Mike Holmgren became the former coach of the Seattle Seahawks this week, and he leaves behind a former NFL contender.
Unlike seven other coaches that were fired this year, Holmgren departs on his own terms, which softens the blow of leaving a job he loves. But the thought of an unexpected 4-12 season being his last left Holmgren rightfully wanting more.
And after 17 years as a head coach — 10 with Seattle and seven with Green Bay — that produced three Super Bowl appearances, there shouldn’t be a shortage of coaching offers after Holmgren takes his planned year off to reassess his life.
The fact is, Holmgren leaves at the right time. The team is in free fall and another losing season would probably lead to Holmgren’s dismissal anyway.
So now the burden of retooling the Seahawks will be passed on to Jim Mora, who will know more about the team he’s taking over than most new head coaches. He’s spent the last two seasons as Seattle’s defensive backs coach and was named the coach in waiting following last season.
The challenge facing Mora and general manager Tim Ruskell will be to figure out if the 4-12 record reflected a team faced with an unimaginable number of injuries or a team in decline after a run of four consecutive NFC West titles — or both.
“It really shouldn’t happen again,” Holmgren said of the poor season, “because no one will get injured like we got injured this year. It hasn’t happened to me in 25 years, it’s not going to happen again. But I did tell the players this: ‘If you think that was the only reason that our record was what it was, then we’re making a huge mistake.'”
Holmgren went on to say that in order to contend, a team must have its best players play great. And the reality for Seattle is that even when healthy, several stars did not perform up to standards this season.
Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and linebacker Julian Peterson were less dominant, the defensive secondary faltered and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had his worst season as a professional.
Five regular starters become free agents, and the team must figure out what to do with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. Gamble on a high-priced rookie? Trade down to acquire more help? Trade the pick for an impact veteran?
As for Mora, Holmgren said his enthusiasm, experience, teaching ability and work ethic should serve him well. He is a proven winner, having coached Atlanta to the 2004 NFC championship game.
But the two have different styles. Holmgren is demanding yet cerebral in his approach. Mora is more fiery. Nobody knows this more than defensive end Patrick Kerney, who spent three years in Atlanta under Mora. He said Mora will run a more energetic, difficult and demanding training camp than the current Seahawks are used to.
“Like I’ve told guys, ‘Make sure (you’re in) great shape when you get back,’¤” Kerney said.
But what kind of team will Mora have to whip into winning shape?