If Browns President Mike Holmgren Was Your Boss


The Cleveland Browns have never had a capable leader residing above the general manager and head coach until now. Thus, new President Mike Holmgren is the epicenter of  fan optimism coming into this season. If how an organization performs all starts at the top, the circumvention of owner Randy Lerner’s influence is key. With Holmgren running the show the situation could only get better right?

But none of us have actually sat in on an internal Browns meeting with Holmgren and his troops. How does he operate as a CEO, and what are the specific things he is changing within the organizational structure of the Browns to improve the product?

When Brian Daboll stands up in a meeting to ask “what a forward pass is,” does Gil Haskell get to smack him with a ruler if he speaks before Holmgren recognizes he has the floor? Unfortunately we’ll never get quite that close to learning exactly how Holmgren is shifting the Browns’ business culture. But we can always guess…

Since I was little I have been hearing players, coaches, GM’s, owners, the media, everyone, say that sports is a business. Usually that’s just a precursor to some horrible news being delivered. In reality though it’s correct, and Mike Holmgren is in a position of business, as opposed to football, now more than ever in his career. So how will he perform from a business perspective?

If Mike Holmgren was your boss at your everyday job, here are three things to hate about the work he’s done so far, and 3 things to love:

I hate it when my boss:

Says one thing then does the opposite…

It’s the worst when your boss contends a certain strategy is being deployed for a particular reason, possibly in your best interest, and then a week later totally throws you under the buss contradicting it. That can make you feel like the people above you don’t know what they’re doing. They just instructed you from a position of authority and expertise to do one thing, and then  a week later, totally did the opposite, just to cover their own butt. That’s one way to look at the signing of veteran wide receiver Bobby Engram.

We heard all summer that the Browns liked the receivers they had on the roster and had no intention of adding a veteran to the position. They let the likes of Torry Holt and Antonio Bryant sign with other teams because they didn’t need them. Then, they did they exact opposite of what they said and signed the 37 year-old. Doesn’t that mean they were misleading us? Or maybe it means they don’t know what they’re doing? Or did they see something in OTA’s that changed their mind about the state of the position?

Is full of it…

It’s hard for a new boss to come into the office and earn the respect of his troops. But employees hate working for a new superior who doesn’t come in and do anything other than talk. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the work to gain support. Plus you’ve got to have a track record of success to back it up. Everyone hates to be lead down blind alleys, forced to listen to under-qualified boob who loves the sounds of his own voice.

To be fair, Holmgren has displayed a great sense of leadership and seems to have the support of his troops, for now. Let’s hope it stays that way, because he does not come to Cleveland with a spotless record as a team President. As a head coach, sure. But in his previous term with Seattle he was stripped of his general manager responsibilities, and was essentially let go. He also admitted prior to this year’s draft he hadn’t spent a lot of time studying the players or watching tape to prepare. You could argue he is going to make 50 million dollars just to read Randy Lerner’s e-mails and make sure the GM and coach don’t try to kill each other. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers, and I am as thrilled as you are to see the Browns with a new credible figurehead. My hope is that we aren’t just getting caught up in the blind optimism of the preseason, where every decision looks brilliant, and forgetting we’ve just transitioned from the total incompetent influence of Lerner. There couldn’t be an easier act for Holmgren to follow.

Is a lunatic…

Bosses who are wildly unpredictable at work, can’t stay focused, and don’t keep to any discernable schedule are a bear to deal with.  It takes more effort on your part to work alongside them and that will stress you out. The more complicated your work becomes, the greater comfort it is for your leaders to be able to support you when you need it. Having to carry a boss who can’t stay organized, or sit still, will see that work style trickle down the ladder, and breed contempt.

