Mike Holmgren Defends Browns, Gets Defensive With the Media

Trust me. Things are different in Berea.

Those two sentences are paraphrasing what Mike Holmgren wants the takeaways to be from his talk with the press today.  Similar to what he said in October the last time he was goaded into speaking, he told the media “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”  With that, Mike Holmgren showed the whole world just how confident and arrogant a man he is.  A lot of us were happy to get those qualities in a leader when he showed up.  You undoubtedly need a bit of arrogance to lead such a prominent organization as the Cleveland Browns in the world of professional sports.

If I may do my best to interpret where Mike Holmgren is coming from, Holmgren and the Browns are tired of everyone assuming the worst first.  He is tired of everyone assuming incompetence, scandal and conspiracy.  We all know now that Colt McCoy never should have gotten back on that field on Sunday.  What Mike Holmgren tried to do today was explain how it is that McCoy did find himself there.  He did his best to defend his coach and medical staff mostly because the way everything happened, it turned out to be a difficult situation.  The bottom line, and the one that probably won’t be written about today is that the Cleveland Browns don’t ever want a repeat of what happened on Thursday night for their players or any others around the league.  Holmgren described the meetings with the league as “good” which I take to mean productive in propelling the treatment of situations like McCoy’s.  Some will just assume the Browns are covering their butts because they were about to get into trouble.  That negative kind of spin turned out to be more the crux of the press conference.

The Browns have no excuses for the way they’ve handled this from a public relations standpoint.  On Monday they absolutely fed Pat Shurmur to the wolves.  They should have said that they were scheduled to meet with the league about the concussion thing and that they didn’t want to address it with the media until after the fact.  They should have laid out a timeline or suggested a timeline for addressing those issues and skipped them altogether on Monday, opting to let Shurmur deal with football issues.  The hemming and hawing that Shurmur did on Monday are partially on him, but I blame Holmgren and the Browns for putting him in that spot.

Look, I am not a P.R. expert by trade, but I honestly think I have a good handle on the way to avoid a lot of these situations.  Mike Holmgren and company have underestimated the damage sustained by the Cleveland Browns brand, specifically since Phil Savage’s email debacle, continuing into the abysmal way Eric Mangini handled murals, bus rides and injury talk in his first season, and perpetuated in the scandal in the wake of the firing of George Kokinis.  Those events probably more than any others have injured the brand and for a lot of practical reasons explain why the Browns are in the position they are in today with their tempestuous relationship with the media.

It isn’t necessarily fair to Mike Holmgren.  Still, he inherited them with the job like you would a leaky roof buying a house in disrepair.  As has been noted ad nauseum by many, Mike Holmgren makes enough money to be responsible and deal with it.  What he needs to realize is that even if the staff in Berea is currently top notch and doing their jobs 100% correctly, there is water still leaking in the roof from years past.  As we know the Browns have made plenty of mistakes as can be seen in the W/L record to this point.  Still, a lack of success on the field doesn’t always mean utter chaos and dysfunction organizationally like it has usually meant in the past.  Mike Holmgren can scream from the top of his lungs that things are different in Berea.  Without the expected turnaround of the offense on the field or the team in the win column, it is up to Holmgren and the Browns to go the extra mile to let everyone know that they are still on top of it all somehow.

Of course that all goes far beyond the concussion thing that Holmgren was intent on dealing with today.

The media does have a preconceived notion about the Browns.  It is almost always negative because the team still isn’t winning and there is a track record of incompetence and scandal.  I do believe there is a change in Berea.  I don’t know if it is going to work and put the Browns in the Super Bowl, but I feel relatively confident that we won’t have another escorted dismissal from Berea a la Kokinis, or a filthy email from Tom Heckert to a fan.  Still, those are the histories that the Browns must erase as caretakers of the brand now and into the future.

If a health inspector shuts your restaurant down because it is dirty, you can’t just hire a new cook, re-open the door and expect everyone to think the problem’s been solved.  The burden of proof is on you to pro-actively let everyone know that things are different.  The Browns failings in that department are pretty unquestionable.


