Seattle’s two-time Pro Bowl defensive end played in Atlanta from 2004-06 when Jim Mora was the Falcons’ coach. For months, Kerney has been telling his current Seahawks teammates what to expect in the first practices with their new head man.
“Be in great shape,” he’s said with a chuckle while he’s been rehabilitating from shoulder surgery. “Be ready to run.”
The indefatigable Mora spends many early mornings running up a ridiculously steep mountain near his suburban Seattle home. This week, he spent a voluntary minicamp barking at linebacker Lance Laury to run to the ball – even though the ball was 30 yards away, on the other side of the field.
The 47-year-old with the face and fire of a man half that age stood in the defense’s huddle and jabbed his fist to the ground in rapid-fire succession, to emphasize how fast he wants his Seahawks to play. He demanded that his assistants coach on the way back to the huddle after plays – while on the run, of course.
Thursday, he shouted at cornerback Josh Wilson to get his helmet on. Apparently, Mora considered it off because a chin strap wasn’t strapped.
He, not an assistant, blew a whistle to end every play. He stepped between the two huddles, facing and talking to and yelling at the defense because defense is in his pedigree. Mora joked that he needed the whistle to keep his hyped-up players from running off the field, over a neighboring hill and onto the freeway that runs beside the team’s headquarters.
All this rah-rah enthusiasm. All this running. Is this April – or August?
Is this the NFL? Or the Pac-10?
“I don’t like to use the analogy of college versus pro. I think it’s just coaching, you know? It’s coaching players. It’s just our way,” said the son of former Saints and Colts coach Jim E. Mora. The younger Mora grew up around practice fields at the University of Washington, when his dad was an assistant there under Don James in the 1970s.
It’s a jarring change from Mike Holmgren. The 60-year-old patriarch is now riding motorcycles around his Phoenix-area home, leaving the resurrection of a 4-12 flop in 2008 to Mora.
“Younger coach. More energetic,” veteran backup quarterback Seneca Wallace deadpanned while describing the fireball who had been Holmgren’s defensive backs coach the last two seasons before Holmgren took a sabbatical from football.
Generally, Holmgren was volatile only when players screwed up.
The in-your-face Mora? He’s apparently volatile from the moment he wakes up each day.
“He’s an attacking, pressure guy,” said Seahawks president and general manager Tim Ruskell, who helped get Mora his first head coaching job during Ruskell’s only year with Atlanta.
Though it’s hard to find them, Mora said his intensity has its limits.
“The objective is not to come out here and kill them,” he said of this extra minicamp the league grants to teams with new head coaches. “Really, it’s to introduce to them what we want to do, how we want to do things, and hopefully what we want to be as a football team.
“I’m looking for tempo, speed, a level of execution. I think we have to start to establish our standards for those things. … There’s a long way to go before we actually play a game. There’s a lot of messages that these guys are receiving.”
Yet they all have the same theme.
The only thing that stops the running is Mora’s whistle. He blows it after ball carriers and pursuers have run about 40 yards past where the play would have ended had the players been tackling.
Wednesday, receiver Logan Payne ran so fast and so far through the back of the end zone after a catch, his cleats slipped on the concrete patio that separates the field from the training room. Payne bounced up off the concrete and then ran 60 yards back to the huddle.
So what that he is coming back from a shredded knee?
“We’ve got a group of men that buy into it,” Mora said. “Everyone knows this is an organization that’s put a premium on character. So you ask a guy to do something like that, and you give him a reason why you are asking him to do that, they are going to conform. They are going to embrace it.”
The test will be if Mora and his equally electric staff can keep them buying into it through the dog days of training camp in August. Or when it’s October, and players are trying to preserve their battered bodies for Sunday.
Mora’s passion ignited a first-year run by Michael Vick, Kerney and the Falcons into the NFC championship game in January 2005. Two seasons later, that flame burned out and he was fired.
“You’re right. It is tough to maintain that,” said Mora, who is getting paid more than $4 million per year to get the Seahawks back atop the NFC West. “But that’s my job, to make sure that they do maintain that.”
“By constantly staying on them,” he said. “By constantly reminding them how it’s going to help us later on.”