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.