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By Tom Withers | Associated Press
BEREA -- Mike Holmgren's run as a team president is over, ending prematurely and before he planned.
For weeks, he has hung around Cleveland's offices doing what he could to help new owner Jimmy Haslam. Holmgren attended meetings, practices and games. He talked with players, coaches and consulted with his replacement, CEO Joe Banner, now in charge of running the Browns.
Holmgren made his pitch for the team to keep coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert beyond this season.
And now, there's nothing left. It's time for Holmgren to move on to the next phase of his life, which may or may not include another foray as an NFL coach.
Last week, he knew his work was finished.
"I was done," he said. "I already passed the baton."
Less than three years after signing a five-year contract with former owner Randy Lerner to fix Cleveland's franchise, Holmgren is leaving. His final day with the Browns will be Friday, and after that he and his wife, Kathy, will return to their home in Arizona, where the 64-year-old will contemplate his future.
"We are going to fly to Phoenix on Saturday and catch my breath a little bit and take it easy and ride my motorcycle," Holmgren said. "I honestly don't know if I'm going to go back to work immediately or not and I don't know if it's going to be in football."
This was not the exit he envisioned.
Holmgren thought he would leave amid a playoff push or as Cleveland celebrated finally winning a Super Bowl title like the one he helped bring to Green Bay. But everything changed when Haslam bought the Browns for $1.05 billion and hired Banner, who built the Philadelphia Eagles into perennial contenders.
Holmgren was the odd-man out.
He stayed to assist Haslam and Banner with the transition, and while he got some things accomplished, it became obvious he was no longer needed.
The Browns went just 12-31 under Holmgren, but he's proud of restoring the business side of the Browns and an on-the-field turnaround that may not be evident for several more years.
As he walks away, Holmgren was asked if he feels somewhat unsatisfied.
"Any time you don't reach your goals in this business on one hand then, yeah," he said. "Having said that, though, I really can feel good, and the guys who have been here can feel good about what the future holds. But time will tell."
It wasn't until he left the sideline that Holmgren realized how much he missed coaching. He longed for the interaction with players, and the chance to teach. He still hasn't gotten comfortable watching games from the press box, and he's hinted that he might coach again -- in the right situation.
After reports surfaced that he would be interested in coaching in Dallas if Jason Garrett was fired, Holmgren said he did not know where those rumors started. However, they gained more traction when he recently met owner Jerry Jones on the field before the Cowboys hosted the Browns.
Holmgren said he called Jones beforehand and they agreed it was OK to be seen together publicly.
"I phoned him and said if this caused any problem for anyone I apologize for that," Holmgren said. "He said absolutely not. I said, 'Listen, every time we play against each other, and it's been a number of times, we've always said hello and been cordial.' I said maybe this time I shouldn't do that if you rather I'd not do that. And he said, 'If you don't come and see me' in typical fashion, if you know him. I said, 'OK.' I talked to Stephen (Jones' son) before then Jerry came out. We talked about the stuff we always talk about -- family and the Salvation Army."
Holmgren, who last coached for Seattle in 2008, insists he isn't close to making a decision on a return to coaching.
"As of right now, I really haven't given it much thought other than the fact there are no plans right now," he said.
Banner said if Holmgren decided to coach, the Browns don't have any agreement where they would be compensated.
"Mike's free to do what he wants next in this field or whatever he'd like to do," he said.
Banner has spent time over the past few weeks meeting with Holmgren and has gotten a better handle on where the Browns are as an organization.
"He was just incredibly helpful and professional and supportive," Banner said. "As you know, we were more than happy to have him stay. But as he said from the beginning that once he kind of made the difference he could, it would probably be time to leave. I'm really appreciative of the time we had together. I think it helped me. I learned a lot through it."
During what he called "brutally honest" conversations with Banner, Holmgren gave strong endorsements not only for Shurmur and Heckert, but others working for the Browns. Before leaving, he wanted to make sure some of the people he had hired were given a fair chance to keep their jobs.
"All I could do is be honest and tell him what I thought," he said. "We had to make a bunch of changes in our first year, too. And so, we talked about that. We talked about all that stuff and that was the transition period. And now all the talking is done and I said what I had to say and now we'll see happens at the end of the year."
Holmgren exits the Browns with one regret -- not winning enough.
He feels he did all he could, and although he thought he understood the city's passion for the Browns, it was only when he came here that he fully grasped it.
He's leaving, but some of him will stay in Cleveland. When he watches the Browns from now on, he'll do so with pride.
"When they do well, I'll feel good about that," he said. "I'll feel good for the players and I'll feel good for the coaches and the organization and the people because I was here. I am very thankful that I got this opportunity to do this."