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Holmgren plans to be more out front with Browns

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BEREA, Ohio — Mike Holmgren plans a major change in his third season as president of the Cleveland Browns.

And it starts at the top of the organization — with him.

Aware of outside criticism that he's been detached since coming to Cleveland and sensitive to questions about his commitment to the franchise, Holmgren vowed to be more available to the media and fans than he has been since joining the Browns in 2010. Holmgren chose to stay in the background during his first two years so he wouldn't upstage his coach or general manager.

The coach they called "The Big Show" in Green Bay and Seattle for his larger-than-life persona, is moving back out front.

"I want it to help," he said. "I do not want it to be a burden on the coach or our general manager. And if I can help and open things up and make some things a little clearer for our fans, that's my goal and that is my only goal."

With the opening of training camp more than one month away, Holmgren spent nearly an hour Thursday addressing a variety of topics including the team's quarterback competition, rumors owner Randy Lerner plans to sell the Browns, the team's rift with Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and expectations for next season.

After presenting an award to the 100,000th fan to join the Browns Backers — Cleveland's global fan club — Holmgren opened his remarks by explaining his intentions to be more visible during the upcoming season. He said his past reluctance to speak about football matters as a front-office executive stemmed from his time on the sideline.

"As a coach, for a long, long time, anytime the president got involved with football stuff it used to irritate me a little bit," he said. "We had many discussions about that, if something is going to be said about the football, I would like to be the one who says it. I think it's important to have one voice."

Holmgren has assured Browns coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert that he has no intention of interfering with their work. He hired them to run the football team and that's what he'll continue to let them do. However, Holmgren does want to take on a more prominent public role to perhaps make things easier for them.

Holmgren said he's gotten feedback and suggestions to be more accessible.

"I'm hardheaded," said Holmgren, who will turn 64 on Friday. "But I've started to listen to some people I would meet around town saying, 'Gee we would like to hear a little bit more from you about things.' So this year that's what I'm going to try to do."

Holmgren's aware there are risks in expanding his role as president, a job he never held before Browns owner Randy Lerner hired him to fix a franchise that has made just one playoff appearance since 1999. He knows signals may get crossed, but he's going to do all he can to make sure everyone's on the same page.

"There can't be any controversies created by things that I would say or Pat would say or Tom would say," he said. "The hard part about it is at times there will be a little thing that comes out and it will be easy to say 'wait a minute' — he said 'this' and he said 'this.' That's kind of the danger of this a little bit. But as long as they know I have their back."

A portion of Cleveland's fan base has painted Holmgren as disconnected, a perception he unintentionally reinforced by doing a radio interview on a Seattle station last season. Some fans wondered if his heart was into the job, questioning his loyalty.

But Holmgren made it clear he's dedicated to building the Browns into perennial winners.

"You have to have thick skin in this business," he said. "But when I heard that, I was sensitive to that and it bothered me because if anything I think I care probably too much. I'm committed. I made promises to our owner and he's kept his promises to me.

"I'm committed here."

Holmgren is in the third year of a five-year contract. He doesn't have any regrets about his first two seasons in Cleveland — other than the fact the Browns have gone just 9-23 since his arrival. However, he's convinced the worst is over and believes the Browns, coming off a 4-12 season, can make a "good, healthy jump" next season.

"I know we're a better football team," he said. "We're a more talented football team. There's more continuity on the coaching staff, we've had the offseason program, but I believe we're a more talented football team. We've added some things, we're coming together nicely."

As always, Cleveland's burning offseason issue is at quarterback, a position the club hopes it solved by drafting Brandon Weeden in April. Although Shurmur has not named the 28-year-old rookie as his starter, it's only a matter of time before Weeden gets the job.

Holmgren has been impressed with Weeden's performance during minicamp and OTAs but stressed there are no certainties.

"His skill level is excellent," Holmgren said. "He passes the ball easily. He is as prepared to come in and start as a rookie as any quarterback I've seen in a long time because of his maturity level and his age. He's already been through a whole bunch of competitive situations."

On other topics:

— Holmgren said "right now" the plan is not to move either quarterback Colt McCoy or Seneca Wallace off the Browns' roster but "that's not to say we might not change something." Earlier this week, Wallace said he didn't think all three QBs would be on Cleveland's roster for training camp.

Holmgren said his long history with Wallace, who played for him in Seattle, would not factor into any decision on the backup.

— Holmgren would like to patch up the team's rift with Brown, the greatest Cleveland Brown of them all. Brown, who was removed as an advisor by Holmgren, has been critical of the organization since leaving. He skipped a Ring of Honor ceremony in Cleveland last year and called first-round draft pick Trent Richardson an "ordinary" running back.

"How the Browns view Jim Brown hasn't changed and will never change," Holmgren said. "I would love to see Jim Brown walk in right now, be a part of this. I would welcome him with open arms."

— Holmgren reiterated the Browns are not for sale, further refuting a rumor last week that Lerner had the team on the market.

"No, the Browns are not for sale," he said. "I talk to Randy all the time, and I assume he'd tell me. We have a very open, honest relationship. No, there's no truth to that."