BEREA: The Browns will be in Mike Holmgren’s rearview mirror as he rides his motorcycle through the desert this weekend.
Holmgren’s tenure as the organization’s president will officially end Friday, and he and his wife, Kathy, will fly to Phoenix the next day. Holmgren originally planned to stay with the team through the rest of this season, but he feels his role in helping new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner during their transition period has run its course.
“I come to work, I go to practice, I’d talk to some of the players, say hello to the coaches, have lunch, all that kind of stuff,” Holmgren said Monday. “But then really as far as contributing, I was kind of, it was done. I had already passed the baton.”
Banner said he did not try to persuade Holmgren to stay longer because he respected his decision.
“He was just incredibly helpful and professional and supportive,” Banner said. “As you know, we were more than happy to have him stay. But as he said from the beginning that once he kind of made the difference he could, it would probably be time to leave. But I really had a lot of chances to spend time with Mike and it was fascinating and helpful to understand everything from his theories about an organization to his coaching philosophies to his evaluation of this team and this staff, to his own theories about the role that people like Jimmy and I can play best in supporting a coach and helping an organization be successful.”
Holmgren, 64, built his legacy as a coach. He never felt the timing was right for him to coach the Browns, who improved to 3-8 on Sunday with their 20-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, Holmgren hasn’t ruled out a return to the sideline.
Despite reports that Holmgren would be interested in coaching the Dallas Cowboys if the job becomes available, he insisted he doesn’t know what his future will hold. Holmgren and Banner said he does not have an agreement with the Browns that would preclude him from coaching another NFL team.
“[I’m going to] catch my breath a little bit and take it easy and ride my motorcycle,” said Holmgren, who led the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl as a head coach. “I honestly don’t know if I’m going to go back to work immediately or not, and I don’t know if it’s going to be in football.”
Holmgren said he called Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the Browns’ road game Nov. 18, and Jones encouraged Holmgren to meet him on the field and chat during pregame warm-ups. Banner said the sideshow had nothing to do with Holmgren’s early departure.
Hired by Randy Lerner, Holmgren began serving as the Browns’ president when he signed a five-year contract worth about $40 million on Jan. 5, 2010.
Haslam agreed to buy the Browns from Lerner for about $1 billion on Aug. 2 and named Banner his right-hand man on Oct. 16, signaling the end of Holmgren’s reign. Banner declined to discuss the specifics of how Holmgren will be paid the remainder of his contract.
“You’re going at something and it ends rather abruptly, but I’m also a big boy and I understand this business,” Holmgren said. “But you have a great new owner who desperately wants to do this thing right and who will bring all the stuff you need to get it right, and so the team, I think, is in really good hands. … I am very thankful that I got this opportunity to do this.”
The Browns are 12-31 since Holmgren took control, though he believes they are close to turning it around.
Holmgren said he has expressed support for coach Pat Shurmur, General Manager Tom Heckert and others in his conversations with Haslam and Banner. Cornerback Sheldon Brown said “it would be a huge setback” if Shurmur and Heckert are fired because the organization is heading in a positive direction.
“I believe in the guys that are here,” Holmgren said. “We haven’t won as many games as we all would have liked, but it’s coming.”
So has the new regime inherited a legitimate foundation on which it can build?
“There are aspects of the organization that I can see that there are things I would do differently,” Banner said. “I don’t want to say that’s better or worse – differently. And there are things in which I think the progress they’ve shown in the time they’ve been here, which is really just a couple of years, is very strong and does lay a foundation for us to move forward from.”
Shurmur said he’s not worried about his future without Holmgren on board.
“I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent here together,” Shurmur said. “I think we all know there’s been a lot of change here in the last few months. Unfortunately, that’s part of what happens in this business. Things change all the time.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj