BEREA—Browns president Mike Holmgren addressed the local media for the first time since the CBA agreement expired. In the session that lasted just under an hour, Holmgren addressed a variety of topics from the lockout to pending litigation to the upcoming NFL Draft.
Holmgren probably answered with more "I'm not sure" or "I don't know" than at any time in press conferences in his long NFL career.
"It is an interesting time, to say the least," Holmgren said. "We wanted to let everyone know that it is our feeling and hope that we play football games. We've worked very, very hard to begin to establish a program that will win and as we get ready to play, it's going to be business as usual for us. Even with the work stoppage, we're working very hard in preparing for the draft."
Holmgren said he thought the union and the league were making progress until the talks broke off.
"My hope and was, as was Randy Lerner's was, that the situation would be settled in mediation and that is the way it was going and now it's in the court system," Holmgren said. "We will play football again, but we don't know exactly when.
"I just want to encourage our fans-- and I know they've heard this before--to hang in there to the point where our football team is where they want it to be," he said. "The fans here have been so good and are a real encouragement to me. This will have a good ending, as well, and we'll get back to playing football again."
Here are several off the topics addressed:
Q: Why should fans be encouraged?:
Holmgren:"We're hopeful it gets done and the glass is half full and let's keep it that way. You understand the fans emotions, so the emotions that come from this are very understandable. It will get done, just hang in there. For Cleveland Browns fans, they've probably heard somebody say that before. I'm encouraged with our team and this will get done. I think we're getting better. What I've learned about the new fellows I've worked with is that Tom Heckert is the real deal and his personnel staff. The second thing is Randy Lerner, our owner, has been a man of his word and for any football organization to have someone like that and lastly, if our young quarterback turns out to be the quarterback I think he is, --and that's a big if—that's a big piece of the puzzle."
Q: Are you concerned with a new coach and a young quarterback in a new system missing the off-season?:
Holmgren: "I've talked to Pat (Shurmur)about this and he is prepared and understands what the situation is. I think you could probably make an argument with a new coach and a young quarterback like we have, there could be a argument that it could set us back. I am very impressed with our staff and whenever we start playing and coaching again we will get the team up to speed again."
Q: Do you know if Colt McCoy will be able to work with some of his fellow offensive players?:
Holmgren: "Colt has shown great leadership and without much prompting I think he would try to make the team better. He was the only one I talked to, but I fully expect him to talk to his teammates."
Q: Can the players that are rehabbing from injury still be in contact with the team?:
Holmgren: "There are rules set up and we will abide by them, but the players can be treated by the doctor who performed the surgery. All of our injured players are being taken care of. There is no communication between the club and the players."
Q: How is Montario Hardesty progressing and do you expect him to be able to contribute in a big way?:
Holmgren: "He'll be back from the surgery. His leg is progressing just the way it was expected. His contribution is up to him. We drafted him and believed he would be a great contributor. We're probably in the same situation as last year."
Q: Do you envision Hardesty and Peyton Hillis in the backfield together?:
Holmgren: "I could get real excited about that. If I was a coach, that would be a good combination. They both have excellent hands and can block for each other. I hope I get to see that."
Q: Did you have any conversations with Lawrence Vickers or his representatives about a contract before the work stoppage?:
Holmgren: "Not to my knowledge and because of this all comments on players moving forward are done. We're not going to comment."
Q: Do you anticipate laying any personnel off?:
Holmgren: "When I said business as usual, I meant personnel. We have a lot of good people doing their jobs. When we talked about our philosophy on how to handle this, we're not going to do (lay people off). But I will go on record that I'm not going to work for one dollar a year."
Q: How do you try and sell tickets to the fans when there is no guarantee a season in 2011?:
Holmgren:"We're trying to do this as fair as we can. I'm optimistic we're going to get this done and play. If this doesn't get done, we've made a commitment to refund the money with interest."
Q: How are ticket sales going?:
Holmgren: "There is an excitement and our numbers are better than they were last year. We're trying to get a message across to our fans and at some point we'll play football again. It's been my experience since being here that they are loyal fans and I want to encourage them to stick with us."
Q: How much progress did the union and league make in mediation?:
Holmgren: "I've read the same stuff you have. During the mediation process, I was hopeful, but now it's in the court system. Other than wishing it was in mediation, I don't have any other comments."
