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.