Mike Holmgren has a 161-111 record in 17 seasons as a head coach.
With a so-so list of possible candidates that includes former Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, there's only one person who can generate the type of buzz and instant credibility Cleveland desperately needs -- and that person is Browns president Mike Holmgren.
Cleveland's best chance to turn this struggling franchise around quickly is for Holmgren to get back to what he does best. He's been out of coaching for two years but never lost the itch to return to the sidelines. Holmgren is 161-111 (.592 percent) in 17 seasons as a head coach.
But at 62, it's now or never for Holmgren. With three Super Bowl appearances and one championship already on his résumé, Holmgren would be by far the most accomplished coach to roam the sideline for Cleveland since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.
Browns players -- although unsure about Holmgren's thought process -- seemed excited about the possibility as they cleaned out their lockers for the final time this season.
"I'd be excited," Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He's a proven winner."
“Obviously, yeah, because I’ve been with him in Seattle,” said Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace, who played four years under Holmgren. “I know how he coaches. I know what he looks for and I know what he wants. But at the end of the day, I know he’s going to make the right decision for us.”
Before anyone mentions other big-name coaches such as Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, here’s the harsh reality about the Browns: It’s not a very attractive job for A-list head coaches. Cleveland changes regimes every two or three years. It's an unstable organization that lacks talent and has trouble competing with AFC North heavyweights Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
A-listers will pass on Cleveland for better opportunities. Therefore, the only big-name coach the Browns have a chance to land this year is Holmgren.
Cleveland can maximize its investment with Holmgren returning to the sidelines. The Browns are heading in the direction of running a West Coast offense, and there's no better person than Holmgren to make a seamless transition.
"It would be great," Wallace said of implementing a West Coast offense. "I think in this division, it could be good. I've been in that system and went to a Super Bowl in that system, and we have the talent to do that on offense."
After firing Mangini on Monday, the grace period is officially over for Holmgren. There are no more scapegoats to pin a poor season on. Everything that happens, starting in 2011, is officially on Holmgren's watch.
Holmgren may very well choose to stay in the luxury suites and watch someone else like Mornhinweg or Fox coach the Browns in 2011. But it would be risky for Holmgren to stake his reputation on someone without nearly the same credentials as a head coach.
Browns general manager Tom Heckert is more than capable of running the full operation of the front office with input from Holmgren. The time is now for Holmgren to be more hands-on and call the shots from the sidelines.