  • NJ

    NFL =! normal working world

    That said, yeah, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that, assuming I received a concussion doing my job only to have a company medical professional fail to diagnosis it and assuming that my CEO/President was about to hold a press conference discussing my situation, he might ignore that he is four or five levels up and contact me to make sure everything is okay and to thank me for my dedication.

    Shapiro and Co. flew out to Grady Sizemore’s house to tell him they weren’t picking up his option. Now, that’s apples and oranges, but it does show that people skills are an important factor in running an organization. NFL players are people too and like playing places that appreciate them.

    Look, I realize it’s a minor criticism. I just don’t get what it is Holmgren actually does. He hired some people. Cool. Is that it? Six months of work and now he kicks back? What else does his day entail? And he KNOWS he’s going into a presser about Colt McCoy yet fails to even talk to the guy? Seriously? You can say it’s unfair criticism, but I won’t agree.

  • http://www.starcherconsulting.com Jason

    @oribiasi – And don’t even think of asking them for additional playoff tickets!

  • oribiasi

    @ Jason: That’s right. In 2210 when we have colonized 3 of the moons of Jupiter and the human race has evolved into spiders and the Browns are in the playoffs…well, I guess I won’t be going, and that’s just sad.

  • Pining4The’Ship

    In H&H I trust. I am willing to give this regime their time. Watching the presser it was easy to see the frustration. I am waiting to see what happens this FULL offseason and allow continuity to settle in this organization for once.

    Haters will hate…

  • mgbode
  • jimkanicki

    lol.. ok mg. i will answer your question,

    ‘you want to say definitively that [the head trainer] did [know colt had a serious head injury] based on a still shot that he was on the field with colt?’

    if a medical professional cannot perform the basic triage on a patient who is unable to get on his feet after couple minutes having just been tackled by a 250 nfl linebacker.. if that medical professional has ruled out head injury from his list of symptoms.. then that medical professional would be subject to a peer review, probable license revocation proceedings, and the organization employing him would be subject to a wrongful injury lawsuit.

    but yes bode, it is possible that the head trainer did not recognize the symptoms of head injury.

  • Garry Owen

    @ jimkanicki:

    That is an interesting photo, now that I see it.

    Having suffered more than one concussion on the football field, I’ve therefore also had more than one “field concussion test” administered. If I’m not mistaken, it looks like the guy on the left (our left) is checking Colt’s grip strength – a procedure that (though I have no idea why) was always done with me after every concussion.

    Granted, it’s a still photo capture of a milisecond in time that could mean anything, but it is at least circumstantially interesting, if not physical evidence that someone at least suspected a concussion.

  • Daredent

    This regime is doing just fine, this presser convinced me. The minute they start listening to the media or the fans about how to run the Browns, they will be fans themselves soon after.

    It takes time. I know you have all heard that before, but let one damn regime run its course. You cannot keep kicking them all out year after year.

    Yes I know some teams turn it around in one year .. look at Buffalo .. oh wait.

    Get over yourselves, we are on the right course.

  • Harv 21

    anyone have a video link to the presser?

  • Daredent
  • NJ

    Honest question: how quickly do concussion symptoms take to develop? Is it possible to get a concussion, be completely coherent for 12+ hours, and then develop the symptoms?

  • jimkanicki

    @harv, remarkably.. it’s available on the browns website.


  • oribiasi

    @ Garry Owen: Anyone with a few brain cells to rub together (ok, bad example here) would know that Colt should have a concussion test after a hit like that to his head. To claim otherwise is major ignorance and because this is a professional football team it is unacceptable.

  • Wheel

    Craig, good instant analysis. Like Printing4TheShip, I am a beleiver in Holmgren. But my trust is wavering. The current crisis is more of a forum on the state of the Browns than Colt McCoy’s concussion. In addition to handling this incident poorly, you have to consider some debatable moves by the Holmgren regime, including: 1) Hiring Pat Shurmur; 2) Not pursuing ANY free agents to help this year, especially in the wake of trading down for 2012; 3) questionable drafting of players such as Hardy, Phil Taylor, Maceric and others; 4) the Peyton Hillis situation.

