While Browns await Holmgren's decision, ex-GM files grievance

BEREA, Ohio -- As the Cleveland Browns awaited word from Mike Holmgren, their former general manager claimed he was fired unfairly.

George Kokinis, dismissed on Nov. 2 under peculiar circumstances, filed for arbitration with the NFL against the Browns on Monday, asserting the team broke promises and didn't allow him to fulfill the conditions of his four-year contract. Kokinis is seeking in excess of $4 million in compensation and damages.

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Kokinis' allegations of "both breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation" against the Browns came as they remained in a holding pattern on Holmgren, who has been offered a job heading Cleveland's football operations.

Holmgren said on his weekly radio show on Friday that he planned to notify owner Randy Lerner of his intentions "sooner than later."

As of Monday evening, Browns spokesman Bill Bonsiewicz said the team had nothing to report on the 61-year-old Holmgren, who on Saturday turned down a front-office position to return to the Seattle Seahawks. Bonsiewicz said he hoped to provide an update later.

Holmgren's decision could directly impact Mangini, who improved to 3-11 in his first season with Cleveland as the Browns beat the Kansas City Chiefs 41-34 on Sunday behind 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 of 100 and 103 yards in the first half, matching the single-game mark and setting the career record with eight touchdown returns.

Following Mangini's news conference, Harrison presented his jersey and one worn by Cribbs on Sunday to a representative from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Soon, Holmgren, with Hall of Fame credentials already, could be walking through the door.

Mangini was again put in the uncomfortable position of having to address swirling speculation about Holmgren's future.

"I'm really focused on the group and getting them ready to play," Mangini said. "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."

Holmgren, who stepped down as Seattle's coach after last season to spend time with his family, has left open the possibility of returning to the sideline. Holmgren said "any and all" when he was asked if Lerner's offer included the opportunity to coach and be the team's chief executive.

Holmgren said he was intrigued by the Cleveland opportunity because of the absence of "layers" between him and Lerner.

That's probably what Kokinis assumed when he was hired by the Browns in January, two weeks after Mangini was brought in by Lerner. But Kokinis' nine-month stay ended with him being fired and escorted from the building by Browns security personnel.

The team notified Kokinis he was dismissed "for cause" and would not honor the rest of his contract.

Kokinis spent 13 years with Baltimore before joining the Browns, essentially hand-picked by Mangini. The two worked together in Cleveland early in their careers.

In filing his case with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Kokinis said he signed his contract with the Browns under the agreement that he would be given control over all player personnel matters and report directly to the owner of the team.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler said Kokinis was "shocked" by the Browns' behavior and hoped the team would honor the contract without the need for arbitration.

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"But the team has given him no choice," Kessler said in a statement. "Contracts are meant to be honored, not broken, and there is no basis for the Browns to assert that this is a 'for cause' termination. The only 'cause' here is the unwillingness of the team to stand behind the promises that they made to Mr. Kokinis."

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.

Mangini deferred all questions about Kokinis to Nance.

Kessler did not give any specific examples of how the Browns did not comply with Kokinis' contract. He said his client did not want to make his case with the Browns public but may in the future.

"If the Browns respond publicly with false allegations about George's performance as General Manager, as they have threatened to do," Kessler said, "we will have no choice but to defend our client's reputation and will have much more to say about the Brown's conduct in connection with this matter."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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