Mike Holmgren nearly hired himself or Gruden as Browns Head Coach
Mike Holmgren very nearly hired himself as Browns Head coach and could have hired Jon Gruden before selecting Pat Shurmur according to comments he made on KJR-AM 950 Seattle.
Holmgren was hired as Browns president in late 2009 after his successful run with the Seahawks. Holmgren inherited Eric Mangini and after 2 years with the coach, Holmgren decided to relieve Mangini of his duties in favor of a better “fit” for his philosophies.
Many saw the move coming as Holmgren has made his affinity for the offensive side of the football and specifically the west coast offense very clear. Mangini, a Belichick disciple, was more defensive minded and the struggling and often inept Browns offense was something Holmgren could not live with.
As we know, Holmgren ultimately hired former offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, Pat Shurmur after conducting only 3 interviews (none of which included the big name free agent coaches). But the interesting part is what occurred prior to the Shurmur hiring.
If you listened to Holmgren’s comments throughout the 2010 season and leading up to the hiring of Shurmur, he dropped several hints indicating that he had the “itch” to coach again. I personally thought that Holmgren wanted strongly to coach and I was a little bit surprised that he honed in Shurmur so quickly. The Shurmur selection makes a lot of sense if you think about it, but I was of the belief that Holmgren’s first choice would be to come down to the sidelines himself.
As it turns out, my thinking and the thoughts of many others, were not all that far off. Prior to conducting the first interview, Holmgren says he sought the opinions of General Manager Tom Heckert and Executive Vice President of Business Operations Bryan Wiedmeier regarding his potential return to the sidelines.
Holmgren gave them one day to think about it and told them the following:
“I told them if you don’t think it’s the right thing to do for our football team, you can say that, no strings attached. I came back the next day and they thought it would be a pretty good idea if I wanted to do that. We could make that work.”
“I went home and talked about it with Kathy (Holmgren’s wife). We prayed about it a little bit. I realized I came here to do a certain job. I want to fulfill that promise to my owner and see if in another role I can get the thing done.”
Holmgren is 62 years old and has accomplished everything imaginable as a Head Coach in the NFL so it’s not all that surprising that he (and especially his wife) wouldn’t want to invest the time and effort it takes to be a Head Coach again. However, despite his current role, at his core, he is a coach. There is no question that it kills him that he’s not able to control the team as a coach would and that he isn’t on the sidelines.
Despite the decision to hire Shurmur, which Holmgren at the time said he hopes this is the last Head Coach he has to hire for the Browns, he did not rule out a return to the sideline in the future. Holmgren has repeatedly referenced his promise to owner Randy Lerner to return the team to greatness in the role of team President. Holmgren has 4 years remaining on his contract as President and oh by the way, Shurmur just signed a 4 year contract.
4 years in the NFL is an eternity so anything could happen between now and then, but Holmgren offered this in response to questions about a future return to the sidelines:
“You never know for sure. Organizations and owners want to go with the younger guy. I get that. It’s OK. If I wanted to get back into coaching, I could have. I had that opportunity. Maybe I’ll get another opportunity, who knows?
“But I’m really not thinking that way. I’m really thinking this is what I should be doing, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. If I think any other way, you really run the risk of not doing the best job you can do.”
The next comments were incredibly surprising to me. Many Browns fans were up in arms that Holmgren didn’t interview Jon Gruden and some of the big name “free agent” Head Coaches out there. I personally believed that Jon Gruden wouldn’t have been at all interested in the Browns job, but I may have been dead wrong.
Holmgren said he could have hired Jon Gruden and that he also spoke with former Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher:
“Bill (Cowher) wasn’t ready to come back. He was very honest about it. Jon said he’d come back for me. I said, ‘I need more than that. You shouldn’t just come back for me. You should want to do this.’ He really enjoys TV, and he’s good at it.”
I suppose the loyalty to Holmgren by Gruden shouldn’t be a surprise as Gruden learned under Holmgren early in his career, but this is the first that anyone has heard about Gruden being open to taking the Browns job.
While Holmgren has declined to take over as Head Coach, he is as involved as ever. Holmgren, as he has always said, has an “open door policy” with players and has taken a specific interest in QB Colt McCoy. Holmgren overruled his “Cabinet” in last year’s draft and made the decision to take Colt McCoy in the 3rd round. Holmgren has indicated that he is advising McCoy, but more on how to deal with life in the NFL than with passing mechanics or offensive strategy.
Browns fans may be unhappy that they missed out on Holmgren and Gruden as the next Head Coach, but by all accounts, Shurmur is an incredibly gifted and sharp coach and he should be a great fit under Holmgren to take the Browns to the next level.