Browns president Mike Holmgren looked sullen, pained and much older than his age as he stepped to the podium Monday afternoon.
The 62-year-old also looked like he could be the next coach of the Browns.
“We want to win here in Cleveland, and we did not win enough games this year,” he said. “My expectations for the team and for the season were higher. I have high expectations and I’m just not going to settle.
“My goal is to find exactly the right person for the job of head coach of the Cleveland Browns. I don’t want to do this again, so I really have to get this one right.”
Though Sandusky native Jon Gruden is a glamorous candidate and ex-Panthers coach John Fox has many of Mangini’s positive qualities, Holmgren only needs to look in the mirror to find the best man for the job.
There are few people around the league who cast a more imposing and impressive shadow than the “Big Show,” which is why many Browns players have raved about the credibility he has brought the franchise since signing on one calendar year ago.
“He’s a big-time coach who knows how to win in this league,” four-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “I’m real confident he’ll make the right decision.”
And if Holmgren’s decision is to name himself the 16th coach in Cleveland history?
“It’s tough to talk in hypotheticals,” Thomas said. “But he is an outstanding coach.”
Yes, Holmgren is. His 174-122 record with Green Bay and Seattle speaks for itself, as does his status as the 11th-winningest coach in NFL history and the Super Bowl XXXI crown he earned with the Packers.
Obviously, there is good reason why everyone inside Browns team headquarters has called him Coach Holmgren from the moment he arrived as their football czar.
“I think I’ve grown into this job and learned a lot about things in an organization that I had no idea were part of the process,” he said during a 45-minute press conference announcing Mangini’s dismissal.
“Having said that, I also am a coach and I’ll always be a coach. So to tell you right now that I will never coach again, it probably wouldn’t be honest. You know that and I know that. But as of right now, I am the president of the Cleveland Browns.”
It was telling, though, that Holmgren repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of returning to the sideline. He also admitted that Browns owner Randy Lerner broached the same subject once he informed him of Mangini’s imminent departure.
“Actually, I think it was a pretty good strategy on his part,” Holmgren said, chuckling. “He asked me if I wanted to coach. We had that discussion, yeah. He just wanted to open the discussion and get me thinking about what was best for me and my family.
“I was in the bright light a long time and I enjoyed it tremendously, but right now, my direction is going in a different way.”
His way appears to be going hard after Gruden, then giving Fox strong consideration if he can’t woo the former Buccaneers coach away from ESPN.
Beyond that pair, though, the pickings are awfully slim and none represent an obvious upgrade from Mangini — except for one jovial, honest, proven winner who already works in the building.
“At this stage of my life, that’s not what my priority is, it really isn’t,” Holmgren insisted. “I’m relishing the role that Randy Lerner had the confidence to give me.
“Unless I was 100 percent sure that I could commit to coaching, I don’t think you’re being fair to anybody. But if I have to answer that question, I’ll have to do it down the road.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.