Mike Holmgren said he wants to return to the NFL, and I believe he will — probably within the year and probably as a general manager or club president. Holmgren hasn’t ruled out coaching, but the smart money says he tries something new and runs some team’s football operations.
The question, of course, is where? I’d narrow it down to three locations.
Let’s start with San Francisco. Holmgren has a history with the city and the club, is a link to some of the most decorated 49ers teams of the past and would be a perfect boss for Scot McCloughan, the team’s current GM who served with Holmgren in Seattle and Green Bay.
Besides, the 49ers tried to hire Holmgren before but it didn’t work out. Maybe now it does. He has the résumé. He’s a fan favorite. He’s a bridge to the team’s Super Bowl era. And he might help sell a new stadium to voters.
Dallas is another possibility, partly because Holmgren and team owner Jerry Jones get along well and mostly because coach Wade Phillips seems to be walking the plank. If Holmgren went to Dallas, it wouldn’t be to run the football operations; it would be as the next head coach. The Cowboys’ past three coaches had defensive backgrounds, so maybe Jones goes the other way to win a playoff game.
But it’s the third option that intrigues me most, and it’s one that might intrigue Holmgren. Would you believe … Seattle? You heard me, the team that just let Holmgren walk could welcome him back within a year.
I say “could” because it all depends on what happens this season. If the Seahawks go in the jar and finish below .500 or out of the playoffs, there’s a chance Holmgren returns. If they make another playoff appearance he won’t. Hanging in the balance is the future of team president Tim Ruskell, who is in the last year of a contract that hasn’t been renewed.
Not yet, at least.
If Ruskell stays, Holmgren does not reemerge; if Ruskell goes, Holmgren could. It’s as simple as that. Until or unless Ruskell gains a new contract, he oversees the Seahawks’ football operations as — what else would you call it? — a lame duck, and that will fuel speculation for the future.
The NFL is a business where valued employees — particularly high-profile employees, including players — aren’t often put in that position. So I don’t know what to make of Ruskell’s situation, other than a source close to the club cautioned me not to pay too much attention to it, saying the Seahawks typically operate on a year-to-year basis.
Maybe, except they extended Holmgren’s contract before 2006, which would have been his last season. So it has been done.
Holmgren is a favorite of Seattle owner Paul Allen. He also has a home on Lake Washington, not all that far from the Seahawks’ practice facility. More important, he not only is a conduit to the team’s glory years; he’s the architect. Only once has Seattle been to the Super Bowl, and it was on Mike Holmgren’s watch. The club also had a string of five straight playoff appearances and four straight division titles until it ended last season.
Holmgren is enormously popular with Seattle’s fans, too, and why shouldn’t he be? He put their club on the map. So there could be a push for his return if the Seahawks stumble for a second straight season.
I’m not saying it happens; I’m just saying I wouldn’t rule it out. There are all sorts of rumors out there, and when I ran this one by a source close to Holmgren he simply replied, “No comment,” telling me all I needed to know by not responding.
In the end, though, San Francisco makes the most sense. It did when I first addressed the subject a year ago, and it still does today. The 49ers have been on a run of misfortune, failing to produce a winning season the past six years. When Holmgren was with the club, it not only routinely reached the playoffs, it won Super Bowls.
So that’s the first selling point. Then there are Holmgren’s ties to the community. He grew up in San Francisco and he worked as a high school teacher in the Bay Area. Now he’s building a home in Santa Cruz, about 60 miles down the coast. The point is: It’s home for him, as it is for former 49ers coach George Seifert, and we all know how strong attachments can be to where you grew up.
The 49ers already have a general manager in McCloughan, but he worked for Holmgren before; he could work for him again. In fact, I would think the two would be a perfect tandem. I suspect McCloughan wouldn’t be keen on surrendering some of his juice, but I also suspect that if there’s anyone for whom he would be willing, it would be Holmgren.
Lastly, there’s just a need for something — anything — big in San Francisco. The 49ers haven’t done much of anything the past five or six years except lose, and the organization would like to reclaim those glory years. That’s where Holmgren comes in. He took Green Bay to the Super Bowl. He took Seattle to the Super Bowl. Connect the dots.
OK, so he did it as a head coach, but Holmgren is ready for a new challenge. Acting as a GM and providing a team direction would do it. The guy is 61 and I just can’t see him trying to rebuild a club as a head coach a year from now. It happens, with Dick Vermeil the textbook example. But it’s hard.
Having Holmgren work as a GM makes more sense. And it makes sense in San Francisco or Seattle.