Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - When Randy Lerner hired Mike Holmgren to be the “serious credible leader” for the organization in 2009 he was expecting wins to follow.
In Holmgren’s first two seasons as team president, not much has changed on the field other than the roster – the Cleveland Browns have nine wins and 23 losses.
Holmgren joined Bull and Fox Tuesday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan and delivered the same message he’s been sending out all offseason – he’s expecting the Browns to be a much better football team in 2012.
“The bottom line is that everybody wants the team to do well,” Holmgren said. “Everyone wants the team to do better. I expect us to take a pretty good jump this next season.”
While it’s good that Holmgren has set high expectations for next season, fans have heard it before.
The likes of Carmen Policy, Butch Davis, Phil Savage and Eric Mangini did plenty of sweet talking and very little winning prior to his arrival in late 2009.
After the Browns were stolen in 1995, the NFL promised the return of professional football in 1999. 10 of the 13 seasons have ended with double digits in the loss column so fans could argue they are still waiting for it to return – hence the anger and frustration.
“Absolutely, I get it,” Holmgren said. “If I’m frustrated and I’ve only been here a couple of years, I can imagine what the fans are. But my message is the same – that we are going to fix this.
“It’s difficult and painful to be this patient and I know they’ve heard it before, but this is a different group, and we’re going to get this thing done.”
One step in that painful process is the draft, which was the third one under Holmgren’s watch with general manager Tom Heckert picking players.
Holmgren admitted that unfortunately the Browns plan last month didn’t go according to plan.
They were hoping to land the trifecta of Trent Richardson, Kendall Wright and Brandon Weeden with their first three draft picks but the plan was derailed when Wright went off the board at No. 20 to Tennessee.
“We liked Kendall Wright a lot,” Holmgren said. “And we knew wide receiver was an area that we were going to try and hit in the draft one way or the other but then we also like the quarterback a lot. The decision in essence was made for us.
“Kendall was taken before us and so it became pretty easy to take the quarterback.”
The Browns wanted Weeden with their third pick and hoped to get another weapon for him in the first round. With that option gone, they didn’t take any chances of Weeden not being there at No. 37 so he became a convenient plan B.
“I said if we’re going to take him let’s just take him,” Holmgren said. “I didn’t pound the table. Pat and Tom and I, we had talked about this so much before the draft that it was not a difficult thing to do and we love the quarterback so we just went ahead and did it.”
The Browns have maintained that age is no factor with Weeden. Because he’ll be 29 in October, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who will start this fall but Holmgren insists they won’t just give him the job like the Redskins did with Robert Griffin III.
“I think we have to let that thing play out and let them compete,” Holmgren said. “Pat Shurmur has an awful lot to say about that. Both Tom and I are kind of watching from a distance a little bit. I think it’ll be obvious and then we’ll make the decision.”
No one will debate that Colt McCoy did little to show last season that he was the franchise quarterback going forward – but Holmgren did admit that McCoy wasn’t playing with a full deck.
Despite that, they did everything they could this offseason to replace McCoy instead of help him – from trying to trade for the No. 2 pick to drafting Weeden.
“I’m always looking at quarterbacks,” Holmgren said. “I think when you’re building a football team you’ve got to find that guy. So if you think you haven’t found him necessarily or you haven’t had the time to find him yet if someone comes your way that you think ‘OK this guy has a chance to be that guy.’ That’s not saying the other guy couldn’t over a period of years or a couple of seasons. But (if you say) now this guy has a chance to be that guy then maybe you take him and we took him.”
The offense scored 218 points last season and to say that the receivers underperformed would be a compliment. It was a position of need which was addressed only with the addition of a fourth round pick – Travis Benjamin.
“We had plans of trying to get a wide receiver in the draft and we got a receiver in Benjamin who is really different than the type of receivers that we have,” Holmgren said. “This guy is fast on fast so we can stretch the defense a little bit now with him and that’s a good thing. That was a good draft pick in my opinion.”
Holmgren also thinks the existing receivers need to step their game up – most notably – Mohamed Massaquoi, who enters his fourth season since being selected in the second round of the 2009 draft.
“I think you’re going to see him have a little bit of a breakout year and we need him to do that,” Holmgren said. “He really has the potential in my opinion to be a really good receiver and no one’s seen it yet. If that happens and we know (Greg) Little can play. Little had a good rookie year and Cribbs is Cribbs. Our tight ends – Watson is back. I think we have a chance and we should be OK.
“Having said that, between now and by the time we tee it up in training camp, there’s a lot of time left to maybe add a player here or there and that could happen.”
Many fans feel that Holmgren is here collecting one last big big payday before retirement. They also think he has one foot already out the door which, Holmgren doesn’t understand and disputes.
“I honestly don’t know where that comes from,” Holmgren said. “Rest assured I’m all in. Kathy and I we love Cleveland and this is our home. I’ve never had a job anywhere where I wasn’t all in and I’m all in here.
“It’s just that I’m not coaching anymore and my role is different.”
His decision to take a back seat when it comes to media has irked many fans. Because of that, they think Holmgren and the front office doesn’t get it.
“Respectfully, I think they’re wrong,” Holmgren said. “I think what happens is that I’m not out in front and center too much and that’s by choice. When I was coaching I was out there and you’re doing press conferences and the fans see a lot more of the head coach than they do either the general manager or the president. I had 25 years of being out front and I don’t have to do it anymore but if anyone thinks that it will help, including people in this building, then I’ll do it.
“I’ve done that on purpose. That’s not to slight anybody or keep information or anything like that.”
The interview Tuesday was the first for Holmgren on The Fan but he’s done several in Seattle on KJR 950AM. He addressed why he still makes himself available in a town that he no longer works in.
“I used to work on that radio show,” Holmgren said. “I had a show and those were the guys I worked with and that’s the only reason I did that. They are friends of mine. Once again, this is where am.
“This is where my heart is, this is what my job is and this is where my mind is.”
Holmgren covered a lot of ground in 32 minutes but he summed the state of the Browns up best – the only thing left to do is win.
He’s banking on that to begin this fall.
So are fans with or without Holmgren doing interviews.