    If things looked promising for the Browns, the McCoy/concussion story would be regarded as a ‘mistake’ not a crisis. However, for me, it is one more thing that makes me realize “In Holmgren We Trust” might not turn out the way I’d like.

  • mgbode

    @NJ – from webmd.com

    “Concussions can be tricky to diagnose. Though you may have a visible cut or bruise on your head, you can’t actually see a concussion. Signs may not appear for days or weeks after the injury. Some symptoms last for just seconds; others may linger.”


  • jimkanicki

    The protocol you’re referring to is valid only after a player has exhibited concussion-like symptoms. Whether you like it or not, a big hit my James Harrison does not require the medical staff to conduct a 20-minute concussion test. It’s not enough to say, “Wow, that was a big hit, check him for a concussion.” The player has to show symptoms of a concussion before he is taken to the locker room for the battery of tests you outlined.

    i dont think you clicked the link i provided. it’s in post 41. the lead sentence of the post is, ‘NFL doctors and trainers will use standardized sideline testing next season to diagnose concussions, the league’s latest move in a national debate over implementing stronger policies toward head injuries.’

    it’s not ‘taking him to the lockerroom.’ it’s not 20 minutes. it’s not the nhl’s quiet room. it’s intended SPECIFICALLY to help diagnose concussions as a direct action in acknowledgement of the challenges involved in diagnosing concussion. in other words, this protocol is specially MANDATED for cases exactly like this one.

    do please read the link. i think you mis-understand what the protocol is and also its purpose.

  • NJ

    Thanks. That does make them hard to catch.

    I can see why the NFL is so half-hearted in the way they approach concussions. Getting serious about them could radically change the way the game is played.

  • mgbode

    @jimkanicki – we agree on a great many things, but just not this one. i just don’t think anything here can be definitive against what Holmgren stated.

    1. the trainers did not see the play or hit that caused the injury
    2. the trainers came onto the field and tended to Colt.
    3. Colt complained about his hand and by all accounts seemed lucid without exhibiting signs of a concussion.
    4. no player or coach notified the trainers to check for a concussion.
    5. the trainers treated the hand and Colt went back into the game.
    6. after the game, Colt noted sensitivy to sound and light and they tested him for a concussion. he passed the test.
    7. concussion symptoms got worse Friday.

  • http://www.starcherconsulting.com Jason

    @daredent I haven’t seen anyone in these comments (maybe I missed it) call for regime change. I for one don’t want it (again!). As I said before, I just want (expect?) my team to not be an embarassment.

    I realize many things are leading to poor performance on the field. I agree we need to realize the deck was stacked against them this year with respect to lack of training camp. However, there is little excuse for off the field issues to be handled in the manner they have been. If there is an area you should have a handle on, it’s the PR, media/fan relations. No one to blame there. I’d rather see fans up in arms than the alternative, which is apathy, or alternately a lemming fan base who never questions anything the team does.

  • http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f305/glitterhound/comments/nba/cleveland-cavaliers-wave.gif forrealmccoy

    what a bafoon

  • jimkanicki

    @69 agreed bode. i’ll call it a day on this with one more point. will give you last word (if you want it and not totally bored by it already).

    the head trainer on an nfl team who is not tuned into the probability of head injury on his starting quarterback who has just been trucked by the same linebacker who concussed two browns players in one game last year is by definition unqualified for his job.*

    *i have heard from a friend who knows joe sheehan and says he’s a great guy and a good trainer. now THAT would be an interesting interview, if he felt like talking.

  • http://twitter.com/CTownPride CTownPride


    From your link:

    “Twenty-four symptoms will be listed, including confusion, headaches and trouble sleeping.”

    How am I supposed to diagnose trouble sleeping on the sideline?

    OK, OK. I’ll stop.

    Holmgren’s comments suggested that the asking of questions, testing sensitivity to light – all that stuff – came after the player showed some sign of a concussion. Colt apparently didn’t show that. The only evidence of a concussion was the veracity of the hit. I’m not sure that violent hits require concussion tests.

