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Holmgren (1 Viewer)


Holmgren at a Career Crossroads

Fresh Off Super Bowl Loss, Coach Mulls Quitting


Sports Commentary

Mike Holmgren has arrived at a career crossroads.

When Holmgren left Green Bay after eight seasons as the Packers' coach, there was a clear path. He knew he wanted to run a team as coach and general manager, and Seattle was giving him that opportunity.

But eight seasons later, heading into the final year of his contract in Seattle - and long ago stripped of his GM role - Holmgren is facing another decision.

This one isn't about taking another front office job, although it's something Holmgren still talks wistfully about. No, this decision is much more basic: Holmgren doesn't know whether he wants to continue coaching beyond 2006.

There's an old saying that goes something like this: When you start thinking about retirement, you are, in a sense, already retired. Holmgren is thinking about it. Whether he'll be able to avoid the second half of that sentence is probably a 50-50 proposition right now.

He certainly has plenty of reason to step aside, if that is the eventual decision. This will be his 16th year as an NFL head coach. He already has coached longer than he expected. He is fabulously wealthy and successful. He has nothing left to prove. One of Holmgren's former players, Steve Young, used to say he expected Holmgren to retire young because of his family history. Holmgren's father suffered a major heart attack at 41 and a fatal one at 48.

Holmgren's health, approaching his 58th birthday in June, is good however.

So he also has plenty of reason to keep going. His Seahawks are a good, young team. He still enjoys his work, far more than he did just a couple of years ago when he lost his general manager's power and was on the verge of walking away because of his poor relationship with Bob Whitsitt, the dysfunctional former president of the Seahawks.

By all accounts, Holmgren gets along fabulously with Tim Ruskell, who replaced Whitsitt a year ago. Paul Allen, the team's owner, adores Holmgren. No coach has ultimate job security, but Holmgren is pretty close. And people around him said he seemed to be more relaxed and enjoying his job as much as ever during the last year.

Nonetheless, indecision remains, and for the NFL, Holmgren's situation is simply part of what could be a significant transition among coaches. **** Vermeil retired after the last season. Bill Parcells is widely expected to step out, once more, after the 2006 season, and that almost surely will be his final job. Joe Gibbs won't go much longer. And Holmgren.

In that group are three of the four men who have taken more than one franchise to a Super Bowl. Among them, the four have coached in 11 Super Bowls and won seven.

In their place comes the parade of new and relatively new young head coaches: Jon Gruden is almost an elder statesman now, with such babes as Sean Payton, Eric Mangini, Gary Kubiak, Mike McCarthy, Brad Childress and Scott Linehan getting their first head-coaching jobs this year.

Nonetheless, a contract extension is there, if Holmgren wants it. He is not likely to sign it, however, until he is committed in his mind to coaching for several more years, not just one. "Whenever I've committed to something, I've tried to stick it out, so I want to make sure I'm really right about it," he said.

Holmgren asked Ruskell and Allen "to give me a little bit more time to think through some stuff." He said he wouldn't "leave them hanging," and that his indecision was not an attempt to be "cute" or trying to leverage the team. Going into the final season of an eight-year, $32 million contract that was unprecedented at the time he signed it, he acknowledges he really doesn't need the money.

"I would hope to come up with some sort of a decent answer in a couple or three weeks," Holmgren said. "They were good about that. I'm just not sure. I've got to think some more about this because, for me and my family, it's a big deal."


"I won't do anything to jeopardize my family," Holmgren said. "Kathy (his wife, who is a nurse) does worry about my health, but I'm feeling good, my health is good. The main thing is if it weren't ever as much fun or I wasn't as looking forward to every season as I've been, (I) should just go. And if I ever should start feeling poorly, then I shouldn't do it."

Seattle had played in one championship game in its history until last season, and had gone more than two decades without winning a playoff game, when Holmgren led the Seahawks to the NFC title and into the Super Bowl for the first time. Then, however, the team failed. The Seahawks played poorly and also felt they were done in by some questionable officiating calls as they lost to Pittsburgh.

The controversy over the zebras has not abated. Holmgren fanned the flames at a welcome home pep rally when he told fans it was tough to play against both the Steelers and the officials. Although the NFL did not fine him, the residue lasted through the league's annual meeting in Orlando where officiating got a lot of attention and Holmgren was asked repeatedly about the topic.

Nonetheless, he said he has been able to get past this Super Bowl loss faster than the last time, when he coached at Green Bay. The Packers, the defending champions, were beaten by Denver in the Super Bowl following the 1997 season, a game in which Holmgren lost count of the downs at a critical moment near the end and ordered his defense to allow the winning touchdown on purpose as a way to get the ball back to try to force overtime.

After that one, Holmgren said he went into the tank. He was in a funk around the office and at home. "I was really kind of 'goofed up'," he said. He resisted looking at the game films until the following summer. After this latest Super Bowl loss, Holmgren spoke with Kathy, who was on a nursing assignment to Africa, and she essentially ordered him to look at the tapes and get over it before she got home.

"I don't want you to get the feeling I'm hen-pecked," Holmgren said, but he did follow her orders.

He said he was drained after losing to the Steelers, "but I was not as bad as I was after we lost to Denver" eight years earlier.

"I'm older now, and hopefully a little more mature," he said. "It's very hard, though ... I don't think you ever get over it. I think you think about it for years. I look at it a little bit more pragmatically now than I used to. It's probably the thing that eventually makes you think about going to something else."

We soon should learn if he's actually going to do that.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football league for three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is the national columnist for The Sports Xchange and his blog can be viewed at www.mysportspage.com.

03/29/06 23:23PM EDT


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