Coach Mike Holmgren talks about what
he has learned in his 10 seasons with
the Seahawks – and the time off he plans
to take after 17 years as a head coach
in the NFL
When asked to analyze Mike Holmgren’s
coaching success, those who know him often point out his
skills as a teacher.
From his office at Seahawks headquarters last week, when
asked to look back, Holmgren spoke less about teaching than
of the lessons he has learned in his 10 seasons in Seattle.
Clearly, this time has been a process of absorbing, interpreting
and then adapting. Learning.
As he prepared for the final home game of his tenure with the
team – this afternoon at Qwest Field against the New York Jets
– he chuckled a little when asked about the “legacy” of his
time in Seattle.
“… Sounds like I’m dead.”
No, not dead. In fact, he seemed energized by the prospect
of taking time off after 17 seasons as a head coach in the NFL.
And he seemed free to open up about his experiences here. He
spoke of some misconceptions he had when he arrived, how he
got off on the wrong foot with the fans, and how he twice
reached the verge of quitting because of front-office politics.
Yes, he said, in the past year or so he considered backing off
his plan to retire at the end of this season but the momentum
was already built up to have Jim Mora take over.
As for the future, he definitely will take off a year as he
promised his wife, Kathy, and after that he still wants to
have a shot at controlling a franchise as a coach/general manager
… but he’s not closing the door on any possibilities.
Maybe it’s more accurate to consider this a sabbatical, or a
tactical withdrawal, than a retirement. And maybe what he’s left
is more of an overarching sense of excellence than a single
achievement that stands as his legacy.
“There’s a couple things I feel good about,” he said. “One is
how people view the Seahawks now. I feel good about that. This
has been a tough season, but I think they believe this is an
odd year, and they’re still in there with us, still behind us,
and I feel good about that.”
He addresses this topic as he does so many others, in layers,
general to specific.
“Personally, I always wanted respect from my peers; it was
important to me that they thought I could coach,” he said.
“I’ve had any number of phone calls from people I really
admired as colleagues or competitors. I think I’ve done that a
“And the third thing, I like to see that certain players …
to use (quarterback) Matt Hasselbeck as an example … he came
here, you kind of mold him a little bit, if you will, and then
you watch him grow. As a teacher, that’s important to me.”
He sees now that he hardly came off as the professorial type
when he arrived. Cocky, arrogant, egotistical … those were
some of the terms tossed at him in the early years.
“I think a couple things got in the way; my contract and all
that hoopla,” he said of the $32 million over eight years that
was initially reported. “People kinda go, ‘Oh, geez.’ ”
The other impression was that he was a raging bully, screaming
and spitting at cowering players.
“I joke about it now, but every picture that ever appears of me
in the newspaper seems like I’m mad at somebody, yelling at
somebody,” he said. “(Reporters) who watch practice every day
know that I might get after somebody, but I don’t do that a lot.
That’s not how I do stuff all the time.”
It was a much larger misinterpretation that created a significant
early rift with fans.
“We were in Husky Stadium for Matt’s first start, and there was
a group that started booing him after his second pass,” recalled
Holmgren, who in somewhat salty language told the team afterward
to ignore those people.
“It wasn’t about the fans; it was only about those six people,”
he said. “But it comes out (in the media): ‘Holmgren says
blankety-blank to the fans’. After that, I had some ground to
make up, and that was too bad.”
That it actually got out of the locker room and into a magazine
was another lesson for Holmgren.
“I’m not a total open book (with the media) but I’m not
condescending, I’m not argumentative, and I’m not dishonest,”
he said. “(That it was misinterpreted) bothered me more than it
probably should have. I’ve always been aware of how the fans
are involved with your team, and the fact that they thought I
actually said something like that about them … yeah, that
really bothered me.”
Holmgren’s imperial status as executive vice president/head coach/
general manager not only shaped his public image, but also led to
issues at the headquarters in the days when Bob Whitsitt served
as team president and was the primary conduit of information
back to owner Paul Allen.
Holmgren had enjoyed nothing but success – two Super Bowl trips
and high approval ratings while coaching the Green Bay Packers.
He left that comfortable environment only because he wanted the
challenge of having total control over a franchise.
