PHOENIX – At some point this afternoon, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren will stroll off the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium and into the unfamiliar role of a normal citizen.
He no longer will be making history and will instead be a part of history. His 10 years in Seattle and his seven years in Green Bay can be relayed as NFL lore. His time in San Francisco a footnote to the massive success of offensive innovator Bill Walsh.
Holmgren spoke about it wistfully in recent weeks, saying, as many in his position often conclude, the time has come and gone quickly, a lifetime of achievement slipping by in a wink.
It was only yesterday he was lying to high school players about opponents, calling them creampuffs as a motivational tactic; today he is imparting life’s lessons.
It is difficult to say whether Holmgren is sad, scared or excited about this next phase of his life. Probably a combination of all three, though perhaps not in equal percentages.
As he said recently, he has lived by the alarm clock for the past 45 years. Getting to sleep in can be both intriguing and daunting.
In a sense, he has, at age 60, been forced into this next stage:
• By his wife, Kathy, who wants to see more of a husband who has spent far too many hours in front of a television screen critiquing players and formulating game plans.
• By the Seahawks organization, which promptly jumped at the chance to hire Jim Mora when Holmgren said he was considering retirement, thus rendering the desire to change his mind irrelevant.
• And by himself, who decided that a voyage of self-discovery was a valuable endeavor at this juncture.
That, of course, was a decision made 11 months ago. Now that his Seattle finale is here, tangible and real, self-doubt is a natural co-pilot on the sojourn.
It may be for that reason that he is leaving himself an out, which is the possibility of coming back in. An escape clause, of sorts, just in case riding his Harley to the horizon across the Arizona desert or through the pines and Eucalyptus of California doesn’t prove to be quite as transformational in reality as it may seem in theory.
After all, it’s difficult to replicate the thrill of competition, particularly at the highest level of sport, where inflated salaries, adoring fans and unusual power are regular accoutrements of the job.
Sitting on the front porch bouncing the grandbaby on the knee may sound appealing in the midst of a 4-11 season, but it is no match for those trappings, no matter what unforeseen struggles a team endures.
There are those who think that Holmgren has been lying to himself and/or misleading the public for months; that he plans on taking up residence in some other team’s managerial penthouse in 2009 but has had either the good grace or the good sense to leave the questions and accompanying speculation on the side.
Not that is has stopped that inferno from blazing. Multiple reports have him linked to jobs in Washington, Dallas and San Francisco, and some think Oakland is a destination once Al Davis realizes the folly of his ways or his health becomes an untenable distraction.
All make sense. Washington owner Daniel Snyder is extremely fond of Holmgren and called him during Holmgren’s vacation in Hawaii last year to quiz him about Jim Zorn. It would not be unthinkable for Snyder to enlist Holmgren to either mentor Zorn through his head coaching infancy or possibly take over from him altogether.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones and Holmgren served on the league’s competition committee together and formed a bond. When Seahawks offensive coordinator Gil Haskell had to go to the hospital after hitting his head on the sideline at Texas Stadium and nearly died, Jones allowed Holmgren to use his private plane to stay at the hospital with Haskell and shuttle back to Green Bay.
Though Holmgren has as times waffled this season on whether he was actually going to take what he is calling his “sabbatical” – he has qualified many statements with “right now,” as if he could change his mind at any moment, and has spoken of scratching a persistent “itch” regarding his desire to make autonomous player personnel decisions again – he affirmed this week that he is indeed going to take at least a year off.
Maybe it is only coincidence, but Washington vice president Vinny Cerrato and Dallas’ Jones both announced this week that their respective coaches are returning, dousing persistent conjecture.
Could it be that both organizations are willing to wait for Holmgren to complete his soul-searching, at which point a bidding war for his services could begin?
Bill Parcells certainly didn’t hurt Holmgren’s chances, instilling a culture in Miami that took the Dolphins from a 1-15 debacle in 2007 to a playoff berth this year. There are those who think that Holmgren carries the same mystique of success as Parcells.
