The coaching itch never completely left Mike Holmgren, who will walk away from the Cleveland Browns feeling mostly dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
His three years as an NFL executive didn’t go as hoped. And for perhaps the first time in his football life, Holmgren came up short as a leader.
This loss was tough to swallow.
“We did not win enough games,” Holmgren said Tuesday at his farewell news conference. “I’m hoping the table is set for the future.”
Holmgren won’t be part of it.
After being hired by Randy Lerner in December 2009 to fix a dysfunctional franchise, Holmgren won’t complete hisfive-year contract as team president of the Browns, who now belong to new owner Jimmy Haslam. Holmgren would not commit to staying for the remainder of this season in Cleveland, where his tenure will be remembered for more losing and more change.
Since Holmgren arrived, the Browns are just 10-29, a record that pains the 64-year-old former coach who twice went to the Super Bowl with Green Bay and once with Seattle. He came to Cleveland with the best intentions, and while he succeeded in rebuilding the front office, repairing broken business relationships and helping add roster talent, Holmgren failed to deliver a winner.
“The record speaks for itself and ultimately people are judged on how many games you win,” he said. “But there’s a lot more that goes into an organization than that. Although that’s the thing people look at, there’s some things I feel very, very good about what we did here. We didn’t win enough games, though.”
Holmgren said he did not discuss a new “credible” position with Haslam, whose $1.05 billion purchase of the Browns was approved by the league’s owners last week. Holmgren would like to stay on and assist Haslam as well as incoming CEO Joe Banner, the former Eagles president who will take over on Thursday, in the transition.
Holmgren isn’t sure that will be possible.
“I’ve talked to Jimmy a lot about this,” he said. “He has my assurance. I’m not gonna rock the boat. I’m not gonna get in anybody’s way that way. I still have my office. I’ve got my lunch ticket and my parking space. I think I can help a little bit, but if it gets cumbersome or uncomfortable for anybody, then, heck, I don’t want that to happen.”
Last week in Chicago, Haslam announced Holmgren would retire after the season. However, Holmgren wanted to make it clear that he’s not ready to stop working. He’s just not sure in what capacity.
“I want to take one step at a time here, one day at a time,” he said. “My first goal is, if I can, help this team and these coaches this season. Then I’m going to sit back and catch my breath and look around a little bit and see what happens.”
Holmgren was asked if he had one more coaching stint left in him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know this: I learned a lot of things in the last three years. One of the things that I thought I knew and now I’m sure, I do miss the coaching part of it. I really do.”
When Lerner signed him to a five-year contract at roughly $8 million per season, Holmgren vowed to his wife, Kathy, that the Browns would be “my last great adventure.” He never imagined his time with Cleveland would be cut short by the sale, and it would deprive him the chance to finish rebuilding a team that has made the playoffs just once since 1999.