Q: What was your assessment of McCoy's rookie year?:
Holmgren: "He played like a rookie. To do what he did with little practice time against New England, the Jets and New Orleans was pretty remarkable for a new quarterback. I've had this conversation with him, that this game can be a humbling experience, just when you think you have it figured it out, it happens."
Q: Did McCoy exceed your expectations as a rookie?:
Holmgren: "Did he expect my expectations? Yes, because I wasn't expecting him to play."
Q: How will the West Coast Offense help McCoy?:
Holmgren: "The WCO is very quarterback friendly. If the quarterback makes good decisions, is accurate and other variables, it can really work. I'm very encouraged by what I've seen from Colt thus far. I think he can, like Seneca (Wallace), function very well in this offense."
Q: What are your thoughts on bringing in Cam Newton?:
Holmgren: "I think our due diligence as a personnel department is our obligation to evaluate the best players coming out of college football. Cam Newton is certainly one of them. It's fun for me to evaluate the quarterbacks. We are having 30 players come in. I'm not going to tell you who. I talk about having transparency, but I've told you we're bringing in 30 players."
Q: Is it realistic the Browns will draft a quarterback high?:
Holmgren: "Don't discount anything. I've been honest about my feelings about Colt, but I'm not coaching the team. I'll leave that up to Pat. I think there are a lot of fine quarterbacks coming out."
Q: How important is speed at wide receiver?:
Holmgren: "Speed at wide receiver is a necessary component of playing that position. People view that in different ways. Jerry Rice was like 4.6 and over the years, people will say receivers at 4.6 are too slow. He obviously, wasn't too slow. Not everyone has blazers, but it's how do you make them effective? Do you have guys with good hands, then find a way to get them the ball. Do we need more speed at wide receiver? Our receivers run pretty well, but there are not that many in the draft who run that fast."
Q: What areas of need do you see for the Browns heading into the draft?:
Holmgren: "From a numbers standpoint our defensive line. That's a pretty easy one to call. We added some people to our secondary last year, but you can never have too many corners. Our team and our development will not change. The best player up there, there might be some discussion with two or three players up there."
Q: Do you concern yourself with the other teams in the AFC North?:
Holmgren:"I don't think you can think too much about the other teams. It's a tough division. If I think too much about Baltimore and Pittsburgh, I'm doing a disservice. If we can build on what happened last year, add some players to the pile, keep our quarterbacks healthy, I think we can improve."
Q: How is Dick Jauron coping with the uncertainty and the switch to a new system with a lack of defensive linemen for the 4-3?:
Holmgren: "You couldn't ask for a better man than Dick Jauron. He's a very smart man and understands defenses. He talked about that before he even took the job. I think we know what we have to do to make life easier for him. He will coach the players you have and if you have to shore up, we will."
Q: How do you prepare for free agency, if there is any?:
Holmgren: "I really don't know and don't think anyone really does. When the time comes, we will be notified and we will be given some time to get ready."
Q: Do you anticipate being very active in free agency when the time comes?
Holmgren: "We've had some discussions. I don't think we'll be as active as we were last year, but that's a value judgment. You have to put your roster together."
Q: If the work stoppage is settled, how long will it take for a team to get ready?:
Holmgren: "I'd be guessing and really can't give you a good answer. We're preparing now as an organization on what we have to do depending on when it starts. This is new ground for me. In 1987, I was with the 49ers and we had replacement players.
We're going to take this position, It is what it is. When the time comes, we'll do what we have to do."
Q: Do you think the NFL will announce the season's schedule in April?:
"I don't know. We'll have to wait-and-see."
Q: How has Shurmur dealt with what's going on?:
Holmgren: "I knew him pretty well for never having worked with him. He worked with Andy Reid, a good friend of mine. I've watched him for a couple of years, he's rather soft spoken and in seeing how he deals with people in the building he's very good at it. He does command respect and has a way about him. I've been very impressed with how he communicates and that's what our business is about, communicating with fans and the media."
Q: Are you concerned that the franchise tag used on Phil Dawson will not be in effect with a new agreement?:
Holmgren:"We franchised Phil and trust that all works out the way we wanted it to."
"That's part of what they're talking about right now and I better leave it out."
Q: Did the impending work stoppage have any factor in you not taking the coaching job?:
Holmgren: "That did not factor into it."
Q: What do you remember about the strike in 1987?:
Holmgren: "I went down from Joe Montana to a young guy from Utah (Mark Stevens) running the wishbone against the Giants. For three weeks, you got guys from all walks of life that just loved to play football."