able to function very well in this offense. I'm hopeful that they do a great job. I think it will be fun for them."
(On the team's interest in Cam Newton) -- "I think with our due diligence as an organization and a personnel department, it's our obligation to evaluate the best players coming out of college football. Cam Newton is one of those and so, yes, we are looking hard. It's fun for me anyway; I've told you this before. Even though I don't have anything to do around here it’s fun for me to grade the quarterbacks and watch the quarterbacks and try to get an idea of how they play."
(On if the team will have Blaine Gabbert for a private workout ) -- "We are having 30 players come in. Which 30, I'm not going to tell you. I know we talk about give and take and transparency but, I've told you a lot with the fact we are bringing in 30 players. Which is the league high level."
(On having McCoy and still having to do due diligence with other quarterbacks) -- “It’s kind of interesting isn’t it? We’ll see. I would say, don’t discount anything. I’ve been honest with you about my feelings on Colt, but I’m not coaching the team. Pat Shurmur is the coach. We will have conversations of course but I’ll leave that up to the coach, just like I left it up with things last year. I’ve told you my feelings about him, but I think in this year’s draft there are a number of really fine quarterbacks. You’ve mentioned two and I think there’s more.”
(On how close they are to narrowing the gap in the division with Baltimore and Pittsburgh) -- “That’s a good question and I know it’s one that people would like me to answer and be right about. I think when you are doing that though, you can’t think too much about the other teams. Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati was in the playoffs in recent history, it’s a tough division. If I think too much about Baltimore and Pittsburgh, I am doing a disservice, I think. I think what we have to do is see what we need to do to get better and keep building here, just keep getting better and better. I thought we were pretty competitive last year in most games against really good teams. If we can build on what happened last year, if we can build on it, add some more players to the pile, keep our quarterbacks healthy, we have a chance to improve. The other teams are good and they will probably continue being good, now we have to get good, too. That’s really my focus and that’s what I’m going to do.”
(On their speed at wide receiver and how much is needed) -- “I think speed at wide receiver is a necessary component to playing that position. I think people view that in different ways. As an example, Jerry Rice, it has been documented that he ran a 4.6 40 at the combine or something. Now 4.6, I’ve heard any number of people over the years, ‘A receiver. He runs a 4.6, he’s too slow.’ Clearly, he wasn’t too slow. He was a very, very good player. Would you like someone a little faster? Yes, but there a lot of good players that aren’t blazers. How do you make them effective? Not everyone has blazers, so how do you make them effective? That’s the challenge for the coaching staff. Do you have willing workers? Do you have tough guys? Do you have guys with good speed? Do you have guys with good hands? Then figure out a way to get them the football and let them do what they can do well. Is that everyone going out for a long one? Maybe not, but maybe there are some other ways to get them the football and move the chains. Do we need more speed at wide receiver? You’d like a blazer to come in here, someone who runs it better than 4.6. Our receivers, believe it or not, run pretty well. They do. Would you like real great, great speed out there? Sure, everyone would, but there aren’t that many in the draft that run it that fast.”
(On the team’s biggest needs) -- “I think from a numbers standpoint on defense, our defensive line which some of you have already noted. That’s a pretty easy one to call just from a numbers standpoint. We are switching our defense from a 3-4 to a four-man line. That would be an area. We added some people to the secondary last year, which really helped us, but they are young. You can never have too many corners. It’s probably easier, Terry (Pluto), if I went where I’m not going to go (joking). I think our team and our development here, I would say in the draft, our philosophy won’t change. The best player up there and there might be some discussion if people are real even and there are two or three good players that are up there and can really help us. Then you get into a discussion on how you want to go.”
(On if Dick Jauron has expressed any concern about the defensive line depth) -- “First of all you couldn’t ask for a better man than Dick Jauron. If you’ve had a chance to visit with him, you know that already. He’s been a head coach at two different places. He was a defensive coordinator. He coached the secondary for me back in Green Bay. He’s really a good man. He’s very, very smart. He understands defenses and understands the four-man line concepts and so on. I would say that we absolutely talked about that before he even accepted the position, which he should. Anybody I interviewed for the position should come in and have those types of questions. But I think we know what we have to do to make life easier for him, and Tom Heckert certainly does. Dick trusts us and he will coach, as will everybody. You coach the players you have. If you have to shore it up, you shore it up.”
(On he has to be ready for free agency at any point or if they will be given leeway) -- “Tony, (Grossi) I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t think anyone does at this particular point. What I am fairly convinced of is that whenever the time comes, we will be notified and there would be, I would suspect, a certain amount of time to kind of get things in order before the actual thing starts. I am speculating a little bit, but I’ve got to believe that’s how it’s going to work.”
(On how active they will be in free agency) -- “We’ve had some discussions and I thought we were pretty active in free agency last year. I thought we were. I wouldn’t think we would be as active as we were last year. Do we hit a certain position? Maybe, that’s a value judgment. You look at what you need to do and then you say this is one of the tools I have. The draft is the other tool and trades are the third tool then you have to put your roster together. I would suspect we wouldn’t be as active as we were last year.”
(On if it is realistic that they will bring back both Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace) -- “Absolutely, again we aren’t going to talk too much specifics on the guys other than the things you already know until this thing gets ironed out. I wouldn’t say no to that possibility.”
(On how long it would take realistically to get the team ready to play) -- “I’d be guessing. I really can’t give you a good answer for that. We have done work-ups as an organization as to points in the year and we are preparing now as an organization for the eventuality of, ‘okay if it starts now this is what we have to do, if it starts now this is what we have to do, if it starts now this is what we have to do.’ So we are talking about that. This is new ground for me, so I’m not exactly sure. In 1987, I was part of the 49ers when we had the replacement players. If I remember correctly we played the first three games then the other guys came in, but we had started with them in training camp and so on. It’s different.”
