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Originally published October 22, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Page modified October 22, 2011 at 10:10 PM

Steve Kelley

Mike Holmgren learning to love life outside coaching

Former Seahawks coach, now the president of the Cleveland Browns, had to learn to let go. Now he calls his new job "my last great adventure."

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sunday

Seahawks @ Cleveland, 10 a.m., Ch. 13

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BEREA, Ohio — The president still was reacting like a coach. Still suffering the way he did for 17 years, pacing NFL sidelines. Still "simmering," as Mike Holmgren called it, hours after the loss.

The Cleveland Browns dropped their opener to Cincinnati, a game Holmgren believed they had a chance to win.

Later that evening, eating dinner at a restaurant with his wife Kathy, Holmgren, by his own admission, was "acting like a jackass, a jerk," quietly brooding over his meal, replaying the what-ifs of the 27-17 defeat.

All day, the next day in his office, Holmgren continued to simmer and quietly second-guess. That night he went home, still angry.

Then came what he calls his "epiphany."

"What is wrong with you?" asked his wife, who also is his conscience. "If you want to act this way and get all churned up and get mad at everybody, get back into coaching, because you're not there now. You're the team president. I thought we already had this talk. Do you want to be angry all the time?"

Sitting on a sofa in his spacious office suite Friday, almost six weeks after that loss to the Bengals, former Seahawks head coach Holmgren, in his second year as the Browns' president, readily admits, "She was absolutely right."

The next day Holmgren called his new head coach Pat Shurmur into his office and told him about the epiphany.

"I don't want to be walking around here mad all the time," he told Shurmur. "My door's always open. If you have questions about anything, if I can help in any way, but I'm not coaching anymore. You're the coach now and I'm here to help you."

In this new job, Holmgren sits in a booth on Sundays, high above the field, wearing a tie.

"Can you believe it?" he asks.

But he still watches the game like a coach, still grades the game tapes and reviews his notes with Shurmur every Tuesday.

"The same coaching frustrations crop up," Holmgren said. "I've had to learn to deal with it. I have to. It's one of my jobs now to be supportive of Pat and help him be the best coach he can be. And that does not include banging on the table in frustration."

Holmgren's successful NFL history is apparent on the walls and shelves of his office. There is a framed picture of the ride he took on his players' shoulders after his Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots and won Super Bowl XXXI.

Helmets from the Packers, Seahawks and Browns rest on a book shelf. A nook in his office has pictures from his days with the Packers and framed photos of all seven of his grandchildren. There are photos of Holmgren with presidents Obama and Clinton.

A huge photo of fireworks exploding over Cleveland Browns Stadium hangs over the sofa. The team's mission statement, signed by Holmgren, is written in the middle of the picture.

Mike Holmgren is not in Seattle any more.

Two years ago, after the "Great Housecleaning," Holmgren, who coached in Seattle from 1999 to 2008, seriously considered returning to the Seahawks.

Briefly, he was excited about the possibility, but he wanted full responsibility for running the franchise. The Seahawks never offered that to him. Their handling of the situation was clumsy and dishonest.

"They didn't want me," Holmgren said, "and that's OK. I'm a big boy. I've been around a long time. And once I got my ego in check, I mean it would have been nice, but once I got here and the challenge of this, I was off to the races."

Holmgren moved to a Browns franchise that has had two winning seasons since it came back into the league in 1999. Shurmur is the sixth coach in the 13-year history of the new Browns.

Fixing the franchise is The X Games of rebuilding.

"It's much different emotionally," says Holmgren of how different his new job is to coaching. "You hire who you think the best man for the job is and do what you can to help him be successful. You're passing the baton, handing him the ball and then you have to sit back and watch. It's like watching your child play. But there will be, and there already has been, a great feeling watching when it works."

Holmgren is 63 and in the second year of a five-year deal with the Browns. He is blessed with a hands-off owner, Randy Lerner, who allows him freedom he never would have had in Seattle.

When he took the job, people wondered if Holmgren merely was treading water, anticipating an eventual return to coaching. Will he ever coach again?

"I don't think so," he says. "I did it for a long time and to do it and to do it properly, where you're not conning anybody and you're not taking any shortcuts, you have to be all in. That's time-wise. That's emotionally. I don't think I'd be willing to go all in as a coach. And while I work hard now, the emotional attachment is different."

This is the job he wanted. Holmgren runs the building. He oversees both the football and business operations.

"Holy smokes, I even have a budget," he jokes. "Imagine that."

Echoes of the Seahawks are all over the Browns' headquarters. A gaggle of former Hawks assistants were on the field during practice Friday. Holmgren has surrounded himself with longtime members of his football family.

Gil Haskell, his former offensive coordinator, occupies the office next to Holmgren's and is his senior adviser. Keith Gilbertson, an offensive assistant for three years in Seattle, is a senior offensive assistant.

Former Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes joined the staff this year as senior defensive assistant. Tom Headlee, an assistant for 10 years in Seattle, is a scout. And Shurmur is the nephew of the late Fritz Shurmur, who was Holmgren's longtime defensive coordinator.

"Fritz was a crusty, wonderful man and a great help to me," he says. "I'm hoping I can be that guy for Pat."

Holmgren, whose Browns play the Seahawks on Sunday, still is in the early stages of cementing his vision into reality. Cleveland is only 7-14 since he arrived, but Holmgren's history says he won't fail.

"This," he says with a broad smile, "is my last great adventure."

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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