As Mike Holmgren departs the Browns organization, Ryan Alton addresses his three years in Cleveland and the legacy that will leave.
Way back during the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, upper-class men would often venture into town upon completion of their morning duties in order to share ideas about religion, philosophy, or government and to take in traditional stories told through the actions of characters on stage in outdoor theatres. These live-action stories of adventure, heroism, deception and betrayal became known as traditional Greek dramas, an integral component woven into the fabric of their culture.
In those times, a drama would typically fall into two distinct genres. A drama consisting of a hero who was able to overcome some great difficulty and typically included a happy ending was called a comedy. Conversely, a drama in which the main character or hero tried desperately to overcome a great difficulty but failed was deemed a tragedy.
In addition to dramas, the Ancient Greeks were fond of other forms of storytelling such as myths, fables and long poems about heroic deeds typically intertwining fact with fiction, called epics. One such poem is about the story of Odysseus, a great warrior who fought bravely for ten years during the Trojan War and then spent another ten years trying to find his way home to his wife and son on the island of Ithaca. The word odyssey, from the story of the same name, has gone on to become synonymous in our language with a great adventure or journey.
Throughout each of these stories involving heroes, villains, monsters and obstacles, the ending, whether tragic or triumphant, painted a picture for all of mankind to witness throughout the annals of history. The Greeks, having no written language at the time, were well-aware of the impact that these legends and characters, passed down through generations, would have on future societies.
The lasting impact of each tale living on long after they passed was called its legacy. A legacy referred to what would live on long after a person had passed away. The Greeks understood their actions and stories would heavily influence the legacy that would live on after they passed, and their lives were oftentimes led in accordance thereof.
When Mike Holmgren took the podium at Cleveland Browns headquarters to bid farewell to the media and fans on Tuesday, he did so wearing all black. He also spoke of his time here in Cleveland as being his "last great adventure". How appropriate. As Holmgren reflected on his abbreviated quest here in Cleveland, I couldn't help but wonder what words should be used to describe the odyssey he embarked upon and the legacy he will leave behind.
For if the Greeks were to tell it, acted out in the confines of an ancient amphitheater, it's clear which genre the story of Holmgren's journey and lasting legacy in Cleveland would be left etched in marble. A story, perhaps, where the hero tries desperately to overcome a great difficulty but falls short... the tragedy that was Mike Holmgren's journey as President of the Cleveland Browns.
A bit much, no? You bet. Those Greeks had a flair for the dramatic. Of course, in modern day standards of storytelling, it would be completely unfair to paint Holmgren's time here as a total failure. Holmgren was cast the hero by Randy Lerner and there is no doubt he encountered many obstacles along his way. The tragedy lies with the fact that he wasn't given the time to overcome the largest obstacle of all... winning games. In that respect, perhaps, rather than a Greek drama or epic poem, Holmgren's tenure should be seen more in terms of a chapter in a book chronicling the Cleveland Browns since their return to the NFL in 1999. A long, dramatic book full of twists and turns and ups and downs. Mostly downs.
As many have pointed out, Holmgren was brought here to add stability to an organization where there was none. He was brought here to be the "owner" of a franchise where there really wasn't one. He was brought here to hire smart people who knew what it took to build a successful football team from the ground up and he was told that he would have the time to do it. As it turns out, he didn't. In that respect, the failure cannot fall on him.
Unfortunately, in terms of a legacy, part of the hope Randy Lerner instilled in the fan base when he hired Holmgren was that he would turn the franchise around from being a perennial loser to a respectable winner. Holmgren was to give the team "a strong, credible leader" and that came with the assumption, on the part of many, that he would be the one to right the ship after so many failed attempts before him. And that hasn't happened... yet.
Like all true legacies, time will be the ultimate test for Holmgren. It's quite possible that, though he will soon be gone, the foundation he established while he was here will prove to be the one that eventually gets the organization to where everyone wants it to be. If that happens, it will be hard to deny that he succeeded in what he was brought here to do. However, at this point, the inability for the team to improve its record under his administration, albeit in large part to a true organizational rebuild, is going to be the postscript in this chapter of Browns history.
In a way, the team as it stands today has become a tapestry of interwoven threads full of experiences and lessons, and of failures and successes of past regimes. Our hope going forward is that newcomers Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner are ultimately responsible for the turnaround this franchise has often sought. But it wouldn't be appropriate to deprive Holmgren and his general manager, Tom Heckert, of credit for the work they did in laying the foundation... or the work of Eric Mangini before them, who did his part to clear the land of the obstacles and distractions that existed when he was brought in.
If the team finds success, history should recognize each generation of builders who have come in and cemented their own cornerstones into place. But until then, as one journey concludes, we embark upon another until we reach our destination. As one chapter ends, another picks up where it left off. And all we can hope is that, eventually, there is a happy ending.