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Originally published Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Mike Holmgren taught Seahawks how to win

Holmgren has taught the Seahawks how to win. He has taught fans how to grow their expectations. He has taught the entire city what it's like to experience a consistent NFL contender. As Holmgren approaches the time to put down his oversized play card, perhaps the greatest compliment he can receive is that, in the minds of a vocal contingent, he still hasn't proven enough. He has led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl, made the playoffs in six of nine seasons, won four consecutive NFC West division titles, rescued this franchise from the NFL hinterlands — and if he doesn't win a championship this season, it was a nice yet unfulfilling run.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Mike Holmgren doesn't let a season pass without turning back into a high-school history teacher. Sometimes, he won't even let a week pass. He loves to set up jokes with old history-teacher tales, loves to include old teaching methods in coaching football. He has Hall of Fame credentials, but he will always be Mr. Holmgren.

And we all know how we treat teachers. After a while, we disregard them or feel like we've transcended them, even the good ones. It's kind of like an old quote from a man named Thomas Carruthers: "A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."

You teach. We learn. You fade away. And if we don't keep seeking fresh instruction, we'll eventually wallow in our own ignorance.

The moral is to respect such fleeting gifts for as long as you can. Which brings us to this football season.

Holmgren has taught the Seahawks how to win. He has taught fans how to grow their expectations. He has taught the entire city what it's like to experience a consistent NFL contender.

As Holmgren approaches the time to put down his oversized play card, perhaps the greatest compliment he can receive is that, in the minds of a vocal contingent, he still hasn't proven enough.

He has led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl, made the playoffs in six of nine seasons, won four consecutive NFC West division titles, rescued this franchise from the NFL hinterlands — and if he doesn't win a championship this season, it was a nice yet unfulfilling run.

It's amazing how quickly a standard can change. The Seahawks are now winners, and more than that, they are greedy winners. They can't get enough victories. If they finish 10-6 again this season, it will be a mild disappointment. If they lose in the second round again, we will consider them trapped in the land of mere goodness.

The players walk around repeating the quote "Good is the enemy of great" now. They want that greatness so badly. They want to be back where they were in 2005, and this time, they want to win the Super Bowl.

This team isn't thought to be that good. The Seahawks are regarded simply as contenders, NFC West champs again by virtue of poor competition. But in a league that systematically shrinks every team's ability to dominate, the title of "contender" puts you a handful of plays away from a championship.

It could happen. Holmgren's final season could be so grand. Still, even if they don't win it all, the thirst for more will linger long after the coach leaves.

I asked a simple question a few weeks ago to several Seahawks. Why do they win? It was left open-ended on purpose. For a player like Nate Burleson, ambitious to a fault at times, the answer could've darted anywhere. Instead, without hesitation, his mind ran straight toward the big fella with the bushy mustache.

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"To be honest, man, before even thinking about the athletes and the pieces of the puzzle, it starts at the top. It starts with Mike," he said. "It's kind of what he demands from us. The standard of excellence that we try to approach our practices with, the way we handle our business in the meetings, outside the meetings, on and off the practice field — I think it starts right there. It's an expectation level that we don't want to dip under."

Why do the Seahawks win? Because Holmgren is a winner. Because he's a respected leader who can comfort just as well as he growls. Because, even as time and copycats have turned his methods from innovative to ordinary, he's still a master strategist.

Everything else flows from what Holmgren has established. Obviously, it takes talent to win. It takes a competent front office and committed players. It takes the moxie to snatch away tight games in the fourth quarter. But this story always starts with the man whose ambition led him from a cushy Green Bay job to Seattle.

He inherited a team that required methodical reconstruction. He inherited a job that exposed his flaws. He inherited a challenge that humbled and then reinvigorated him.

Now he stands a few months away from his Seattle conclusion, ready to complete the wildest adventure of his career. If there's any suspense over how the Seahawks will fare, look at Holmgren's résumé. He will win. The only question is how much.

"We're getting there," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "We're so close to being a great team. We know it. Coach knows it. We have a chance to get it right. It's an exciting time for us."

The teacher is back at work. One more lesson plan to go. One more opportunity to chase a second championship.

Holmgren doesn't look to the end because he has too much left to achieve. It's OK to demand more out of this final season. Just remember it was Mr. Holmgren who taught you to dream so big.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For his Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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