Freshly acquired President of Football Operations Mike Holmgren is scheduled to have a conference call with the Cleveland media early this evening. While he will not be officially introduced to the city until the current NFL season is over, one can anticipate many questions being asked in regard to the future of not only head coach Eric Mangini, but the currently open position of general manager as well.
There have been several names that have been tossed out as possible future Browns GM. Our friends at The OBR has mentioned Marc Ross and David Gettleman of the New York Giants. The Green Bay Press Gazette recently touted the Packers’ John Schneider due to his longtime history with Holmgren. But one name that continues to pop up on our radar is one that has connections to the city of Cleveland in Tom Heckert.
Heckert currently serves as general manager for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, the title is a bit misleading as his current role is more of the advisory form with Andy Reid. Heckert’s main duties fall within the realm of player personnel with a large focus on scouting.
But despite his admitteldy vague role with the Eagles, the team considers Heckert to be one of the top executives in the NFL. He is currently in his eighth season with the team and has been promoted multiple times in various positions within the league. The Eagles tout Heckert’s biggest strengths pertain to the NFL Draft and the activities that lead up to said weekend. Heckert’s first draft in Philadelphia – 2002, late-round draft position – netted the team Lito Sheppart, Michael Lewis, Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown. When the Eagles were desiring playmakers to help quarterback Donovan McNabb, Heckert landed tight end Brent Celek (fifth round), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (second round) and running back LeSean McCoy (second round).
Not too bad.
In 2003, Heckert was appointed by the NFL to their 12-man College Advisory Committee thanks to his scouting talents. His management skill set led to Heckert being named to the General Manager’s Advisory Committee in 2008.
And what may be even more attractive to the Browns at this stage, Heckert is not from the overly lauded coaching tree of Bill Belichick. Instead, Heckert’s formative years were spent under Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson. Heckert’s father, Tom, spent 20 years in the NFL player personnel ranks with the majority of his time being spent in Miami. Tom the elder also spent time with the Browns as a scout during their run in the 1980s, so there are ties to Cleveland.
Heckert was one of the candidates for the GM position when the Browns were looking to replace Phil Savage upon his dismissal. The Eagles would not allow Heckert to interview for the vacant general manager position until they were out of the playoffs. Randy Lerner opted to hire Eric Mangini as head coach on January 7th; the Eagles season ran until January 18th. After the hiring of Mangini, Heckert was reportedly one of the few potential GM candidates that backed out. In fact, Heckert withdrew his name from the hat the day that the Mangini hiring was announced.
Heckert’s connections to the Cleveland area do not stop with his father or prior candidacy for the Browns GM role. As a child, Heckert grew up along side Tim Beckman – head coach of the Toledo Rockets football program, son of Dave Beckman who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and was also an NFL player personnel executive for the Browns. Also in Heckert’s rolodex would be former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, due to the connections with Dave Beckman. WFNY has been told that Heckert’s ties to the Cleveland area remain as fresh as ever, extending as far as inquiries on real estate in the Cleveland area.
A big name among the coaching ranks that is currently tied to Heckert, also through the family friend lines, is current Arizona defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Davis’ resume features many NFL teams in various positions of interest (including the 1999 Browns) – mostly all on the defensive side. However, given that the coaching “tree” is a point of interest, it’s worth noting that Davis comes from the school of Bill Cowher. When Mike Tomlin was chosen as the successor to Cowher in Pittsburgh, Davis packed his bags and went to Arizona with fellow coaches Ken Wisenhunt and Russ Grimm. Davis was linebackers coach when Kevin Greene and Lamar Lathon were first and second overall in NFL sacks (1996) and is responsible for the development of Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes – both players eclipsed 100 tackles in 2007 and 2008.
Like Heckert, Davis has ties to Cleveland as he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. His father, Bill Davis Sr., was an NFL coach for 13 years including six with the Cleveland Browns as vice president of player personnel.
Putting all of these pieces together, it appears to WFNY that Heckert is a very strong candidate to replace George Kokinis as the Browns general manager of the future, and that he is willing to give Randy Lerner a second chance of sorts following last year’s canidacy-turned-“no thanks.” Given Heckert’s professional set-up with Andy Reid, the transition to Cleveland would be nearly seamless to a possible comingling with Mike Holmgren. His strengths in regard to the draft continue to be something that Lerner continues to feel would instantly help the rebuilding Browns and there is undoubtedly history with the team.
Unfortunately for Eric Mangini, Heckert’s refusal to interview last year following the head coach’s hiring coupled with his connections to other potential head coaching candidates does not appear to bode well for a second year with the team. Whether a possible replacement would be Davis or a coach of Holmgren’s choosing, Heckert’s flat out reluctance to even interview for a job that would work along side Mangini speaks volumes. Similar to last season, the Eagles would need to have their season completed prior to an official interview with the Browns for any vacant positions. While Holmgren will be addressing the media today, fans should hold out any hopes of further team clarification on the future until the 2009 NFL season has concluded.