Mike Holmgren is already on record as saying he doesn’t think he’ll be able to sit still on game day. We all know he is a coach at heart, and he can replace Mangini whenever he wants. But employees need structure, stability, and to believe the people above them have their act together. Retaining Eric Mangini as coach was a solid move; it showed everyone that Holmgren believes in him and the program he is trying to create. That takes time and patience. Let’s hope Holmgren has his act together, sticks to the plan, and doesn’t dispose of Mangini at the first sight of trouble just because he is bored. Browns fans are fed up with that kind of knee-jerk uncertainty when it comes to their team. No more new eras. Stability, stability, stability. Nothing bad has happened yet (and to be honest I struggled to find things to criticize here), but you have to admit this possibility exists.

Note: if you happen to be my current boss reading this I swear I am talking about someone else.


I love it when my boss:

Pays their best employees the most…

The Browns did the one thing I think we all wish would happen in our everyday jobs: they paid the man (Josh Cribbs) who deserved it, and they told the guys who didn’t deserve it to get lost (Matt Roth).  It sucks working harder than the guy next to you, but because they have kids, or have been at the company longer, they out-earn you and get more vacation time. I understand this is how the world works, and the young man ain’t got nothing in the world these days song has been sung a thousand times before. But I work next to a guy who can’t even update his own e-mail signature. Give me a break. Anyway, major kudos to Holmgren for getting this right by giving Cribbs a new fair contract, then holding the fort together when everyone else asked for money they didn’t deserve. The old regime would have butchered that one for sure.

Takes the time to be a mentor…

One of the most desirable traits you will find in an employer (besides one that pays you a boat-load of cash to play a game) is finding a place that will allow you to develop and grow in your position. People need to learn every day, and smart companies are willing to mentor their employees. No matter where you are in your career, it helps to be able to go to someone for advice, compassion, and friendship on the job.

This is a sparkling idea Mike Holmgren is bringing to the Browns, at least on the surface. He has openly said he wants to take some of the pressure off of Eric Mangini, and serve as mentor to him as he grows in his role as a head coach. Holmgren also knows a little bit about the most important aspect of the modern NFL: developing quarterbacks. Using his experience to serve Mangini and the Browns is an important step forward from the days of Mangini ousting his own GM George Costanza (Koninis). The Browns are also employing this strategy with Brain Daboll, pairing him with Holmgren front-man Gil Haskel. While I poke fun at Brian Daboll’s total ineffectiveness as an offensive coordinator, in truth we should all respect an organization that’s willing to give an employee a second chance to improve one year to the next. The Browns will be a stronger organization down the road if they can create an environment of success for the coaches as well as the players. Let’s hope that’s the plan, because you could make the argument that both Daboll and Mangini were retained merely to serve as the fall guys if things go south this season.

Keeps his hand out of your pocket…

Times are tough. The economy is hitting everyone hard. If it’s not enough to fear losing your job in one of the meanest markets in history, it stinks to have your employer mess with your paid vacation, or decrease your commissions. That lowers moral and productivity in the office. We understand everyone has to tighten their belt, but it’s unfair to see the bosses get richer at the expense of their workers. Wouldn’t you love for your boss to just say, “Hey, we know you’re hurting financially, we are too. We’re all in this together and we’ll find a way to get by without eliminating raises this year.” That is what improves moral and inspires people to work hard for the team.

This is something the Browns have done well for a while now. They continue to admit the product they have put on the field is below average, and have not alienated fans by asking that they pay for it. They worked to secure the funding necessary to ensure home games were not blacked out on TV last year. They’ve only raised prices after winning seasons (so not often), even in a recession, and are the second cheapest game in the league to attend. Take it from a Browns fan living in Chicago, Cleveland is doing their fans right. Bears tickets sell out in 20 minutes, with people paying upwards of $70 just to sit in the last row of the grandstand. Although they refrained from jacking up ticket prices last season (when no NFL team did), they stuck it to their fans this season in honor of Jay Cutler’s incredible Chicago debut. The Bears have raised prices on their fans eight of the last nine years, and have the third highest average ticket in the NFL.

Note: if you happen to be my current boss reading this I swear you do all this and more and it’s just super.