Former Seahawks coach and GM Mike Holmgren says time in Seattle has made him a better team president with Cleveland Browns.
BEREA, Ohio — If the strain of high expectations weighs heavily on Mike Holmgren, you couldn’t tell as he sat behind the desk inside his spacious corner office at Cleveland Browns headquarters.
Everyone calls him coach.
He’s dressed like a coach — wearing shorts and a T-shirt — and he talks like a coach.
But Holmgren isn’t the coach. Eric Mangini has that title for at least one more game. Beyond that, nobody knows.
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Holmgren, 61, is the team president and the second-most powerful man in the storied franchise behind owner Randy Lerner. He is the new face of an old hard-luck franchise desperate for a winner.
After the sucker punch delivered to the Cavaliers by LeBron James and two straight years of 90-plus losses from the Indians, Cleveland sports fans are looking to the Browns for a reason to cheer.
Holmgren knows the city’s love affair with its NFL team hasn’t been the same since the team returned 11 years ago.
He knows about the revolving door in the front office, the litany of awful draft picks and the poor personnel decisions of the previous administrations that made the Browns a laughingstock in the NFL.
He’s here to change all of that. His first season is winding down. The Browns are 5-10, which is no cause for celebration, but there’s a sense of optimism in Cleveland.
The Browns started 0-3 and 1-5, but wins against New England and New Orleans, and the emergence of playmakers on both sides of the ball, indicate Holmgren has the team headed in the right direction.
Last year Seattle had first dibs on Holmgren, its one-time general manager and coach who guided it to the 2006 Super Bowl, but the Hawks decided to give the franchise to Pete Carroll.
Seattle offered Holmgren a position with the team; the Browns gave him total control.
Holmgren promised himself that if he ever took a front-office job again, he’d remember the hard lessons learned when he was the Seahawks’ general manager for three years before being stripped of the duties.
“I think we did some good things, but I messed up on some things. And if you don’t learn from them, then you’re really not being real honest with yourself,” he said. “When my role changed in Seattle and they took the general manager thing away and I was just coaching, I said it at that time — don’t know if I said it to anybody, but I certainly said it to myself — if I ever get a chance to do that sort of thing again, put a team together and run a team, aside from the coaching part, I kind of made a list of what I would do again.”
With the Seahawks he regrets not immediately dismantling the scouting department and hiring a new staff that understood his vision. That mistake led to a poor draft in 1999. He also wishes he would have handled the Joey Galloway holdout differently.
Holmgren said he should not have re-signed Michael Sinclair to a seven-year, $35 million contract and should not have released linebacker Anthony Simmons, who led the Seahawks in tackles in 2000, ’01 and ’03 before being dropped following the ’04 season.
“Those are the only things I could have done that I think could have helped us,” Holmgren said. “Instead of being in the Super Bowl in year seven, we might have been there in year five.”
Holmgren doesn’t regret holding on to troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens despite his many off-field problems.
“Jerramy Stevens was not a big mistake,” Holmgren said. “I’ll argue anyone to my dying breath. Still, I probably wouldn’t do it again because of the baggage.”
Holmgren said he’s a better team president because of his failures as a general manager.
The biggest question facing the Browns as they head into the offseason is the future of Mangini. Last year, Holmgren chose to retain Mangini, but this time he could replace the embattled coach with someone like his former pupil Jon Gruden.
Or Holmgren could return to the sideline one last time.
Before the season, he was undecided about coaching again. And now with Mike Singletary fired in San Francisco, rumors have been swirling about a possible return to the 49ers, his first coaching spot in the NFL.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I have to go through this first year of sitting there and watching the games from upstairs. …
“I want to be real honest about this. I’ve got to see. I’ve got to see how I’m going to react. I told the coaching staff that I’m not going to coach this team this year.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org