In a lot of ways, I’m happy that Mike Holmgren’s services are no longer needed in Cleveland. Given the team’s record over the last three years, I welcome the opportunity to have someone else lead this team. Still, I’m a bit taken aback by some of the outbursts on Twitter and on local talk radio that look to cast Mike Holmgren as public enemy number one. Yes, Mike Holmgren made a lot of money. No, Mike Holmgren’s teams haven’t won anywhere near enough games. Yes, he personally led a few of the biggest PR nightmares of the last few years between Seattle radio and not addressing Colt McCoy’s concussion situation appropriately. Yes, Mike Holmgren almost undoubtedly hired the wrong coach when given the chance. Even all those things being said, I think memories are short for just how bleak things had become with Randy Lerner guiding the Browns.
I’ve come to grips with the fact that Eric Mangini was a good coach in many ways and his replacement is not. The lesson of Eric Mangini in all reality is that even a proficient NFL football coach can’t succeed in a leadership vacuum. The lesson of Mike Holmgren is similar in that we now know that a de facto owner, as Jimmy Haslam called Holmgren, couldn’t succeed in a leadership vacuum either. Or at least he couldn’t succeed in a three year period with any margin for error. Even with all that said, I don’t understand why there is such vitriol for Mike Holmgren as he departs.
The fact remains that Mike Holmgren gave this team structure where there wasn’t any. Randy Lerner is to blame for the Kokinis/Mangini fiasco. Mike Holmgren was faced with cleaning it up. He was faced with putting a organizational structure in place where there hadn’t been one since Phil Savage won the power struggle with John Collins. Holmgren brought in general manager Tom Heckert, as well as front office members like Bryan Wiedemeier, Gil Haskell, Jon Sandusky and John Spytek. Even though it hasn’t shown up on the field yet in terms of wins and losses, there’s little doubt that the Browns in 2012 are a significantly improved collection of talent than the ones left at the end of Romeo Crennel’s tenure. Considering that many of those executives have only been on the job since February of 2010, it all seems largely unfinished for good reason.
And that’s the larger point here: Mike Holmgren wasn’t the savior anyone fashioned, but there’s no telling if anyone would have been able to do better under the vacuous hole – Lerner – that required Mike Holmgren to sell season tickets, attend ownership meetings and also turn around an historically bad team on the field simultaneously. This isn’t to say Mike Holmgren did a great or even good job. This isn’t even to give Holmgren a pass. This is to say that it’s incomplete at best.
Mike Holmgren was working on a five-year plan. You can argue that it should have and could have been a shorter timeline without a few of the decisions we deem mistakes today, and you might even be right. The point is that I’m not crazy enough to say that things aren’t better than if Randy Lerner had continued in his role as hiring manager and absentee organizer of this football program as what led to Savage/Romeo straight into Mangini/Kokinis. This is currently a three win football team which is pretty abysmal, but at least they feel like they’re on some kind of positive trajectory. As Mike Holmgren departs you can’t feel that way about the roster while also just labeling his tenure with a blanket “Good riddance!” I don’t think you can do that while being intellectually honest about the complexities of building any kind of organization.
As I said on Twitter, Browns fans were dying of thirst after Kokinis was shown the door and Eric Mangini was seemingly alone in Berea. Maybe Mike Holmgren was a glass of dirty water, but it was still potentially life-sustaining water. Could anyone have done better? Maybe, but with Bill Parcells’ legacy playing out in Miami and culminating with fan protests this off-season and Scott Pioli’s playing out in Kansas City with Romeo Crennel, there’s really no way to say for sure. Let’s just say while I’m not ready to bow down and thank Mike Holmgren for his tenure in Cleveland I’m also not saying “Good riddance for being a lazy money-grubber with his heart in Seattle” like I’ve seen so many other people say over the last couple weeks.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The most appropriate thing to say today is probably, “Thanks for trying and good luck.” Let’s also remember that one of the alternatives for Mike Holmgren could have been Scott Pioli.
Would you trade places with the Kansas City Chiefs today?