But after going 7-9 in 2002, his fourth season with the joint
titles, Holmgren had the GM job taken away. “Relieved of his
general manager duties” was how it was stated publicly.
It was no secret that Whitsitt and Holmgren were at odds.
And as he looks back, Holmgren addresses the general situation
but not the personalities involved nor Whitsitt specifically.
“Oh, yeah, I was upset,” he said of the demotion. “I left a
wonderful situation to come here and do these two things
(coach and GM), and if that was not available, I would have
stayed in Green Bay.”
His wife talked him down and asked him a simple question:
Do they still want you to coach? He had been so upset about
the GM status that he wasn’t exactly sure. When told that he
was wanted in that capacity, he had to decide what was most
“Kathy and I talked it out, like we do most big decisions,”
he said. “And I think I saw into the future a little bit.
We had won the last three games that season, and Matt was
kind of coming into his own, and that was going to be a
springboard for us.”
He stayed as coach, and chalked up another lesson learned.
But after the first-round playoff loss at home to St. Louis
after the 2004 season “… I was really shot; I was ready
(to quit), really on the edge of saying it’s time to let
somebody else try this,” he said.
Allen got wind of Holmgren’s discontent, and summoned him
to his home.
“I told him I was tired. My quote was, ‘It’s too hard to
fight the battles on the field and fight the battles in the
building, too. I can’t do it anymore.’ ”
His postseason visits with Allen, he said, usually last 20
minutes. This, though, went on for two hours.
“We started going through things he thought I had done
and he found out … well … you know,” Holmgren said.
Allen promised action. By the end of the week, Whitsitt was
out and Holmgren returned as coach.
Tim Ruskell took over as president/general manager and the
team went to the Super Bowl and proceeded to stretch the string
of NFC West titles to four.
Holmgren’s annual postseason re-evaluations caused management
to begin considering the franchise’s future, which the coach
said was “entirely fair.” Holmgren said he could see that
Ruskell was interested in hiring Jim Mora as his replacement.
Holmgren’s concern at the time was for the assistant coaches
on the staff. The sooner decisions were made about the head
coach, the greater would be their options.
“Coaches were coming to me, so I asked, ‘Do you know who the
next coach is?’ I said, ‘Fine, let’s let the coaches know so
they can make plans.’”
Press conferences were called for Holmgren to announce his
retirement at the end of this season and Mora to take over as
head coach thereafter.
“The press conference telling the world … looking back on it,
I kinda wish, and I think Jim kinda wishes, that hadn’t happened,
” Holmgren said.
Holmgren said that after this process was rolling, he actually
waffled on his decision to retire from the Seahawks, which made
matters a little “sticky.”
“The wheels were going so much in that direction nobody could put
on the brakes,” he said.
Did you try to apply the brakes?
“Well, I didn’t slam on them; it was slight,” he said. “I kinda
floated an idea out there to see how everyone would feel
about it.”It didn’t float.Regrets?
“Nah,” Holmgren said. “Jim’s a heckuva coach. To his credit,
he’s been super about handling this thing. Really, really super.
And I appreciate him very much that way.”
He strongly reiterated that he will take the next year off.
It’s not posturing or positioning for another job. It’s a promise
to his wife he intends to keep.
“We’re going to travel, have fun, play golf, whatever,” he said.
And then he’ll address what he calls the “itch he hasn’t been
able to scratch” – taking over a franchise. He said he’s “open
and curious” about a lot of possibilities outside of football,
and won’t rule out anything.
“The thing that I didn’t get a chance to finish was building a team,
” he said. “If I had another chance to do that down the road,
I would consider that; Kathy knows that and is on board with it.
I still feel good. I’m still competitive. My feeling is that at
the end of the year I’ll start getting that itch and wanting to
get back in and do something.”
So, Holmgren is going to spend considerable energy over the next
week controlling his emotions. That will be difficult as he plans
to take a lap of the field after today’s game, making contact with
the fans who have learned to appreciate and understand him since
those rocky early days.
“I hope we got over those early years and they don’t think I’m this
crazy person,” he said. “I would hope they know that I really put
the team before myself. We all have egos and I like to win and feel
good about it, but what I really loved was the challenge of
building something up and making it better. That was my goal,
that was the challenge that made me tick.”
And that stands as a legacy for this franchise no matter what
you want to call it.