4 Cleveland BROWNS

The Holmgren era begins with some housecleaning and a healthy dose of hope
September 05, 2010

MIKE HOLMGREN spent his year away from football like many sixtysomethings. He doted on his grandchildren, caught up on reading and indulged in a favorite pastime—in Holmgren's case, riding his Harley. When Browns owner Randy Lerner offered him a job last December as team president, Holmgren knew that if he accepted, the rhythms of his life would change. He consulted Bill Parcells, Bill Polian and John Madden, a triumvirate of NFL lifers who had aged gracefully in different jobs, and most important, he talked with his wife, Kathy, who gave him her blessing. Says Holmgren, 62, of the task of resurrecting the Browns, "I call it the last great adventure."

Many in northeast Ohio were amazed that the adventure did not begin with a change of coach, possibly even with Holmgren—who spent 17 seasons as the head man in Green Bay and Seattle—naming himself to the post. But over two days of winter meetings with the incumbent, Eric Mangini, Holmgren chose to keep him on, though Mangini won't be responsible for personnel decisions as he had been. "I made a promise to myself to give him a chance and not really listen to anybody else," Holmgren says. "It doesn't take long to know he's very bright, he cares, he's a hardworking guy. I just had to get him to smile a little more."

Clevelanders have reason to believe happier days are ahead. Mangini survived a 1--11 start, marked by grumbling from players about his coaching tactics, to close out 2009 on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over the hated Steelers. In that last month of the season the Browns seemed to have bought into Mangini's mantras about the core characteristics of a successful player (smart, tough, hardworking, competitive, selfless, a guy to whom football is important) and the core values of a successful team (communication, focus, finish, trust). Once they started winning, nobody questioned the coach's lengthy practices or his fines for parking in the wrong space. "Everybody wants progress, but nobody likes change," Mangini says. "It is uncomfortable. We changed a ton of stuff, the way things are done. I think a lot of people get it now. They've grown as a group, and I went through growth."

Says Browns linebacker David Bowens, who also played under Mangini with the Jets, "This year everyone knows what they're supposed to do, how Eric is going to treat everybody, and it's allowing us to relax a lot more."

While they kept the coach, Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert made some big off-season personnel moves, acquiring veterans (linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, cornerback Sheldon Brown) and shedding many holdovers from the previous regime (quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, running back Jamal Lewis). "Last year's team was a combination of Romeo [Crennel's] guys and [Mangini's] guys," says linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. "This year we have a better fit of his style of player."

With new quarterback Jake Delhomme needing to find chemistry with young skill position players, the Browns will likely be looking up at Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincy for a while longer in the demanding AFC North. Still, there's a sense in the locker room that Cleveland weathered a dark period and is headed for a turnaround. The person who might face the biggest challenge of all this season is Holmgren, who'll be watching games from a suite instead of his customary place on the sideline.

"When the game was going a certain way, I always felt I could fix it," he says. "I'm not tweaking anything anymore. Someone else is. I have to do what I do for the organization to get it going, and [Mangini] is coaching. I promised him, 'My door will always be open for you, but I'm not going to come running into your office pounding on the table.'"

Mangini appears comfortable with the relationship and happy to have an experienced sounding board on coaching matters. "When I sit down with him," Mangini says, "I'm not talking to someone who hasn't been through the whole range of problems."

It will be an interesting marriage, the elder Holmgren adjusting to his new role as president, the young lion Mangini, 23 years his junior, still finding his voice. The president's role might be new, but the nameplate on his golf cart during training camp looked familiar: COACH HOLMGREN.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH ERIC MANGINI

OFFENSE

2009 RANK: 32

QB JAKE DELHOMME

G 11

ATT 321

COMP 178

PCT 55.5

YARDS 2,015

TD 8

INT 18

RATING 59.4

RB JEROME HARRISON

G 14

ATT 194

YARDS 862

AVG 4.4

REC 34

YARDS 220

AVG 6.5

TTD 7

FB LAWRENCE VICKERS

G 16

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

REC 8

YARDS 27

AVG 3.4

TTD 1

WR MOHAMED MASSAQUOI

G 16

REC 34

YARDS 624

TTD 3

WR BRIAN ROBISKIE

G 11

REC 7

YARDS 106

TTD 0

TE BENJAMIN WATSON

G 16

REC 29

YARDS 404

TTD 5

LT JOE THOMAS

G 16

HT 6'6"

