News arrives that the Cleveland Browns are interested in hiring Mike Holmgren to run their franchise.
Holmgren’s most recent team, the Seattle Seahawks, are 3-5 and apparently going nowhere under a general manager in the final year of a five-year deal.
An obvious topic seems to have ripened. Let’s lay some preliminary groundwork on the debate: Should the Seahawks make moves to lock up Holmgren to replace Tim Ruskell before other teams can land him?
Some background. Ruskell helped the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl in his first season, but the team has won just seven games in its past 24. Many factors are involved, but he’s paid to captain the ship. And it’s foundering.
Holmgren committed to taking this year away from football. After coaching the 4-12 Seahawks in 2008, his 23rd straight season in the NFL, he needed a break.
On his way out, he said a number of times that the idea of running a franchise had been something he’d like to try again after having been stripped of the GM title in Seattle following the 2002 season.
Unless somebody else hires him first, Holmgren should be recognized as the top candidate if ownership decides it’s seen enough of Ruskell. Holmgren still lives here, claims to consider Seattle his home, and would be open to such a position.
Things to consider:
• How has Ruskell performed? Hits and misses, like many GMs. Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, Brandon Mebane, John Carlson were big hits after the first round, but the moderate production of first-rounders Chris Spencer, Kelly Jennings and Deion Branch (first-round pick given up in trade in ’07) drops his overall score. And there’s an obvious downward trend.
In fairness, GMs don’t operate in a vacuum. Just as we couldn’t know how much a Bob Whitsitt might have hampered Holmgren’s performance in his years as GM, we can’t be sure how much Holmgren and his staff may have pushed Ruskell to get some of the players that didn’t pan out. And injuries have been an inordinate drain.
But Ruskell’s overriding unpardonable sin in the eyes of many fans was the botched handling of gifted guard Steve Hutchinson, who was not locked up and ended up signing with Minnesota.
• Did Holmgren show enough in his stint as GM to lead ownership to believe he could succeed in that role?
Lamar King, Anton Palepoi, Jerramy Stevens and a few others showed sketchy judgment in draft picks. But Shaun Alexander, Hutchinson and others compensated. Of course, as a GM, he benefited from having Mike Holmgren as his coach.
Last winter, Holmgren talked about how much he learned about the management process, suggesting that he would be a wiser handler of personnel the next time around.
And if there was one marquee moment of insight that he displayed, it was seeing in Matt Hasselbeck the makings of a potential Pro Bowl quarterback.
Hasselbeck had completed 13 passes as a backup to Brett Favre in Green Bay. He was sixth-round draft pick who turned into a three-time Pro Bowl selection. Holmgren put the team on his shoulders and it paid off.
• Would Holmgren want the job? Sure. Probably more than anything else out there. There will be other suitors – Cleveland is proving that. But if he wants to be both coach and GM, it wouldn’t seem fair to usher Jim Mora out after just one season to make way for him. If he still wants to coach, the timing isn’t right here.
• Would he be good at it? How many people could you find who know the game better? He’s got strong administrative and interpersonal skills. He would have to be more than a figurehead, though. And he would need a strong personnel department manned by people who were trustworthy and talented.
• How would Holmgren fit with Mora? The two reportedly have a good relationship. Mora was his assistant head coach for two seasons. They share the same agent.
The two have different approaches to schemes, however. Could they mesh Holmgren’s view of talent with Mora’s on-field needs? A more important dynamic would be whether Holmgren could convince Mora that he wasn’t going to jump in and take over his job if things got shaky, and if Mora could concentrate on the field without having to keep glancing over his shoulder.
• How would such a move be greeted by a currently frustrated Seahawks fan base?
Despite the Super Bowl run and some early success, Ruskell doesn’t seem to have made a strong connection with the fans (see: Hutchinson, above). I don’t sense a swell of support, although that shouldn’t be a major factor ownership weighs.
Shortly before Holmgren finished up last season, I asked him what he was most proud of from his time with the Seahawks.
“There’s a couple things I feel good about,” he said. “One is how people view the Seahawks now.”
Yes, the Seahawks hadn’t been to the playoffs in 12 seasons when he got here. He coached them to a Super Bowl and four division titles. He helped fill Qwest Field. So the name Holmgren still sounds pretty good to most fans.
Maybe it’s too early. Maybe there’s still more evidence to be found to support Ruskell’s extension.
But if other teams are sniffing and putting together packages to lure him, the Seahawks honchos might need to start examining how they feel about inviting Mike Holmgren back to into the fold.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440