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.
When I first saw Trent Richardson run in person at Alabama’s 2011 season opener against Kent State, my initial reaction was that he was a back to run out the clock, not to break the game open.
I later argued that point during a discussion of whom the Browns should draft on the “Cleveland Browns Daily” radio show. After he was selected, I felt somewhat vindicated when Hall of Famer Jim Brown called Richardson “ordinary.”
On Wednesday, when the Browns traded the third overall pick in the 2012 draft to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-rounder next year, Richardson left Cleveland with only two runs of 20 or more yards.
That surprises even me.
I thought the Browns’ offensive line was the strength of the team and would open more running lanes for Richardson, especially this year, when he was healthy and trained like a demon in the off-season, according to Derrick Boyd, his mentor in Pensacola, Fla. But Richardson’s longest run was 10 yards. He averaged 3.4 yards on 31 carries.
I thought Brown’s return as a special advisor this year would give Richardson more support, especially after his 950 yards rushing in 2012 broke Brown’s rookie record of 942 yards set in 1957. Richardson’s 11 rushing touchdowns also topped Brown’s nine. Richardson’s 12 total scores broke the record of 10 by Brown and Eric Metcalf (1989).
I thought Richardson was better than he looked in the first two games, even on Sunday, when I noted at least twice that he made poor choices and failed to take the proper cutback lane against the Baltimore Ravens.
Even on Monday, when criticism of Richardson started anew, I figured Richardson would turn it up a notch. He talked a good game. He acted like he wanted to be the Browns’ leader. Evidently the Browns decided he was all talk and no action.
Even though he hasn’t looked all that aggressive hitting the holes, I still think Richardson could excel on a team with a true zone-blocking scheme and someone to motivate him. Perhaps he couldn’t handle playing for a loser, and the Colts, who went 11-5 last season and are 1-1 this season, will get the most out of Richardson. Especially when he's running on turf.
The trade shows the follies of the past regime, primarily ex-president Mike Holmgren and ex-general manager Tom Heckert. The Browns have only five of 11 players from the 2012 draft and quarterback Brandon Weeden may be the next to go. Of those five only right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will start this Sunday at Minnesota, with Weeden sidelined with a sprained right thumb. They have six when the supplemental draft is included, which netted starting receiver Josh Gordon.
They have six of eight picks from the 2011 draft, but offensive lineman Jason Pinkston is out for at least the first eight games with a high ankle sprain. Of those six, three (Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard and Jordan Cameron) are starters.
Only one player from the Class of 2013 – first-round outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo – will make a significant contribution this season. He not starting, but should by the end of the season.
But all that means Sunday at Minnesota, the Browns will start five players from the past three drafts. That kind of draft failure rate can set a franchise back years, if not a decade.
When the Browns return home Sept. 29 against Cincinnati, will fans show their displeasure with the Richardson trade and the front office throwing in the towel for 2013 by staying home? The only way their ire can make an impact is with their absence. Half-empty stadiums against the Bengals, Bills (Oct. 3) and Lions (Oct. 13) will make a statement. My guess is that won’t be the case.
But never more than Wednesday did the name of the new movie about the Browns – “Draft Day” – seem more appropriate.