NFL draft: Colt McCoy needs Holmgren’s assistance to succeed with Browns
By Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal
BEREA, Ohio — General Manager Tom Heckert calls him Coach. Colt McCoy calls him Coach. Talking heads on ESPN call him Coach.
After Mike Holmgren's 17 years at the helm in the NFL and six more as an assistant, nothing else feels right.
But Friday night, the Browns' president again tried to slam the brakes on the connotation that term of endearment carries.
"I want to make this very clear: Brian Daboll is the offensive coordinator, Eric Mangini is the head coach," Holmgren said. "I am around to cheerlead and to encourage and help in any way I can. But I am not coaching the football team. I am not."
It was not the first time Holmgren has made such an emphatic statement. In fact, he's bordering on a "He who doth protest too much" approach that could threaten his credibility.
Holmgren doesn't want to give the impression that if the Browns get off to a rocky start this season, he'll fire Mangini and take over himself. Especially after he brought so many old lieutenants to Cleveland, including ex-offensive coordinator Gil Haskell.
But things changed Friday, when the Browns used the 85th overall pick on Texas' McCoy, their quarterback of the future. Now is not the time for coach Holmgren to step back, it's time for him to step forward. At least behind the scenes.
Holmgren is charged with rebuilding the franchise and for him to succeed, McCoy will have to succeed. And for McCoy to succeed, Holmgren will have to coach him.
Perhaps not every day. But for the Browns to avoid the mistakes they've made with the quarterbacks they've drafted since 1999 — Tim Couch, Spergon Wynn, Charlie Frye and Brady Quinn — Holmgren must serve as a mentor. Not only to McCoy, but to Mangini, Daboll and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, who also coached Couch here.
They must learn the fine arts of nurturing, of patience, of tuning out the chants of "We Want Colt" at the first interception Jake Delhomme throws. And who better to teach them than the man who's already tutored Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck?
Holmgren said Saturday he does not want McCoy to play this season. The Browns signed ex-Carolina Panther Delhomme, 35, in free agency and will pay him a reported $7 million in 2010, and traded for the Seattle Seahawks' Seneca Wallace. Ex-New York Jet Brett Ratliff is the only holdover from 2009.
"Things could change, but I don't expect him to play this year," Holmgren said of McCoy. "The final call will be Eric's, and practice will determine certain things, but we have three quarterbacks already here that we feel very good about. The best thing that might be able to happen is that he just sits, watches, learns and makes the transition into the pro game."
Holmgren is speaking from experience, while trying to manage fans' expectations. Less than 24 hours after picking McCoy, Holmgren was trying to hammer home what's best for McCoy's and the Browns' long-term future. He warned that McCoy's situation cannot be compared to rookie quarterback sensations like the Jets' Mark Sanchez and the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco, because they were drafted by teams with a good running game and a strong defense.
"There's a learning curve and if you're not with a very good team, you really run the risk of scarring the kid a little bit," Holmgren said.
Couch could tell McCoy a little bit about scars. Couch was thrust into the starting role in Game 2 of his rookie season with the expansion Browns by the last "quarterback guru" to roam the halls of Berea. It was a shocking move when ex-coach Chris Palmer benched veteran Ty Detmer, which started the runaway train of quarterback disasters.
Not only must coach Holmgren oversee McCoy's development, he must keep this train in the station for at least a year.
That won't be easy. Getting the winningest quarterback in NCAA history was the signature move of Holmgren's first Browns draft, perhaps of his entire tenure if all goes right. He knows it created an instant buzz.
"When we decided to do it, Eric leaned over to me and said, 'You know, this is going to get people going pretty good.' And I said, 'Yeah, I knew that,' " Holmgren said. "Had we traded up, then I probably would have gone home and wondered, 'Did I do the right thing?' But the way it happened, I'm glad there's a buzz."
He created it. Now to keep McCoy from the same fate as Couch, coach Holmgren must walk the fine line between buzz saw and buzz kill.