(On if the schedule will be announced in April as has been in the past) -- “I don’t know. I think we just have to wait and see on any sort of timing issues and dates. I don’t think anyone can tell you right now.”
(On if he worries that a certain group such a rookies or veterans will be hurt more by this process) -- “We are going to take this position, it is what it is. No one knows the timing of it. I could worry myself to death if I thought too much about that. When the time comes and we can start practicing and playing again, that’s what we are going to do. I have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff. We have some real good veteran coaches that are new and we had some carryover from last year. We’ll just get the guys ready to play as fast as they can. Who’s at a bigger disadvantage? I don’t know, I really don’t. The rookies have to come in and learn your system, logic tells you that they would have a little bit of a tough time learning it, but they are going to have to.”
(On what he’s learned about Pat Shurmur) -- “I knew him pretty well for never having worked with him. Of course he worked for Andy Reid who is a good friend of mine. I’ve kind of watched his career over the years. The one thing I didn’t know about him, because he is rather soft spoken, I didn’t know as far as commanding the room. In a very short period of time, either in coaches meetings, staff meetings or my conversations with him and seeing how he deals with people throughout the building, he really is very good at it. He has his own style and you’ve had the chance to talk with him a few times and I hope you see that. He does command respect, he has a way about him. I had never seen him in that position before. I’ve been very, very impressed with how he communicates. That’s our business, that’s what our business is all about, really; communicating to fans, communicating to you guys, communicating to our players, our coaches. He, in my opinion, does that very, very well and that’s being a teacher.”
(On if he is worried that the franchise tag on Phil Dawson can be voided in a new agreement) -- “That’s one of those things I’m not going to worry about. Really because again if you start listening to things that could happen, I’d go nuts so I’m not going to do that. We franchised Phil (Dawson), we believe we had good reasons to do that. We want him here. He is a fine football player. I trust that all works out the way I want it to.”
(On if he thought about a potential lockout when he decided if he wanted to take the coaching job himself) -- “No, that did not factor into it. I’ll tell you what, I told that to somebody the other day, I have these weak moments. Then when I come to my senses I realize I am doing exactly what I want to do at this stage of my life. I am fortunate to have really good people around me in the organization and I was fortunate to hire a really good coach.”
(On if Phil Dawson gave any indication that he planned to sign the franchise tender before the lockout) -- “No.”
(On the league playing 18 games) -- “That’s part of this thing that they are talking about right now. I better just leave that alone until it gets talked about a little bit more.”
(On what a Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty mix would mean to the offense) -- “I could get real excited about that. That’s a good combination for this reason, I think they both have excellent ball skills, catching the ball and running skills. So you don’t have to have one guy as the runner, one guy as the catcher, one guy as the blocker, you don’t have to do that. They both have to be willing to do all those things for each other. If those are the two in the game at the same time, they have to block for each other and they have to do everything. I think they are capable of doing that. I hope I get a chance to see that.”
(On if it is weird having a work stoppage in March) -- “I couldn’t say it any better than that. That was good. It is weird. It’s different. Like I said, we are hopeful it gets done. It will get done. We will play. The glass is half full, let’s keep it that way.”
(On fans being upset with both the owners and the players) -- “First of all, you understand the fans’ emotion. That’s why they are fans. They love this team. They want to watch football. They want to root for their team. The emotions that come from something like this are very, very understandable. What I would tell them is, it will get done. It will get done. We will play football games again, to hang in there. I realize what I am asking the Cleveland Browns fans to do because they’ve probably heard somebody say ‘hang in there’ for a little bit of time here now. In trying to be real straight with them, I am very encouraged about the direction of the football team. This will get done and we will play again, so stay rooting for your favorite team. It’s okay to get frustrated and ticked off on occasion, but the beauty of it is you will be there when the good times come. So hang in there.”
(On if he is encouraged by the team’s talent level) -- “I think we are getting better. I believe we are getting better. What I’ve learned about the new fellas that I’ve worked with the last year is that Tom Heckert is the real deal. The people that work with him, our personnel department they do their jobs and they do them very well. If I put on my coach hat for a moment, that’s a real encouragement to Pat and the coaches. We get some players in here. The second thing is - and I haven’t talked about it very much - but Randy Lerner, our owner, has absolutely been a man of his word with me and with this organization since I came on board. For any football organization to have an owner like that is hugely important, so I thank him for that. Lastly, if our young quarterback turns out to be the quarterback for this team for a while, I said if he does, then that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”
(On if he remembers much about the work stoppage in 1987) -- “I remember a lot about it if you’ll let me reminisce just briefly. I was new to the league, it was my second year. I went from Joe Montana down to I’m trying to remember, but everybody did. We had a little Wishbone quarterback from the University of Utah, in fact we ran the Wishbone against the New York Giants in our first game. I think it put years on coach (Bill) Parcells (joking). What I remember most about that is for three games, those young people that played, it was really special. For them to be able to say yeah I was a replacement player, but I came in and I was able to put on the 49er uniform and play three ball games. We took a team picture. It the darndest thing you’ve ever seen, but for three weeks, you had guys from all different walks of life that just loved to play football and just came out and played. That was kind of fun. The other thing I remember about it is that it was a lot of hard work because we didn’t know, again, when the thing was going to end. Coach (Bill) Walsh had us prepare two game plans each week. For three weeks, I don’t think I went home. Someone asked earlier how long it would take to crank it up and get going, there we didn’t know so we just did it that way. Not every team did it that way if you remember correctly. Not every team approached those games the same way. I don’t know how it was here, but the 49ers approached it very seriously.”