April 25, 2014

Mike Holmgren gives way to Jimmy Haslam in his final address

As Tuesday afternoon rolled in, the rain rolled down on the city of Cleveland. As I attempted to brave the elements on a quick walk from Euclid Avenue to Quicken Loans Arena, I came across a few too many locals who had been surprised by the downpour, opting to run with their forearms over their heads as if someone was casting for extras in the November Rain video. Crossing over Prospect, making my way to Huron, I crossed paths with Indians president Mark Shapiro, manager Terry Francona and three other (who I am assuming to be) employees of the Cleveland Indians as the group was likely en route to a mid-day lunch, exchanging brief pleasantries with all as to not belabor the fact that we were all on our way to a destination and that it was in fact raning buckets of water by the second.

It would be at this exact time that John Farrell was introduced as the man who would spurn the Toronto Blue Jays to join Francona’s former team, the Boston Red Sox, amidst much jubilation in the New England area, and a fair share of angst just on the other side of the border. Somewhere in between rests Shapiro and Francona, entering a relative world of unknowns — arbitration, free agency, winter meetings, pitchforks and torches being what they are. Also existing somewhere in the middle of this emotional scale was Mike Holmgren who was, with this rain continuing to fall, preparing to bid farewell to the city of Cleveland; the very city which Holmgren was to turn into a winner.

Instead, Holmgren, having seemingly been forced into executive retirement following the transfer of Cleveland Browns ownership to Jimmy Haslam III, leaves behind an overall record of 10-29 and a freighter of what-if’s that would make the Goodtime III look like a dinghy.

Holmgren’s final address read like a eulogy — it would’ve come as little surprise if the in-house media swapped their daily’s best for something with a little more black in it. The Hall-of-Fame-bound head coach spoke of his “last great adventure” while lacing the storybook with sound bites of disappointment and memoriam, the team he would be leaving in the third year of a five-year contract being in a better place as if the sale of the Browns was some form of afterlife.

“I wish we had won a few more games,” said Holmgren of his time in Cleveland. “Like I said, I believe now, you’ve seen the team play this year, you’ve seen the quarterback play, you know we’re young, all those things. If we can keep that together, if they can stay together, there’s going to be good times ahead.”

The man affectionately known as The Big Show was remorseful and as honest as he could be. When he found out about the impending sale of the team, he was wrapping up his summer vacation in California. He was apologetic when it came to his notorious address following Colt McCoy’s concussion, stating that he “violated Mike Holmgren rule No. 5″ by coming to the press conference angry. In joking with the Cleveland media, he returned the favor by asking if he could be the one to make the call for playoff tickets when the time came.

Holmgren said that any criticism of his effort and time spent in Berea is unfair. He wouldn’t speak of hypotheticals, but confirmed that he had not been offered a position with the new regime; his time in Cleveland will be winding down in what he referred to as a “transition period.” After all, his access pass to Berea is still active and his parking space continues to be reserved. He mentioned that the foreseeable future would consist of his motorcycle and a beach — possibly one in the state of Hawaii. But he also left open the possibility that this retirement could be more like the one Michael Jordan took in the mid-90s.

“I learned a lot in my three years,” Holmgren said. “One of the things that I thought I knew, but now I’m sure, I do miss the coaching part of it. I really do.

“I thought a lot about it, what I was willing to do, what I wasn’t willing to do. At that time [of the Eric Mangini dismissal] I wasn’t ready for it. I thought I’d be shortchanging the organization.”

What was for certain: Holmgren’s time in Cleveland, the man who had arrived to help bring the Browns back to a level of not only relevance but perennial contention, had not gone as planned and would soon be coming to an end. It’s fair to assume that the stated “transition period” won’t have much in the way of subtleties. The Browns will play out the duration of the 2012 season and the the grand examination will take place, ranging from the top of the food chain to the bottom of the practice squad.

Wherein the Indians under Shapiro have provided frustration and disappointment over the last 12 months, the Browns have done so for the last 12 years. Where as the Indians are attempting to right the ship with Francona at the helm, even if things do not go as planned, the summer has seemingly turned into a season of merely waiting for the Browns to start donning the pads; the pressure may be on Francona to compete, but it pales in comparison to what Farrell will endure in Boston as well as what Haslam, Joe Banner and whomever else comes along for the ride will endure in Cleveland.

He could have easily just sauntered into the shadows, disappearing from the radar as his role with the team was abruptly uprooted. As Holmgren gave his parting words, however, thanking Randy Lerner for the opportunity as well as the veteran players who came in to the office every day and gave it their all despite the turbulent times, he confirmed his earlier statement by saying that he still believes this team is on the right track, that things in Berea are better today than they were when he was wooed out of retirement by Lerner.

“I honest to goodness feel that there are good times ahead…soon,” said Holmgren. “I’ll be rooting hard for this group.”

And with that, as Holgmren stepped off of the stage housed within the Dino Lucarelli media room in Berea, as his final words were transmitted over the airwaves throughout Cleveland, the rain clouds parted, giving way to the sun. Given that it’s Cleveland, Ohio, the star only managed to peer out for a few minutes, but added some much-needed light to an otherwise grey afternoon.

Whether Holmgren took advantage of the brief window to leave Berea on his Harley Davidson is unknown. It’s undoubtedly a long ride back to Seattle. What hopefully isn’t as long of a ride, especially for Clevelanders, is the ride back to contention. Holmgren’s hope, after all, is that Cleveland finally gets to experience the joy of winning.

