Uncertainty Impacts Browns Season

Pat McManamon on the unique challenges of the ownership change.

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BEREA -- Mike Holmgren will join Jimmy Haslam to represent the Cleveland Browns when the NFL owners meet in October in Chicago.

There the league's other 31 owners will no doubt vote to approve the sale of the Browns from Randy Lerner to Haslam.

Which puts Holmgren in the unusual position of attending the vote that might lead to him being removed as Browns president.

Holmgren shrugged, but briefly acknowledged this is a unique environment for anyone working for the team.

"This is a time period that's a little unusual," Holmgren said Monday as met the local media prior to the season opener. "It's a little different for everybody involved."

There is one precedent for this oddity.

When Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins he sent Charley Casserly to an owners meeting to cast a vote in favor of a sale that was going to cost him his job. Asked how it felt, Casserley said: "You know the answer to that question."

Holmgren, though, said he does not know how the vote will affect his future. Haslam has steadfastly refused to talk about what changes he might -- or might not -- make with personnel, front office and otherwise, and Holmgren said he hasn't asked.

When a couple hypotheticals were posed to him -- ‘Would you accept a different role' was one -- he said to hold on and see how things played out.

But he started his news conference by saying he intended to finish his five-year contract -- which is in the middle of its third year.

"I've never quit at anything in my life," he said.

Holmgren said he's seen just about everything in his NFL life, and this experience of working with uncertainty is just another thing to accept. He recently met with all the Browns employees and told them: Keep on keeping on.

"We'll see what happens," Holmgren said.

Holmgren's attitude is almost vital for the team because teams follow their leaders. And Holmgren leads the Browns -- at least through October. If he gave up, the inclination for everyone would be to give up.

But, a sale of a team brings great uncertainty. New owners almost always want their guys in charge, and if a coaching staff or front office feels its future is unknown it can spend half its time wondering about where it will be, or can be, next season. And that can happen while a staff still works hard to win this season.

That's simple human nature -- in any job.

And it's one of the Browns greatest challenges as the team tries to build off a miserable 2011 season that ended 4-12. But a difficult schedule combined with uncertainty means winning while building might be more of a challenge than usual.

That does not dissuade Holmgren -- winning with uncertainty might be more rewarding in some ways -- or shake his belief in the people he brought in and hired.

"I'll stick with what I've said all along even prior to this happening," Holmgren said. "My expectations are that we are better this year. "

Since the sale of the team was abruptly announced the first day of training camp, things have progressed more normally than not.

"I think the players. I think the coaches have handled things beautifully," Holmgren said. "Who knows what's in the deepest thoughts of people's minds, but on the surface and how we're preparing and how we're putting the team together, I like what I see."

The one unusual element has nothing to do with the sale -- and that is the Browns decision to keep 15 rookies.

"In this locker room my three-year-old is old," said tight end Ben Watson. "Golly, we are a young team."

Strange as it sounds, the Browns insist they were not aware of that fact as they chose the guys they felt were the best players. Holmgren said he didn't want to admit he was "startled," but added "it's a pretty young group."

"We've chosen to build a team that way," Holmgren said. "We've said it before: We're building a foundation so the team can be good for a long time. We're just in the beginning stages."

That implies the management knows it will be around to reap the rewards of building young, but nobody other than perhaps Haslam knows - or if they do they aren't admitting it. What the present Browns do say is they are not distracted by the sale.

"Maybe it should be harder, I don't know," GM Tom Heckert said. "Did we talk about it when it first happened, yeah we did. It is what it is. We've got to do what we do. Hopefully we're going to be better and hopefully we show that we know what we're doing."

"You can drive yourself crazy thinking about that stuff."

Haslam has been smart enough to support the people in place, though he's also not come out and guaranteed their future beyond saying the Browns win or they don't.

But the Browns will try to win with a formula set up for the long-term, not the short: With a rookie at quarterback and running back, against a brutally difficult schedule, with 15 rookies.

Can it be done? Stranger things have happened, though clearly not often.

"This football team," Holmgren said, "even though it's young is much better."

The question is whether ‘better' shows in the record and what exactly "better" means to the guy taking over in October.

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