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The strangest Browns' season yet begins with a transfer of power on the horizon

Sep 03, 2012 -- 3:50pm

By Tony Grossi

Extra Points …

Melancholy Mike: In his three years as Browns president and owner representative, we’ve seen Mike Holmgren be positively artful with the media – which is his national image – but also confrontational and borderline bullyish, and other times remorseful.

On Monday, we saw the melancholy side of Holmgren. He was not necessarily sad, but oddly soft-spoken and pensive.

The occasion of his 40-plus minutes of Q. and A. with the media was not to announce or disclose his future plans, but to deliver his state-of-the-Browns as the season kicks off.

But the reality sunk in at some point that this may well be the last such season address for him as Browns president.

Change is in the wind. Jimmy Haslam should be approved as Browns owner at league meetings next month. As an owner, Haslam is lot more Jerry Jones than Randy Lerner. Jones doesn’t need a front man to speak for him. Haslam won’t, either.

Holmgren was brought in by Lerner to not only speak for him but to do all the things he didn’t feel qualified to do or want to do, which was, essentially, be the face and voice of the franchise in Cleveland and also in league circles.

Holmgren had more power than any president in the league not related to the team owner. So much so that some owners actually resented Holmgren being in the room when the most sensitive of business topics were being discussed at league meetings.

“One thing Jimmy has said is he is going to be … you’ll see him more,” Holmgren said. “He’ll be around. Some things you’ve seen him do already. I think that’s him. That’s how he conducts himself, whether it’s the Browns or his business. He’s pretty hands on. Then again, I’m kind of finding that out myself.

“And Randy wasn’t that way. That was one of the reasons that I was able to come. Different personalities, different ways of doing stuff.”

The cloud overhead: Holmgren reiterated what GM Tom Heckert said on Saturday, that everyone is doing his job and that the ownership change will not be disruptive to the Browns’ season.

But the ownership change – which broke on the very first day of training camp – dominates every storyline about this season. The timing of Lerner’s sale could not have come at a worse time, really.

I was hoping that once it happened, the league would fast-forward everything so that the regular season could start with Haslam addressing his new team and sending it out against Philadelphia with a rah-rah speech to calm anxieties and inspire the Browns, perhaps, to over-produce. Haslam’s introductory press conference certainly pumped everyone up – for one day until Chris Gocong went down with a season-ending injury.

As it is, we have this awkward delay in transfer of ownership.

“The only thing that surprised me a little bit was the timing,” Holmgren conceded. “Normally it happens in a little different timeframe. Now, it’s every owner’s right – it’s Randy’s right -- to do with this football team what he wants. This is a great opportunity … a great man, Jimmy Haslam. And (Lerner) decided to do it. He certainly shouldn’t and didn’t have to ask my permission. The surprise to me was when it happened, not that it did happen.”

Who’s the boss?: Technically, Lerner is still the owner. Haslam can’t intercede in any team operations until the NFL vote and the sale closes. Holmgren said he speaks with Lerner “every week … but it is a time period now where it has to be a little unusual … a little different for everybody.”

Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur have gutted the roster of veterans. As of today, 27 of 54 players on the roster have one year or less of NFL experience. Tight end Ben Watson, who is 31, joked, “In this locker room, my 3-year-old’s old.”

Haslam has been asking a lot of questions. One of them to Holmgren and Heckert might have been: “You’re still gutting the roster in your third year?” He was not happy about what he saw in the third preseason game against Philadelphia, the team that visits Sunday in the season opener.

“My feeling is he’s pretty realistic,” Holmgren said. “He knows we’re young. He asks a lot of questions, a lot of football questions. He’s well aware of our situation.

“I’ll stick with what I’ve said all along prior to this happening. My expectations are we’re better this year. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again. That’s how we’re all judged, ultimately.”

The oddest thing of all is that when NFL owners convene next month to vote on Haslam’s purchase, Holmgren will be there with him representing the Browns. This is one vote that Holmgren will not make.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi


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