CHICAGO – The unanimous show of hands in support for new Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam had barely dropped when the first stories of Mike Holmgren's departure surfaced.
But just to be clear, this is not exactly news. Holmgren, who is retiring at season's end as the team's president, was done when Haslam agreed to buy the team in August. That's not a knock on Holmgren; it's the reality of how unnecessary his job was once a new owner was in place.
For people who don't understand the dynamic of Cleveland under former owner Randy Lerner, Holmgren was his surrogate, plain and simple. Lerner didn't like showing up for meetings. He didn't like running the day-to-day operations of the Browns. It just wasn't his thing. It was his dad's deal. Al Lerner brought football back to Cleveland in 1999 and unfortunately died before he could make it great.
Lerner's son is more interested in soccer, having developed a love for the game when he was in college and then buying Aston Villa of the English Premier League in 2006. Randy Lerner was an absentee NFL owner in a league that wants active owners.
The NFL doesn't want guys like Holmgren in board rooms sitting in the owner's chair. For his part, Holmgren was always a little out of place at these events. He was a football man in a room full of guys who are concerned with how to monetize the game. It wasn't that Holmgren couldn't understand the dollar signs, but it's not what drives him.
Most important, Haslam doesn't need somebody to tell him how to hire a coach. He doesn't need somebody to stand in front of a microphone and answer questions on the direction of the franchise. Haslam is quite comfortable doing that himself.
Yes, Haslam has hired former Philadelphia Eagles executive Joe Banner to work with Holmgren for now and ultimately run the football operations. But don't confuse his role with what Holmgren primarily did. Banner is much more likely to replace Browns vice president Bryan Wiedmeier. That's unfortunate, but it's just a reality of the business.
From there, Banner will help Haslam focus on the football operations, such as deciding whether general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur should stay. But be very clear about that last sentence: Banner will help make that decision. When it was Holmgren and Lerner, Holmgren made the decision. The Browns could say that Lerner was part of the process, but he was little more than a rubber stamp because that's how he wanted it to be.
And don't take this as a knock on Holmgren, but having the owner in charge is better for the whole process. There are no guarantees that Haslam is going to return the Browns to their greatness of nearly half a century ago (the last Cleveland title was in 1964). But it's much better when the owner is fully active and Haslam is one active man.
You can see that in how he talks to reporters. You can feel it with the strong grip of his handshake. This is not a man who takes what he's doing lightly. He is driven and focused. He has wanted to own an NFL team for years.
As the son of a former college football player (his father James II played at Tennessee), Haslam is cut from the same mold. He has the size of a linebacker and carries himself with a physical presence.
On Monday night, he walked the halls of the JW Marriott, where the NFL meetings are being held, and glad-handed with everyone he met. He talked at length with commissioner Roger Goodell. After he was approved as owner on Tuesday morning, he entered the meeting room to a round of applause from the other owners.
This is not a man who is shying from the responsibility of running the Browns. This is not someone who needs a man like Holmgren to hold his hand.
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