The Cleveland Browns are a mess of a franchise and that is a sad fact — even for a staunch Steelers fan like me.
I grew up in Ohio during the Kardiac Kids era. I was about 5-years old and knew what was “Red Right 88” meant. I remember where I was when Earnest Byner fumbled on the goal line, and remember watching “The Drive.” Bill Belichick looked human back then (maybe he wasn’t taping opponents’ signs.) But this team was lovable in an Uncle Eddie sort of way. It was so miserable, and sometimes so close, you had to like it. It was also a formidable rival. But then Art Modell put the fans out of their misery by moving the team to Baltimore in one of the true injustices in the history of sport.
This was a storied franchise whose fans endured worse — if not more — misery than long-suffering Red Sox fans. For three seasons (1996-’98), the Browns did not even exist.
While Cleveland was devoid of an NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks toiled in the Pacific Northwest in a constant state of insignificance. From 1988-1998, the Seahawks had two above-.500 seasons — and those were 9-7 whoppers. Then came Mike Holgren.
The guy who calls himself a “gym teacher living the dream,” Holmgren resigned his cushy job with the Green Bay Packers — whom he led to a Super Bowl championship — for a long-term deal with the Seattle Seahawks. Holmgren was thrilled with the idea of being the head coach and general manager. The latter title he did not hold in Green Bay.
Holmgren made the Seahawks exciting winning five division crowns. He led them to their only Super Bowl appearance — an experience that will likely go down as the most thrilling of my career.
And then, three years later, Holmgren left. He said he wanted to ride his Harley, sit in the pews of his family’s church on Sundays and spent time with his wife, daughters and young grandchildren.
It hasn’t even been a year since Holmgren hung up his headset, served as a Super Bowl analyst and finally got that hard-earned vacation. It hasn’t even been a year and Holmgren and his agent are in — of all places — Cleveland.
Few are surprised Holmgren is looking into employment — particularly as a VP of personnel and/or a general manager position. The Seahawks, remember, stripped him of the title in 2002 claiming it was too much for one man’s plate. Holmgren always seemed to be a bit salty over that move, admitting to some mistakes but demanding credit for other moves.
In the 10 seasons since the return of the Browns to Cleveland, the franchise has had three president/CEOs, five general managers and five head coaches, (a number that includes interim coach Terry Robiskie.) The team has squandered top draft picks like Tim Couch and William Green, and may have alienated another first-rounder in quarterback Brady Quinn by playing him just under an amount that would have ensured a bonus for the former Notre Dame star. And, on the field — save a nice outing last Thursday — this team has been atrocious.
What is surprising is that Lerner was even able to sell himself and his franchise enough to get Holmgren to Ohio for a series of interviews. The visit ended without any sort of consumation of a deal — yet.
I don’t know if Holmgren can be a great general manager, or if he can transform his on-field success to smart upper-management moves like Bill Parcells has.
But I read in an Ohio newspaper column that Holmgren might demand too much money to become the Browns’ “football czar.” Ha! The Browns would be wise to pay Holmgren whatever he wants, let him do what he wants — including firing Eric Mangini — and start from scratch ala 1999. If Lerner wants to settled in on one candidate and make a real commitment to his franchise, he would be wise to ante up. Why? Because nothing Lerner has done in this Browns incarnation has come remotely close to working and this is as far from what he has done as possible.