BEREA: President Mike Holmgren conceded he’s “a little ticked off” about the Browns finishing the 2011 season with a record of 4-12, but he warned fans not to expect the organization to radically change its plans for rebuilding.
“We know what we have to fix,” Holmgren said. “But we’re not going to blow it up and start all over.”
Instead, the Browns will stick with their philosophy of constructing a roster through the draft. They won’t rely heavily on free agency. And they will remain committed to coach Pat Shurmur, who will hire an offensive coordinator after encountering plenty of adversity and heartbreak in his first season with the franchise.
At least those were the main messages Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert delivered Thursday during a 70-minute, season-ending news conference.
Holmgren said he met Wednesday with owner Randy Lerner, who expressed support for the front office’s “stay-the-course” mantra. Holmgren also preached about the importance of avoiding quick-fix solutions by making decisions to help the team for the long haul.
“The fans here have been a little long-suffering,” Holmgren said. “We are driven. We put pressure on ourselves to do the right things to get this thing turned around and going in the right direction.
“I think the next couple years are very, very, very important in determining how this is going to go. I’m a little upset with our record, but I’m not discouraged. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of good things, and you start with some of our young players. That’s where you start on this football team.”
Perhaps the Browns’ ongoing quest for their franchise quarterback is their most important mission of the offseason. Holmgren said he’s not convinced quarterback Colt McCoy is the long-term answer.
“I’m not ready to anoint Colt yet,” Holmgren said. “Have I changed my mind? No. Do I love him? Yes, I do. But I love Seneca Wallace. We have three good quarterbacks, [including third-string player Thaddeus Lewis], I think on our team right now. Having said that, heck, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, and I had that conversation with Colt as well.”
This much is certain: Unlike last year, McCoy will not be handed a starting job.
“He’s a young quarterback,” Heckert said. “We think he’s got enough talent to be a player for us. Has he made mistakes? Yes. Can he get better? We think he will get better.”
Holmgren echoed Shurmur’s comments from earlier in the week by saying “competition will take place” to determine the team’s starting quarterback for next season. The Browns plan to acquire another quarterback to enter the competition, Holmgren said. Whether it will happen via the draft or free agency is anybody’s guess.
Holmgren acknowledged the record-setting performance of Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn in Week 17, but he said he didn’t want to comment on players from other NFL teams. Flynn’s contract is scheduled to expire in March.
Heckert did not rule out the possibility of finding a starting-caliber quarterback in free agency.
“It’s probably not the way we’re going to go, but you never know,” Heckert said. “It’s still early. We’ve got two months before that happens. We’ll look at everybody. There are a few guys that have played in the league that have started that are going to be free agents. So we are looking at them, and we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.
“We don’t want to go out and sign 10 free agents, but if there’s a guy we like, and hopefully there is, we’ll definitely go after him. Free agency is an area where you can get one or two players at positions that can help you. If there’s guys at certain positions, we’ll definitely go after [them].”
The Browns have two first-round picks in this year’s draft — the fourth overall selection and the pick they acquired in last year’s draft-day trade with the Atlanta Falcons, whose draft position won’t be determined until they’re eliminated from the postseason. Packaging the picks to trade up is not out of the question, but philosophically speaking, Holmgren said the Browns are more inclined to use the nine picks they have stockpiled.
“We have to hit on our draft picks,” Heckert said. “If that’s our philosophy, we better hit on them because [that is] the only way we’re going to get players. We’re sitting at [No. 4] right now. It’s going to be tough to screw that one up.”
Holmgren instructed reporters to “write that down.”
However, Holmgren wasn’t as playful when asked about running back Peyton Hillis’ future with the team. Hillis will become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. March 13 unless the Browns reach a deal with him before then.
“Please respect our decision,” Holmgren said. “We’re not gonna talk a lot about those things today because that’s one of our players that’s a free agent, and we’re not gonna deal with that.”
When asked if the Browns will sign middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a long-term deal, Heckert said: “We’d like to have all our good players back. We have numerous free agents, and we like a lot of them. We’re gonna try our best to get most of these guys done. But time will tell on that.”
The same could be said about Shurmur, Holmgren’s handpicked successor to coach Eric Mangini. The Browns went 5-11 last season during Holmgren’s first year as team president and Mangini’s last as a coach in Cleveland.
Although the Browns’ record regressed during the 2011 season, Holmgren defended Shurmur and pledged his allegiance to him.
“I have the utmost confidence in Pat to get this done,” Holmgren said. “No one’s on the hot seat. … We have a good coach, and we have a good coaching staff. You don’t get to where you want to get to by blowing it up every two or three years.
“He is good, he is smart and he will do what he has to do in a very unselfish way to get the team going in the right direction. And if that means hiring a coordinator or giving up the play calling ... Pat is very willing to do whatever it takes. Now that in itself is a healthy, good sign to me.”
In his season wrap-up Tuesday, Shurmur suggested he would be willing to forfeit play-calling duties if he could hire the right offensive coordinator. The Browns interviewed offensive coordinator candidates last year, but when they didn’t pan out, Shurmur took Holmgren’s suggestion and called the plays.
Former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress is a potential candidate for the job this year. Holmgren said the Browns didn’t interview Childress in 2011 and declined to comment further on the team’s search for an offensive coordinator.
Still, Holmgren and Heckert said reinforcements are needed for whoever becomes the offensive coordinator.
“In total defense, we were very, very competitive,” Holmgren said. … “Special teams, I saw some crazy things I never saw in my life.
“Our offense, by anyone’s standards, was not good enough.”
The Browns ranked 30th in scoring (13.6 points per game) and 29th in total offense (288.8 yards per game).
“We do have to help our offense,” Heckert said. “There’s no question about it. We have a lot of positions where I think we can get better. I won’t sit here and lie and say ‘Naw, we’re not going to.’ We’re going to address the offense.”
Holmgren started the news conference by presenting Browns radio play-by-play announcer Jim Donovan with a game ball. Donovan had a bone-marrow transplant this past summer. He has been receiving treatment for leukemia for 11 years. … Heckert gave updates on several injured players: Running back Brandon Jackson (toe) passed his physical and is ready to go; left guard Eric Steinbach (back) is close to being recovered; backup middle linebacker Titus Brown (knee) had surgery Wednesday; strongside linebacker Scott Fujita’s broken hand is not completely healed, but he’s fine; and defensive end Marcus Benard, who was in a motorcycle accident in October, is “doing all right.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.