    Which bring me to the most important point of all. James Harrison is the bad guy here. He’s been fined more than anyone else and he still won’t stop with these hits. I know Colt was running out of the pocket and appeared to be running beyond the line of scrimmage when he stopped to throw the ball. Still, Harrison chose to crown his helmet and hit Colt square in the facemask, leading to this situation.

    So, remember… we all love the Browns. And James Harrison is the bad guy here.

  • humboldt

    It’s a bit risky to make medical diagnoses based on a picture (sorry, to another political reference, but this sort of thing can lead us into Bill Frist-Terry Schaivo territory).

    However, as a health professional who deals with head injuries I can safely say that, given the vicious hit McCoy visibly took to his head, any of my colleagues would feel it appropriate to take ample time to subject the player to a basic cognitive battery.

    For whatever reason, this wasn’t done, and I’m not sure why Shurmur said it was on Monday. Colt’s dad was absolutely correct to call out the Browns staff for this failure. His son was put in a dangerous situation wherein he could have sustained long-term damage to cortical tissue and thus elevated risk for earlier onset cognitive decline.

  • NJ

    @67- I agree with all your points, but I just have a really hard time believing that nobody in authority (Shurmur, medical staff, etc.) suspected he had a concussion. Even if you didn’t see the hit, coming onto the field and seeing a player flat on his back, not getting up, knowing that he just took a hit?

    I’m willing to let this one go because nothing can be proven and arguing over it won’t make a lick of difference. All things as they are, it just doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo


    Here is the link to Shurmur’s press conference on Monday:

    Please find for us the quote where Shurmur said a concussion test was performed.

    This is what he said he asked directly if McCoy was tested for a concussion:

    “He came off the field and our medical staff worked with him and I was told that he was able to play. That’s where it’s at. He was treated like any player that has an episode on the field.”

    No where in the entire press conference does Shurmur say McCoy was checked for a concussion.

    We know now that was a mistake, but just because you keep saying he’s lying doesn’t make it true.

  • Yngwie

    I still don’t know who to blame exactly for this, but I think personally that Shurmur even if it’s not SOP that Shurmur NEEDS to ask the doctors after the hit (because Shurmur saw it even if the doctors didn’t) specifically if he passed a concussion exam. There is absolutely no way given that hit, the first and only hit that someone has been suspended for, that Shurmur should have just asked “Is he good to go?” or whatever.

    He needed to ask very very specifically “did you test him for a concussion?”

    In terms of NFL rules etc I think Holmgren is ok saying that everyone did a good job and it was just a unique situation. But as others have said, this is bigger than NFL policies. The fact he played after that concussion could have taken time off Colt’s life. It is a medical and moral issue more than it’s a football or NFL issue.

    Bottom line: In terms of Shurmur having definitely SEEN THE PLAY HIMSELF, he should have certainly asked the doctors if Colt was tested for whether he had a concussion.

  • Mark

    NJ – Concussions are so tricky. I suffered one while playing football. The first 5 minutes immediately afterwards I felt fine. Then I started to feel light headed and very, very sleepy. At ten minutes afterward I was nauseous and then threw up. As soon as I vomited, I felt 100% fine. My head cleared and I wanted to go back in to play. Luckily, no one let me. This was my perspective. I have no idea how l appeared to those around me. I’ve been around others who showed much different signs.

  • jimkanicki

    75/sure titus:

    “(On if the procedures and protocol followed to determine if McCoy was ready to play were for concussion testing or something different) – “Sideline procedures to determine whether the man can play. We followed them and I think that is what’s important.”

    the sideline procedures are linked above. they were not followed.

    btw, if you want to see some REAL eye-rolling, here’s shurmur getting asked the concussion test question for about the 5th time.

    i really hope some of you guys are on my jury if i’m ever in a bind.

  • Harv 21

    OK, after the watching the presser my big takeaway is his revealing description of how he sees his duties: hire good people and let them do their job, without his undue interference.