WT 312

LG ERIC STEINBACH

G 16

HT 6'6"

WT 295

C ALEX MACK

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 311

RG FLOYD WOMACK

G 13

HT 6'4"

WT 328

RT TONY PASHOS

G 5

HT 6'6"

WT 326

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 31

DE KENYON COLEMAN

G 13

TACKLES 38

SACKS 1½

INT 0

NT SHAUN ROGERS

G 11

TACKLES 36

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE ROBAIRE SMITH

G 15

TACKLES 62

SACKS 1½

INT 0

LB MATT ROTH

G 10

TACKLES 32

SACKS 4

INT 0

LB CHRIS GOCONG

G 15

TACKLES 44

SACKS 1

INT 0

LB D'QWELL JACKSON

G 6

TACKLES 59

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB SCOTT FUJITA

G 11

TACKLES 58

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB ERIC WRIGHT

G 16

TACKLES 65

SACKS 0

INT 4

FS ABRAM ELAM

G 16

TACKLES 91

SACKS 1

INT 0

SS T.J. WARD (R)

G 8

TACKLES 68

SACKS 0

INT 1

CB SHELDON BROWN

G 16

TACKLES 51

SACKS 0

INT 5

SPECIAL TEAMS

P DAVE ZASTUDIL

PUNTS 49

AVG 44.7

NET 39.1

K PHIL DAWSON

FG 17--19

XP 18--19

POINTS 69

PR JOSHUA CRIBBS

RET 38

AVG 11.9

TD 1

KR JOSHUA CRIBBS

RET 56

AVG 27.5

TD 3

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 5--11

September

12 at Tampa Bay

19 Kansas City

26 at Baltimore

October

3 Cincinnati

10 Atlanta

17 at Pittsburgh

24 at New Orleans

31 BYE

November

7 New England

14 N.Y. Jets

21 at Jacksonville

28 Carolina

December

5 at Miami

12 at Buffalo

19 at Cincinnati

26 Baltimore

January

2 Pittsburgh

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: T10

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .516

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 7

ANALYSIS

The Browns start with two of their easiest opponents—and they'd better beat at least one, because things get hairy after that: Cleveland, which has big questions about how it will move the ball, takes on five of the top eight defenses from 2009, including three of them twice. If Ben Roethlisberger's suspension drops from six games to four, the Browns will face the Steelers' quarterback in his 2010 debut.

SPOTLIGHT

Jake Delhomme, Quarterback

AFTER THE Panthers released Delhomme following his eight-touchdown, 18-interception season in 2009, he briefly considered signing with the Saints to back up Drew Brees this year. Delhomme began his NFL career in New Orleans, not far from Breaux Bridge, La., where he was born. That move would have allowed him "to start to make my way back home," Delhomme says. Ultimately, though, the prospect of starting at quarterback for a team starting over was more appealing.

The Browns believe Delhomme can be part of the solution despite his recent struggles. (His 59.4 passer rating last season was more than 20 points off his previous low as a starter.) Team president Mike Holmgren says he thought Delhomme spent part of 2009 trying to make up for his six turnovers against Arizona in the playoffs the previous year. "He put so much on his shoulders," Holmgren says. "First game of the year, the ball is tipped, interception, all of a sudden fans are booing. It kind of blew his mind. Once we talked that through, [signing Delhomme] wasn't a hard decision. He has brought this team together." Adds coach Eric Mangini, "He's been a consistent performer, and I believe that's what we'll see. There are a lot of asterisks next to some of those [interceptions]."

Delhomme has looked rejuvenated with his new squad. In his first three exhibition games, he completed 38 of 48 passes for 345 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, an impressive start for a player and a team looking for good news. "Last year wasn't a fun year footballwise," Delhomme, 35, says. "But I still love the game. I want to be part of a winner again. I want to be part of turning it around."

PHOTOSTEVE JACOBSONTALENT TURNOVER Jackson (52) says the roster moves fit the Mangini mold. PHOTOFRED VUICH

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