Mike Holmgren probably doesn’t want this story told because he didn’t do it for the story, or the glory. He did it because he’s much more than a football coach.
Holmgren had heard about a school in the Seattle School District called The New School. Heard about the heroic efforts of some of its teachers and thought he could help by talking to the school’s fourth graders.
It’s important to note that he offered to make this visit. It was his idea. This wasn’t some “NFL Cares” promotion. There were no TV cameras. The only photographs were taken by the teachers who were thrilled to see him.
That day, 40 kids sat in two crescent-moon rows and listened as Holmgren, rocking in a giant wooden chair in front of the students, wove football stories into lessons on the importance of education.
It was a remarkable moment. I tried to imagine Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells or Mike Ditka taking the time to speak to this group. I wondered if they would have anywhere near the compassion to understand the lasting impact a visit like this could have on young people.
At the end of his talk, Holmgren asked if there were any questions.
One of the students, B.J., sitting in the front row and wearing a Seahawks jersey, Seahawks wrist bands and a Seahawks cap, almost popped his arm out of his socket waving to catch the coach’s attention.
“Do you think you got enough in return for trading Darrell Jackson on draft day?” B.J. asked.
Holmgren answered the question with the same respect he would have given a question from Bob Costas. Then, walking to the car after the event, he shook his head and smiled.
“How about that B.J?” said Holmgren, who had been reluctant to trade Jackson. “He should have been in the [draft day] war room with me.”
That day defines Holmgren for me. He is a great football coach. The numbers don’t lie. But he is a better person. He is understanding, funny and a compassionate member of the community. And he never has forgotten his humble roots as a high-school teacher and coach.
And more than all of the wins, all of the trips to the postseason, all the great games that turned Qwest Field into the must-be place for Seattle sports fans, I’ll miss the moments like this one at The New School.
Before Holmgren came to the Seahawks, the team was as anonymous as any pro franchise in the country. They were the Oklahoma City Thunder of football.
He piloted the franchise’s difficult and disruptive transition from the Kingdome, to Husky Stadium, to Qwest.
He brought in players he knew could learn how to win, and he taught them. Make no mistake — he can be belligerent, and belittling. Like all good coaches, he can be difficult to play for and coach under.
But Holmgren knows how to win. This will be only the third losing season in his 17 years in the NFL. Considering the roller-coaster world in which he lives, that is remarkable.
He has been to three Super Bowls and won one. He developed Pro Bowl quarterbacks Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck. He didn’t invent the West Coast offense, but he refined it.
All of these on-the-field accomplishments eventually will get him into the Hall of Fame, but more than all of them, he was a force in this town, away from the field.
He generated energy just walking into the room in a way that only Don James at Washington and former Mariners manager Lou Piniella were able to do in Seattle before him. Along with his daughters and wife Kathy, he made not only this city, but this planet, a better place, through charity work.
He told great stories at every news conference. He honored every question asked, no matter how inane.
This past summer, after the Blue Angels thundered over the Hawks’ Kirkland training facility, Holmgren was asked by a young reporter if it was special for him to have something like that happen in the middle of practice.
Most NFL coaches would have snickered at the idea, but Holmgren talked about how he missed the Blue Angels all of those years the team trained in Cheney. He said he had met many of the pilots and greatly admired them.
I believe that somehow, the respect I’ve seen him show teachers, young students and young reporters is part of the reason he has been such an outstanding football coach. He cares for his players, and that caring is reciprocated.
This season, Holmgren lost his offensive line, his receiving corps, his starting quarterback, his best pass rusher and, entering Sunday’s finale at the Arizona Cardinals, he has lost 11 games.
But he never lost his sense of humor. He never lost his love for his players, or the game, or this city and its fans.
I wish he would stay around another decade. I think he has earned the right to remain the Seahawks’ coach for as long as he wants, even if it means the front office has to wait until he has taken his postseason motorcycle ride into the desert and re-contemplated the meaning of life.
But there will be no Lazarus-like return. There isn’t one last motorcycle ride. Sunday will be his final day on the sideline as the Hawks’ head coach.
The final and most significant loss of this lost year in Seattle will be Mike Holmgren.