    He absolutely doesn’t want to be the visible figurehead of the franchise. He’s “done radio shows for 25 years” and he’s done with that. He wants to tinker out of sight in his basement wood shop with this football org., impart some grandfatherly advice if someone wanders down there and, if absolutely necessary, take out his belt on occasion on the coach or GM. The Big Belt, the one that says “I’ve Been to 2 Superbowls, Fella.” He’s not talking to the players as a coach, he’s not taking calls from angry player parents, and he’s free to burp out loud without any media yelling at him. And get the hell off my lawn.

    That’s my take.

  • jimkanicki

    to those of you who dont think this is a big deal and ‘what the hell is it with kanicki today?’

    it’s not kanicki who thinks this is a big deal. it is the NFL. i wandered over nflhealthandsafety.com. here is a page with EIGHTEEN videos talking about everything from neurological exams, to defenseless player penalties, to the Lystedt Law.

    the nfl is ALL OVER THIS. the nfl will not be pleased that one of their teams, in a nationally televised game, on their starting qb, had not a clue on how to deal with head injuries. like, how can the nfl say theyre doing all they can to reduce injuries and their league as well as promoting safety in youth football.. when the browns cant even figure out that their qb,
    a. who just drew a helmet-to-helmet personal foul penalty
    b. who is flat out on the turf for two minutes.
    cant figure out that they may have a head injury issue. AND THEN the head coach and CEO go out in the next week and say they followed the proper protocols.

    there are EIGHTEEN VIDEOS on that page that address this issue. the nfl did not produce these EIGHTEEN VIDEOS for giggles. the nfl is going to come down hard on the browns and well they should.

  • Pepe

    McCoy got destroyed by James Harrison on a helmet to helmet collision. That’s not hard to diagnose. A head injury in car crash, maybe. there were 5 million people watching tv that knew that Colt shouldnt be in that game.

    I bet If the refs spotted the ball two yards backwards there would have been 7 people telling Schurmur to challenge the play, but no one saw that McCoy got rocked the NFL’s concussion maker?

    Then again the sidelines didn’t know Alex Smith was getting handoff in the red zone. Maybe they should hire someone who’s job it is to pay attention to the game.

  • Wheel

    Harv, I think your probably dead on. However, for the job that is at hand, and for the money he is getting paid, I expect a helluva lot more out of Holmgren. Maybe he is not the genius we had all hoped.

  • Big Z

    “Our medical staff and our training staff — we have the best in football. There’s no doubt in my mind. These guys are really good.”

    Really Mike!? Grossly mishandling McCoy’s situation, allowing at least 6 Browns to become infected with Staph over the last 6 years, being slammed with two lawsuits over medical infections… yeah I’d say that’s pretty top notch!

  • bridgecrosser

    For the money he gets paid, Holmgren should be out there shoveling the side walks in Berea this winter and gladhanding every fan on the way into The Factory each Sunday.

    I’m extremely disappointed. If he’s been screaming down Uncle Pat in the background and plotting for his dismissal – then maybe he’d okay.

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo

    Jim, you are starting with a faulty premise that the Browns knew McCoy had a concussion and chose to ignore it. That is not the case and has never been the case. It that was true I’d be right there with you, but it’s just not what happened.

    The medical staff worked off what McCoy told them and acted the way they thought was appropriate. We now know they made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean it was intentional.

    No one doubts the NFL takes head injuries seriously – of course, the same NFL is selling photos of McCoy after the hit and have replayed the hit at least 50 times a day the NFL Network – maybe someone should be asking them what’s up with that.

  • mgbode

    i would just like to note that only in Cleveland can a press conference thread discussing 1 specific item keep up in comments with a thread that is giving away free stuff :)

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo

    On a different note …

    How is it the Steelers are escaping any criticism and scrutiny in all this?

    Why is no one demanding that the Rooneys – allegedly a great football family who do things “the right way” – get up and explain why they continue to let Harrison get away with playing outside the rules?

