Former Browns president Mike Holmgren is in full damage-control mode.
When I heard Holmgren criticized the Browns Thursday for trading running back Trent Richardson, my first reaction was he’s worried the pathetic state of the Browns will damage his legacy, perhaps even hamper his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Holmgren might still get in as a coach. But the three years he spent as Browns president and defacto owner for Randy Lerner won’t help his overall credentials.
It won’t be as serious as owner Art Modell’s moving the Browns to Baltimore damaged his. But Holmgren was supposed to be the quarterback guru, the Bill Walsh disciple who would help turn the Browns offense into a juggernaut.
Granted, he wasn’t the coach and he hampered the Browns’ chances of that by hiring the unprepared Pat Shurmur. But beleaguered Browns fans trusted Holmgren. Instead he gave them Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Brandon Weeden at quarterback.
When he left last Nov. 30, replaced by new CEO Joe Banner, Holmgren’s failure to deliver a quarterback of the future forced Banner’s hand, forced him into acquiring all the ammunition necessary to try to find one in the 2014 draft. The Browns received the Colts’ first-round pick in 2014 for Richardson, whom Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert traded up to select third overall in 2012.
Holmgren is also trying to cover up his failure to land Robert Griffin III in last year’s draft. The St. Louis Rams told the Browns to make their best offer for the No. 2 overall pick, yet the Browns didn’t, and Griffin ended up in the hands of the Washington Redskins. Perhaps Rams coach Jeff Fisher’s friendship with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan did play a part, as Holmgren subtly suggested. But the Browns didn’t take their best shot.
Holmgren was a bust in Seattle when he held both titles of coach and general manager, and he was a bust in Cleveland. Although I’ve never been a part of a Hall of Fame selection committee, that aspect of his career is sure to come up with the voters, even if the person making his case tries to set it aside.
Holmgren took to the radio airwaves Thursday to rip the Browns, speaking to Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle. The host of the show is his old friend, Dave “Softy” Mahler, his most trusted outlet even when Holmgren was in Cleveland.
“How do you make your team better by trading your best player? He’s their best offensive player. He’s a valuable, valuable guy,” Holmgren told Mahler, according to a KJR transcript. “To me, they are putting all their eggs into next season. This season … they started off 0-2 and they couldn’t score any points and I think it was a knee-jerk reaction. There’s a little bit of ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ I don’t know that for sure, but I can sense it. To do this as an answer, to get a No.1 (first-round) pick which people are going to talk about, but Indianapolis is going to have a good year, so that pick will be 23-24, right in there. We couldn’t package our No. 4 and No. 7 for (Robert) Griffin last year and we had more ammunition, so I don’t know, I struggle with it.”
Asked what he would have done if he’d been Browns coach, Holmgren said, “Philosophically, if I’m the coach and someone came in and said we’re going to do this, my response would be ‘Fire me’ or ‘I’m going to quit or we’re both going to go into the owner and talk about this and then we’ll see who’s standing.’ Now clearly the coach (Rob Chudzinski) is OK with this. (Chudzinski and Banner) sat at the news conference together, so they have to be OK with it. I personally would not be OK with it; it was my best offensive player, a young guy, not an eight-year veteran.”
Holmgren is obviously still sensitive about the Griffin situation. It’s hard to believe he would have quit on the spot, even though he’s made millions in coaching (and from Lerner). Chudzinski is at a different point in his career. Even if Chudzinski had reservations, this is his first shot as an NFL coach and it could be his last. The Browns have a long list of coaches who never should have risen above coordinator. Banner surely convinced him of the long-term plan, despite the challenge of keeping his players from giving up on this season just as the front office apparently has.
Come to think of it, Holmgren probably would have quit. From what we saw of Holmgren with the Browns, he seemed to have no problem walking away from a challenge without tackling it with all he had.