Holmgren has called returning to San Francisco his dream job, if only because he grew up in the Bay Area and first worked in the NFL under Walsh with the 49ers.
It is a different organization, to be sure, but Holmgren has a relationship with Niners general manager Scot McLoughan, who was part of Seattle’s scouting department before it was reorganized by Tim Ruskell.
That move is made more difficult by the recent success of Mike Singletary, who reportedly will sign a new contract after the Niners conclude their season. But any regression under Singletary next season could be reason enough to pursue Holmgren.
Oakland’s Davis is notorious for his meddling ways, a reason he goes through coaches as quickly as he does one-piece jump suits. But he is desperate to win again and he certainly is no longer young. That combination may be enough to convince him to give total control to Holmgren, who probably would not go there any other way.
Holmgren said this week that he certainly keeps track of situations across the league that could impact his future; he is human, after all.
But he also said he will not forgo this opportunity for self-indulgence and family time for fear that he may miss out on an immediate opportunity.
He said he already has determined that there are some jobs in particular areas of the country he won’t take. He would not elaborate, but most of his family remains in Seattle.
Those conversations, however, won’t be broached for at least a year, Holmgren says.
Though pragmatically he could leave the stadium today and take a cab to his home in the area, which is adjacent to the Biltmore hotel, he will fly home with the team and spend about 10 days cleaning up his affairs with the Seahawks.
Then he will return to Phoenix with his wife, his golf clubs and a blank pad with which to sketch his future. In the summer, he will live in his, ahem, “little cabin” in the hills above Santa Cruz, after which he will return to Seattle and watch an NFL season unfold without him for the first time since 1985.
“The beauty of the whole thing is, I don’t know,” Holmgren said. “I can wake up and say, ‘Let’s go here or let’s go there.’
“If ever I get a chance to make another decision, at least I will have given it a suitable time of rest and clearing my mind so you can attempt to make a decent decision, you know? And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hawks’ Holmgren highlights
AFC West Division title (1999)
NFC wild card berth (2003)
consecutive NFC West Division titles (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007)
NFC championship (2005)
trip to the Super Bowl (2006)
SEATTLE (4-11) VS. ARIZONA (8-7)
Kickoff: 1:15 p.m., University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Television: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: The Cardinals lead the series, 10-9, and have won three of the past four, including a 26-20 decision on Nov. 16, when Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception on the Seahawks’ final possession.
What to watch: This is Mike Holmgren’s final game as the Seahawks’ coach. The team has the chance to end his career and its season on a three-game win streak, while at the same time having the Cardinals end their season by losing five of six games after starting the season 7-3. Even if Seattle wins, it will be the Seahawks’ worst finish since 1992. Arizona will win its division for the first time since 1975, calling into question just how hard the Cardinals will be playing today. They would like to avoid injury as they head into a home playoff game. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, second in the NFC in receptions (89), is banged up and may skip the game. Seahawks quarterback Seneca Wallace has not thrown an interception in 183 pass attempts, a franchise record.
TNT pick: Seahawks, 23-21.
13 Kurt Warner (QB), 6-2, 218, 11th SEASON
Has thrown seven TDs and seven INTs over the last six games.
11 Larry Fitzgerald (WR), 6-3, 220, Fifth
Leads the NFC in receptions with 91. Has 10 touchdowns.
29 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB), 6-2, 185, Rookie
One of his team-leading three INTs is of Matt Hasselbeck.
24 Adrian Wilson (SS), 6-3, 230, Eighth
Last game, sacked QB Matt Hasselbeck, who thought it was dirty.
15 Seneca Wallace (QB), 5-11, 205, Sixth
Has not thrown an INT in last 183 attempts.
89 John Carlson (TE), 6-5, 251, Rookie
Leads the team with 53 receptions, a franchise record for TEs.
26 Josh Wilson (CB), 5-9, 192, Second
Earned defensive player of the week award for two INTs.
84 Bobby Engram (WR), 5-10, 192, 13th
Could be playing his final season in a Seahawks uniform.
Frank Hughes, The News Tribune