Coach Eric Mangini needs victories soon if the comments of president Mike Holmgren Tuesday were any indication.
In his first state-of-the-Browns press conference since July, Holmgren found it hard to hide his disappointment over season-opening losses at Tampa Bay and at home against Kansas City. The Browns' first three losses were by three, two and seven points (at Baltimore).
While Holmgren will wait to decide Mangini's fate until the end of the season, Holmgren's voice seemed to lack passion. Perhaps it was because he just returned from a week-long stay at his home in Arizona. Perhaps he's still struggling with his role, his first football job away from coaching.
Asked the most encouraging thing about the 2-5 season, Holmgren said, ''The most encouraging might be the most discouraging. The most encouraging
thing is that we've been in most games and had chances to win the game.
It's also the most discouraging thing because we lost the games.
''The first couple games were very close. As it turns out now, both teams ( Tampa Bay and Kansas City ) are off to fine starts, they are better than people thought they were. And those are games with a little bounce here, interception there, whatever it was, we were involved in the game. The Atlanta game was a close game (a 20-10 loss), it went down the end. Pittsburgh (28-10) scored 14 points in the last three or four minutes to make it 28, otherwise we're right in that game. Then we won the other two.
''So, the competitiveness? I like all that stuff. I like how we're competing.
I like the effort. But it hurts like crazy to lose the football game."
Holmgren would not discuss the criteria he will use to evaluate Mangini at the end of the season. Mangini is 7-16 with the Browns.
''The important point there is any coach will be judged at the end of the season,'' Holmgren said. ''And it will take thoughtful thinking. I've said this before, I said this when I first came here, I think it's important that you take some of the emotion out of it if you can. At the end of the year, everyone catch their breath a little bit, think about it, and then hopefully make an intelligent decision. But I also said this, wins and losses, that's not the only criteria. The crummy part of our business is that most of the time it is the main one.''
Holmgren stepped down from his last coaching job after going 4-12 season in Seattle in 2008.
''On the surface they should have fired me based on record, 4-12 is my worst record of all time,' he said. "It may have been my best coaching job because we were playing with young people who gave me everything they had, but they just weren't good enough, we got so injured. If that taught me anything, it taught me in my position there's more to look at. Hopefully I'll do that properly.''
Holmgren didn't know how he would balance the Browns' record under Mangini with the improvement he has seen from last season. Most thought Mangini would not survive last January after Holmgren arrived.
''I'm not sure I can tell you that right now,'' Holmgren said of the criteria. ''It's premature at this point. Let's let the season play out and then I'll make the decision at the end of the year.''
The biggest question is what Holmgren meant when he said he remained committed to fulfilling his promise to owner Randy Lerner that he would turn the Browns franchise around.
But Holmgren added, "If I keep wearing a suit or not, we'll see.''
When he said it, the remark didn't seem to imply that Holmgren would be back on the sideline soon. It seemed almost as if he didn't like wearing a suit and tie on Sundays. But after further review, some wondered if it could have been a Freudian slip. Whatever he meant, it won't help ease Mangini's fears about his future.