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To the rescue: Holmgren agrees to join Browns as team president

BEREA, Ohio -- Serious. Credible. A leader.

In Mike Holmgren, Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner hit the trifecta he desperately wanted.

Holmgren, who returned the Green Bay Packers to prominence and raised the Seattle Seahawks' profile during his NFL career, accepted an offer to become president of the Browns, a tradition-rich franchise that needs a major makeover after a decade of losing and front-office incompetence.

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George Kokinis accused

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Lerner said Monday that he had reached a preliminary agreement with Holmgren, a Super Bowl-winning coach who brings immediate credibility to the down-and-out Browns.

"We are pleased to announce that Mike Holmgren has agreed to join the Cleveland Browns," Lerner said in a statement. "We will spend the rest of the week finalizing the details of the agreement and will make a formal announcement next week."

As part of a front-office shakeup, Lerner said current president Mike Keenan will become the Browns' chief financial officer.

Holmgren, 61, is coming to Cleveland strictly in an executive role. Last week, he indicated his job offer with the Browns could include a return to the sideline. But Holmgren will remain upstairs and serve as the camera-shy Lerner's top executive.

With his trademark mustache and distinct, rounded features, Holmgren is the new face of the Browns.

While embraced by Cleveland fans, Holmgren's arrival could be trouble for coach Eric Mangini, who's just 3-11 in his first season. Holmgren, who likely will bring in a general manager to oversee personnel decisions, also might replace Mangini with his own coach.

But with Sunday's 41-34 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Mangini might have strengthened his chances of staying and will have two more games to impress his new boss. Mangini is convinced he has the Browns, who have lost at least 10 games in six of the past seven seasons and made the AFC playoffs only once since 1999, headed in the right direction.

Mangini can only hope that Holmgren agrees or it will be one-and-done for him in Cleveland.

Holmgren refused to speculate on Mangini's status last week during a radio appearance. He praised Mangini's coaching ability and work ethic and said he would give any coach a chance, especially one in his first season. Holmgren cited Bill Parcells' firing of Cam Cameron in Miami when the former coach took over as the Dolphins' "football czar."

"Those types of decisions, the tough decisions, sometimes they aren't fair," Holmgren said. "But I would do everything in my power to make sure it's the right one and that everyone gets a chance to prove themselves."

Interestingly, Holmgren's agreement with the Browns came exactly one year to the day after he coached the Seahawks to a 13-3 victory over Mangini's New York Jets. That essentially ended the Jets' playoff chances and finished off Mangini, who was fired following last season.

Holmgren said he was intrigued by the opportunity to join the Browns because of the absence of "layers" between him and Lerner, who in November announced he was looking to add a "serious, credible leader" to his organization. Holmgren spent two days meeting with Lerner last week and came away impressed by the owner's passion to win and what he learned about the Browns.

On Saturday, Holmgren turned down a front-office position with the Seahawks, whom he coached for 10 seasons, serving four also as the GM.

Holmgren stepped down as Seattle's coach after last season to spend more time with his family. However, the chance to rebuild another franchise was too much for Holmgren to resist, and he's coming out of semiretirement to take on the Browns, who haven't had anyone of his renown on board since their expansion return.

"The challenge of rebuilding is kind of in my blood," Holmgren said last week.

During his Monday news conference, Mangini again was put in the uncomfortable position of having to address speculation about Holmgren, who led the Packers to two Super Bowls and taking the Seahawks to their only championship-game appearance.

"I'm really focused on the group and getting them ready to play," Mangini said before the team announced its deal with Holmgren. "As far as a timeline or any of the other things, it's not what I'm doing or concentrating on. It's not what the coaches are concentrating on and not what the players are concentrating on.

"What I'm looking to do is coach the team. That's it."

The Browns beat the Chiefs last Sunday with record-breaking performances by running back Jerome Harrison and kick-returner extraordinaire Josh Cribbs.

Harrison rushed for 286 yards, breaking Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown's team record and posting the third-highest total in league history. Cribbs returned kickoffs 100 and 103 yards for touchdowns in the first half, matching the single-game mark and setting the career record with eight runbacks for scores.

Following the game, Mangini received an endorsement to remain Cleveland's coach from Brown, who serves as an executive advisor to Lerner.

"Of course I think he deserves it from Jim Brown's point of view," Brown said. "What I'm looking at is an improved team. A lot of young people that we don't even know are playing good football. I don't know the politics behind the scenes. I'm not going to contradict (Lerner). Right now we've won two in a row, and I think it's proven there is direction."

Not long before announcing Holmgren's hiring, the Browns were informed that former GM George Kokinis had filed arbitration with the NFL claiming that he was unjustly fired. Kokinis was dismissed Nov. 2 after nine months on the job. He is seeking more than $4 million in compensation and damages.

Browns general counsel Fred Nance said the team was aware of Kokinis' filing.

"We've received it and are reviewing it," Nance said through a team spokesman.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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