The new radio commentator in town may bring an old-school perspective to his job, but none will question his credentials, and it’s guaranteed he won’t be found boring.
Although Mike Holmgren has been sought out for jobs as an executive for an NFL franchise and as a high-profile television analyst, he’s come back to Seattle and is scheduled to make five sports-talk radio appearances a week on KJR 950-AM.
The 65-year old Holmgren returned to the Seattle area “because this is our home.” And he’s committing to the radio gig because it will allow him continue working with his charitable causes in the region, and “I get to be around the stuff I love — football — and because I didn’t want to sit around watering the flowers.”
Holmgren stepped down as president of the Cleveland Browns last season when the franchise changed ownership.
Now, he’ll be found on the air talking about the Seahawks, a team he coached for 10 seasons, and analyzing daily developments in a season that carries the highest expectations since he took them to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season.
“I think this is an exciting time to be a Seahawks fan,” Holmgren said. “I think this team is poised and primed to do some really great things. They’re a young, exciting team that plays hard and plays fast; they’re very physical and have a great running game.”
As he heads into this season as a member of the media, he said he’ll be happy to talk strategies and details of schemes if the listeners demand. But he knows his strength is the insider’s perspective he gained through more than three decades in the NFL.
“He brings two things immediately to our show and our station,” said morning-show host Mitch Levy, with whom Holmgren will appear in-studio on Mondays at 9 p.m. “The first is credibility. I mean, who else in this town can speak about the National Football League and the Seahawks, and grab people’s attention with just the mention of his name?”
Having taken the Seahawks to their highest success, and being such a recognizable figure, Holmgren remains iconic in the region. While Holmgren chatted for this story on the patio of an Eastside coffee shop, for instance, a fan politely approached just to thank him for all he had done for the Seahawks franchise as well as for the community itself.
“The second thing about him, and it’s not as obvious as first, is that he may be the best storyteller I’ve ever been around,” Levy said.
Seattle media could see this coming, having viewed Holmgren as the master of the press conference soliloquy, sometimes lapsing into Garrison Keillor mode to weave entertaining stories that might have very little to do with the question that was asked.
Often, he would pass along some bit of critical commentary from his youngest daughter Gretchen, who served as his comical conscience, and suddenly he seemed like a genial uncle or friendly neighbor, and the media members tended to forget that they had been ready to criticize him for calling that draw play on third-and-long again.
His appearance on the air waves couldn’t come at a better time, as Holmgren agrees that Seahawks mania may now be at levels even higher than when he led them to four straight division titles and a Super Bowl XL appearance.
“I think one of the things is, when we got good, it was more of a gradual thing,” Holmgren said. “This has been a pretty big flip, and the way they won some of those games pumps it up, too.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in the fervor, Holmgren said, is “the quarterback.” That’s Russell Wilson, who had the best passer rating in franchise history last season as a rookie.
“You can not overstate the value of that kid,” Holmgren said. Holmgren relayed a story about his morning workout with wife Kathy. He was on a stationary bike (a hip surgery is on the docket for late October), when an insurance commercial came on featuring an endorsement by Wilson. “I’m watching this kid, and I said to Kathy, ‘That’s exactly who he is — classy, intelligent, calm, capable. This kid is a superstar, and not just on the football field, but in life’.”
Part of the fan appeal of the free-wheeling contemporary Seahawks would have driven Holmgren to insomnia as a coach.
“As much as it bugs me, I think fans like seeing the flash, the chippiness, and being in somebody’s face,” he said. “I just worry so much about penalties from all the talking and dead-ball things. I fear that will come back and bite you. But I’m sure I’ll worry about penalties on my death bed.”
The team’s success, Holmgren senses, is rooted in the strong and genial relationship at the top of the franchise organizational chart — specifically GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.
“I’ve always said that you’d really have something going if you could get an organization where everybody is together, from the owner on down,” he said. “You’d be hard pressed to find an organization in the league where the head coach and the GM or top personnel guy don’t really care who gets the credit.”
Schneider and Carroll, though, “get along famously,” he said, reminding him of his successful stretch in Green Bay working with Ron Wolf.
But how will his stories play on the radio?
“It’s really early, but he definitely has created a buzz and is having a positive impact,” said Rich Moore KJR-AM program director. “It’s got a lot to do with his character and personality. He’s a commanding presence; people are staying tuned to him for long periods of time.”
Holmgren’s approach to the media job may surprise some listeners, Levy said. “First of all, people might not guess … he’s got a lot of humility. He is so confident and secure with himself that he can say, ‘Hey, teach me; what did I do right, what did I do wrong? Coach me on this’.”
Levy provided an example: At 7:30 p.m. every Sunday night, Holmgren calls Levy to hear the game plan for the next morning’s show, so he can research and arrange his thoughts. “He is truly committed to this,” Levy said.
Before arriving at the deal, Levy asked Holmgren if, given his history with the team and this town, he would be able to offer critical commentary.
“If I’m going to be critical, I’ll have thought that through; I’m not going to wing that,” Holmgren said. “If there’s a real bad decision in my opinion, I’ve got to be honest. I believe I can be critical if necessary, but I’m not going to go out of my way.”
Having backed away from a couple job offers in the league, Holmgren squints when asked if he’d ever coach again. “It would have to be something extraordinary,” he said. “So, really, yeah, I think I’m done with that.”
Holmgren recently took his whole brood, grandkids included, on a cruise to Alaska, citing it as the kind of thing that a coach just can’t do.
More importantly, he and his wife have more time for their charitable causes, including a mission trip to Guatemala next month to help put in stoves in village huts where infant mortality rates soar because of respiratory illnesses.
“We’ve been very fortunate and it’s an opportunity to help people who sometimes can’t help themselves,” he said. “It keeps things in perspective. But, remember, I’m just the sherpa, Kathy’s the superstar.”
Moore said that a large part of Holmgren’s payment package is earmarked to one of his favorite charities, Medical Teams International (www.medicalteams.org), in the form of donations, an awareness campaign, local fundraisers, etc.
“There’s a freedom to do things now, and to make other choices that I didn’t have the time or freedom to do 10 years back,” Holmgren said. “We do stuff with the kids, we go to church together, we have lunch together on Sundays … it’s really good.”
The question had to be asked: How does daughter Gretchen critique your radio presentation?
"She loves it, all the girls do,” he said. “But sometimes she’ll text me, saying ‘Good show, but you should have …”