  • Big Z

    Hiring Pat Shurmur, whiffing on RGIII, and outing Jim Brown will all stain Mike’s legacy here in Cleveland. It’s a shame this didn’t work out.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I was going to write something about the big mistake Holmgren made of hiring a rookie coach to do the job he seems to have wanted to do himself, but I’m tired of talking about the same stuff. I am just going to hope that Joe Banner hires a GM who is really good at his job and then actually let’s him do it. I’m going to hope that the GM then hires a really good coach, and then proceeds to get out of his way and let him do his job. No more playing guys because of where they were drafted or how much they make (I don’t know if this is true, but seems true with Marecic and Fujita, maybe Lauvao). I initially thought that the familiarity of Holmgren, Heckert, and Shurmur could be a good thing for the Browns to actually affect some change. Now I’m not so sure that the cronyism wasn’t part of the problem. We have players who can become great. Now go get the right people to make them great. I don’t want to hear excuses about implementing a new offense this summer. I don’t want to hear excuses about the coach and GM getting settled in. No more excuses after this season. Stop the WR drops. Stop the dumb penalties. Stop the special teams failures. Clean this mess up because we have the talent now to win our division.

  • Big Z

    For sure. I think H & H might have actually turned this thing around had they not hired Shurmur, who can be held accountable for all the blunders listed at the end of your comment. The best thing about Holmgren’s departure is that Pat is sure to follow – I’m sure Holmgren would’ve been too stubborn to fire Pat had Jimmy not purchased the team.

  • Harv 21

    Guessing there wasn’t a wet eye in the place. Don’t think Holmgren ever really fit in Cleveland, same way Rollie Massimino and Eddie Murray and Orel and Shaq never really did, guys who really belong to another place. Good intentions but wrong job, wrong fit. I’m glad he brought in Heckert and started repairing the decrepit, bad roster and paranoid atmosphere of Mangini but that’s really the only positives I take away.

    (and oh, for goodness sakes, Scott, it’s “dinghy.” That is not a typo you want to make)

  • mgbode

    I loved Orel. Take that back!
    (the rest of it is spot on)

    Made me double-check on Orel as I was an impressionable youth in those days. Despite being a 36-38yo, Orel went 45-21 with an ERA just north of 4.0 (in the height of the juice days) while averaging 190IP/season.

    All while being the classy elder statesman of the pitching staff. He was my 90s Greg Swindell favorite starting pitcher (sorry Chuck) :)

  • Harv 21

    and I loved Eddie. But love wasn’t the point.

  • Harv 21

    and, of course, can’t assume aging Orel was squirting juice because he was a hymn-singing bulldog and freckled and a hard to pinpoint American goodness, in a certain preachy way.

  • mgbode

    sorry, knee jerk reaction to one of my favorite 90s players, nothing more. carry on :)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Please let this be one of the last press conferences of this kind for a long time enough is enough. It wasn’t necessary and truth be told I only listened to maybe 10 minutes of it. When Shurmur’s canned I hope he isn’t given the opportunity to speak that’s the only thing that would be worse then today. Hasta la vista baby!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    To many egos especially Holmgren who despite being called the team president obviously had his fingers in more then one pie no matter how many ways he wants to spin it. The Big No should have just installed himself as coach and let Heckert assist in personnel. Oh well today shouldn’t have come as any shock I mean after all Randy Lerner made this hire I just would have never imagined it’d have gone this south so fast.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Fixed. Oy!

  • mgbode

    he may have been. but, just noting that ERA’s for that period of time were significantly higher than any other period in MLB history. 4.0 w/ 190IP is low-end SP3/SP4 these days. In the 90s, those were low-end SP2 numbers.

  • hopwin

    Well put sir.

  • SDA

    seriously getting tired of bad front office / coaching moves

  • 455Pride

    This is fabulous writing, it has the feeling of a prologue as well as an epilogue at times which captures the feeling of being at the end of an era with the Indians and Browns but also at the beginning of a new one. Cheers!

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Many thanks.

  • porckchopexpress

    To be fair the Indians have given us plenty of disapointment and frustration over the last decade as well. Its not like they have been a model franchise for the last decade who, upon seeing how badly the Browns perform, thought “yeah lets do some of that”. Unless of course during your brief stop in the rain with Shapiro he convinced you – as he apparently believes – that last year was 2007, and every last year coming will be 2007, so it is hard to understand why people are upset when we were just a game away from the series last year.
    Sorry for going negative on what should be a happy day, but I would be happier still if Holmgren rode out of town on his Harley with Shapiro in a side car and a t-shirt that reads “If you can read this Antonetti must’ve fallen off”.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    In my opinion, perhaps the greatest mistake that Holmgren made is that for all of the ego and confidence that he has in himself, the one thing he didn’t realize was that the person best fit for coaching this team was looking at him in the mirror. This team needed a winner….someone who had credibility when it comes to winning in the NFL and implementing the WCO, and a leader who commands respect the second he walks into the locker room. Holmgren would have brought all of that to this young, losing team. Instead, he chose a first time head coach to lead the youngest team in the NFL, and a franchise that hasn’t won consistently in 20 years. By this, I will be forever baffled.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    That’s very fair. But also inconsequential as even if the Indians had made the playoffs this season, the needle-movers in Berea would’ve had the headlines given what transpired over the last six months.

  • porckchopexpress

    Sad but true, my frustration with Shapiro and co. is exceeded only by the knowledge that even a deep playoff/WS run still will play second fiddle to the Browns backup punter plans.
    Really well written piece by the way, defintely should be hanging on the “While We’re Waiting” fridge with an A and more ++++’s then Ralphie’s What I want for Christmas essay.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Appreciated, sir.