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Mike Holmgren vows to 'stay course'

BEREA, Ohio -- After more than an hour of tackling the Browns' miserable season and stating he'll stay with a plan to fix a franchise stuck in a perpetual losing pattern, team president Mike Holmgren delivered a message to Cleveland's tortured fans.

Holmgren understands their pain, and he again asked for their patience.

One day, he promised, the Browns will prevail.

"We are driven," Holmgren said. "We put pressure on ourselves to do the right things and get this thing going in the right direction. The next couple years are very important in determining how this is going to go. I'm a little upset with our record, but I'm not discouraged.

"There's a lot of hope."

Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert spent 70 minutes in front of the media on Thursday reviewing a 2011 season that ended like so many previous ones for the Browns, who went 4-12 in coach Pat Shurmur's tumultuous first year and are the only team in the AFC North not in the playoffs.

The Browns' top brass did little to clarify the team's muddled quarterback situation with Colt McCoy or if they want to re-sign running back Peyton Hillis following his drama-filled season.

Holmgren said he's "ticked off" by the losing and didn't offer any excuses for a strange season in which he anticipated the Browns' record being a lot closer to .500. And, just because the Browns had one of the league's worst marks, Holmgren won't do anything radical to change it.

"We're going to stay the course," he said. "We're going to do it a certain way. I have an owner who supports us that way. He's been a man of his word with me. He wants to do it. I'm going to do it this way, and that's the difference. The growing pains are difficult.

"We know what we have to fix. But we're not going to blow it up and start all over."

The Browns have gone 9-23 -- 1-11 in the division -- since Holmgren was hired by owner Randy Lerner.

Holmgren was in a good mood and not as combative as he was during a news conference three weeks ago, when he chastised reporters while the Browns were being criticized and under NFL scrutiny for sending McCoy back into a game at Pittsburgh after he suffered a concussion.

Holmgren used the season-ending news conference to strongly support Shurmur, who came under fire for many moves this season.

Running Shurmur's West Coast system, the Browns scored just 218 points -- they failed to score a touchdown in five games -- and finished ranked 29th overall in offense There was little improvement from last year, but Holmgren didn't place any of the blame on his coach.

Holmgren believes Shurmur is the right coach for Cleveland.

"I have the utmost confidence in Pat to get this done," Holmgren said. "No one's on the hot seat. We understand what we're doing, what we're trying to do, understand what happened on the field. We have a good coach, and we have a good coaching staff. You don't get to where you want to get to by blowing it up every two or three years.

"You work through the bumps together. You hang in there. You get smarter. You get better players. We're gonna hang in there together and we're gonna get this done. We will get it done."

Cleveland's most pressing issue is at quarterback. It's been that way for years.

McCoy was handed the starting job before his second season, with the Browns hoping he would develop into the franchise QB Holmgren knows is essential to win a Super Bowl. Without many playmakers and little running game, McCoy was inconsistent, going 4-9 before missing the final three games with a concussion.

Holmgren was asked if McCoy is the "guy."

"He can be," Holmgren said. "But I'm not ready to say that yet. He played and he did some very fine things and he played young at times. Was I pleased? Yeah, in a lot of the stuff he did. My opinion of Colt has not changed. I think he has a lot of intangibles. I'm not ready to anoint Colt yet. Have I changed my mind? No. Do I love him? Yes, I do. But I love (backup) Seneca Wallace.

"Having said that, heck, we don't know what's going to happen."

Holmgren repeated Shurmur's position that McCoy will have to compete for a job in training camp.

If McCoy doesn't pan out, it's possible the Browns may look for a QB in free agency. Green Bay backup Matt Flynn could be on the market, but Holmgren was careful not to mention Flynn, who threw six TD passes in the season finale Sunday, by name.

"You're referencing the young man at what the Packers?" Holmgren said with a smile.

Heckert, who prefers to build with draft picks, did not rule out the possibility of exploring free agency for a quarterback.

"That's probably not the way we're going to do it," Heckert said. "You never know. It's still early. There are a few guys in the league who have started and will be free agents. We're going to look at them and see how that goes. We'll evaluate everybody. We do it every year. We'll study them all."

As for Hillis, Holmgren and Heckert avoided questions about the bulldozing back, who was a distraction and injured after rushing for nearly 1,200 yards last season.

The Browns currently have the No. 4 overall pick in April's draft and two more in the top 37, selections they hope will hasten their turnaround. Last year, Heckert boldly traded the No. 6 pick to Atlanta for multiple picks, and Holmgren could see the Browns being active again.

"We'd like to use our picks. But that will not prevent my car salesman friend here from wheeling and dealing during the draft," Holmgren said. "Anything's a possibility. But philosophically we need the picks to keep filling in the roster."