  • jimkanicki

    no titus. i am starting with the premise that colt mccoy suffered trauma to his head. specifically because this is tricky to diagnose, the nfl put procedures in place determine his fitness to return to play. the browns were not aware of the procedures thursday night. the browns continue to state that they followed the proper procedures. i dont know which is worse.

    we’re all familiar with the mike webster story and aware that early alzheimers from head injuries affects retired nfl players at a rate 18x higher than the population at large. check out what happened when one kid went back into a middle school game before he shouldve.

    my point is and remains — this is a serious deal in general and extremely serious for the NFL. holmgren’s performance today was most unhelpful for the team.

  • Shamrock

    That press conference was nothing but excuses and covering for peole who clearly dropped the ball. What else would you expect tho? The funny thing is Holmgren didn’t even get any tough questions. The Cleveland media is afraid to question Big Mike you can hear it in the way they tentatively ask things. As for Shurmur he clearly is a head coach in over his head.

    And please let’s not compare Cleveland with Green Bay.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Jim, I think we all understand your point. Titus, I think we understand yours too. On the one hand the Browns followed procedure because the doctors who administer those tests didn’t find them to be necessary by the way Colt was acting. The way Colt was acting should have been almost irrelevant considering the hit he took.

    The information (the fact that Colt undoubtedly had his brain rattled) needs to find its way to those people who aren’t in a position to see the play (the doctors and trainers behind the coaches and reserves.)

    The rest is all semantics. Yes, the Browns should have run the procedures, Jim. It wasn’t intentional that they didn’t do so. It was a lack of communication from the people who should have known from seeing the play to those who didn’t see the play. That’s the very obvious flaw in the system here.

  • Shamrock

    McCoy deserves a week off but I’m sure he’s worried if Wallace does anything verse Arizona.

  • dood

    Man, This Sucks.

  • Alex

    Driving in to work this morning Don Cockroft was on WTAM talking about his book. Hearing him talk about how after a late-season win in Houston there were 10,000 people at Hopkins Airport welcoming the team home, how I-71 was all backed up with fans trying to get to the airport, and then they played The 12 Days of Cleveland Browns Christmas, wow, that really took me back.

    Then when I get to work I come to this website and see 92 posts b*tching about the current state of this joke of a team, it makes me want to go back to my car and listen to Don Cockroft some more, ha!!!

    It seems like a more than a lifetime ago, a different world.

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    I’m curious to know how many other NFL team presidents for not keeping the media or fans “in the loop”?
    The Cleveland sports media has become a complete joke, they seem to over-react more than fans these days. If you don’t believe me that’s fine , but then why did we have a failed comic from one of the morning shows asking for Shurmur to be fired after Week 1. Week 1!
    I for one, think Holmgren has disdain for the Cleveland media and not really the fans. I find it comforting that our team president, who shouldn’t have to do pressers unless he is introducing a new player or coach, treat these media clowns with disrespect. All they are after are ratings, we do have two dueling sports talk stations, and to say or print anything in order to stay relevant.
    Mistakes have been made, there is no doubt about that, but these mistakes can be corrected. A better question is “When will the Cleveland sports media stop behaving like no-it-all crybabies, and start behaving like rational journalists?”

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    My apologies that first sentence should read “I’m curious to know how many other NFL team presidents are chastised for not keeping the media or fans ‘in the loop’?”

  • DCTribeFan

    I didn’t really see Holmgren as being defensive in this presser–considering the idiocy of some of the questions raised by “reporters”. Tony Grossi is just a pissy little girl. And the “off the field” questioner didn’t have the cojones to ask a real question, so he just lobbed implied issues. I woulda answered in the pissy affirmative too, just like Holmgren did.
    It’s like all Cleveland sports issues—no matter what actually happened, the haters will find some rationalized reason to keep hating. AKA “you’re either with us or against us”.
    I loved the ineffective dbag who wanted Holmgren to tell him how to respond to national stories that were way ahead of local reports. I wish he would have said “Well, son, try doing your JOB instead of letting Chris Mortenson beat you to the story.”

  • http://cleveland.scoresreport.com Gerardo

    Great post.

    I think you did a good job of pointing out the PR problems at the Browns and the media’s obsession with being negative.

    Holmgren was upset that some in the media assumed the worst on the Browns intentions with McCoy situation.

    Maybe you can convey this to Les Levine, who went into the gutter with Booms last night.