Commentary

Holmgren would be good fit for Browns

Originally Published: November 24, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

If former sideline boss Mike Holmgren is as legitimately interested in the Cleveland Browns' top front-office job as he indicated to a Seattle radio station late last week, the former NFL coach would bring immediate "streetcredulous" status -- a term recently coined by "Pardon the Interruption" co-host Michael Wilbon -- to a franchise rich in tradition but which has bankrupted the essential sense of connection to its fans.

Unlike the often eloquent Wilbon, yours truly is more hackneyed hack than witty wordsmith. And despite Wilbon's insistence that "streetcredulous" is a real-world word, Merriam-Webster has been no help at all in defining it. So our incredible un-hipness aside, we'll venture a somewhat educated guess that it has some reference to street credibility, a commodity in short supply for a franchise harboring the best of intentions but also owning one of the league's worst track records of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren
AP Photo/John FroschauerMike Holmgren also served as GM for the first four seasons of his 10-year tenure as coach of the Seahawks.

Holmgren, whose 17-year head coach résumé in Seattle and Green Bay includes 174 victories, a dozen playoff berths, three Super Bowl appearances and one title ring, could restore that sense of faith and bring back the civic pride that once barked from the Dawg Pound. Browns owner Randy Lerner, a second-generation franchise steward but a firsthand fan, and a man who desperately wants to bring a championship to the shores of Lake Erie, could do worse.

He has, in fact, done much worse, and this might be one of Lerner's few remaining opportunities to get it right.

Mike Holmgren, it says here, is the right man for this terribly daunting task. And Lerner should summarily squelch any rumors that Holmgren could return to the Seahawks in some front-office capacity, by hiring him quickly.

His critics will point out right about now that Holmgren failed miserably in his previous incarnation as an NFL general manager. For four seasons, 1999-2002, Holmgren was essentially the football grand poo-bah of the Seattle Seahawks, holding the twin titles of executive vice president and head coach. In short, he was the premier overseer of owner Paul Allen's football fiefdom, a guy who bought the groceries and also cooked the meal, to steal an old Bill Parcells line.

And as a general manager, Holmgren was, well, a very good head coach. During his tenure wearing twin-billed caps, he was 31-34 including playoffs (.477), went to the postseason one time and never notched a playoff victory. Some of the 38 draft choices he exercised were fantastic (guard Steve Hutchinson and tailback Shaun Alexander), but more were flawed (wide receiver Koren Robinson and tight end Jerramy Stevens).

After he was squeezed out of the executive V.P. role in 2003, Holmgren registered a 59-46 mark (.566), won four division championships in six seasons and claimed a wild-card berth, and went to Super Bowl XL.

Just as important, Holmgren discovered that his dream scenario, the dual role of general manager and coach that he publicly longed for in much of his seven seasons in Green Bay, actually was one job too many. It took awhile for Parcells to come to the same conclusion, but when he did, he became a terrific team official, one who could assemble a good, competitive roster while delegating the head-coaching job to someone else entirely.

At age 61, still young enough to accept the kind of challenge the Browns present but old enough to understand that his fingerprints don't have to be on every facet of the Cleveland operation, Holmgren could find the same manner of satisfaction that Parcells has discovered the past couple of seasons in South Florida.

Given the opportunity, the bet is that he will. Imbued with a limitless reservoir of football knowledge, and having learned some of the things you can't do, Holmgren is the man for the job. The path to success in Cleveland is a rocky one to be sure, but Parcells has dropped enough bread crumbs along the way for Holmgren to follow.

The first thing that Lerner must do to steady his leaky ship is define the job and its responsibilities. Does he want a traditional general manager, a team president, an official who combines both? Does the rebuilding job command a traditional "football guy" or a salary-cap manager who pays more attention to the bottom line than to the finish line of the 40-yard dash? Will the front-office person Lerner eventually tabs make the final decision about whether current coach Eric Mangini comes back in 2010? Just how much clout does Lerner, hardly a meddlesome guy but one who's got to be weary of starting over every few seasons, cede to the new guy?

Depending on the job description, there are plenty of potential candidates. People talk often about how many high-profile coaches are presently available. But the list of football management types is nearly as impressive, even if their résumés don't include a bushel full of Super Bowl titles. Among the unemployed, the list includes (but is hardly limited to) men such as Ron Wolf, Bruce Allen, Tom Donahoe, Billy Kuharich, Ted Sundquist, Michael Lombardi and Charley Casserly. There are "consultant" types such as Marv Levy, Ernie Accorsi, Jay Zygmunt, Carl Peterson or even Tony Dungy.

A source close to Holmgren noted this week that the former coach tried and failed to do everything himself, and that he would delegate many of the responsibilities. "Sometimes," said the source, "you've got to know what you don't know, and let someone else do it for you. [Holmgren] is at that point." For scouting, he could rely on Green Bay personnel experts such as Reggie McKenzie or Shaun Herock. Need a cap guy? If he can tear himself away from his writing duties at the National Football Post, Andy Brandt is one of the best. A new head coach possibly? There are, as noted, a ton of options.

After a year of respite, Holmgren seems to relish the potential for a comeback, and what better place than Cleveland, an NFL precinct with oodles of tradition and a place that the league desperately needs to be successful. The bet here is that Holmgren can reverse the Browns' fortunes and, if he does, he really might be streetcredulous.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.