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.
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.
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.
Holmgren promised himself that if he 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.
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.”