Mike Holmgren entering the great unknown
It has been a long, bittersweet goodbye for Mike Holmgren. From the week leading up to his last home game, a win against Brett Favre and the Jets, to last week's last practices, to Sunday's final game on the Seahawks' sideline.
Seattle Times staff columnist
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the last locker room he would share with these players, after the last snap in his final game as coach of the Seahawks, Mike Holmgren tried to do what he has done after every game for the last decade in Seattle.
He tried to address his players. He tried, and then he stopped.
The words weren't coming. The lump in his throat that has risen and fallen so many times in these last few weeks trapped the words deep in his diaphragm. And Holmgren realized this wasn't the time or the place to say goodbye to these guys whom he has loved like sons.
"I'll visit with you tomorrow," he finally told the team. "If I tried to do it now, it would be ridiculous."
It has been a long, bittersweet goodbye for Holmgren. From the week leading up to his last home game, a win against Brett Favre and the Jets, to last week's last practices, to Sunday's final game on the Seahawks' sideline.
"I've been in the league for 26 years now and I've never seen a head coach have his ending like this. This long and this emotional," offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. "Most times guys have great careers and all of a sudden they're out and the only time you think of them is on Christmas Day."
This battered and beaten facsimile of the Seahawks lost Holmgren's finale Sunday 34-21. In the final 15 minutes, their offensive line, put together with bubble gum and paste, committed too many holding penalties and couldn't protect quarterback Seneca Wallace from the Arizona Cardinals' onslaught.
"We're playing with some guys today who probably shouldn't be playing and we're winning. We're in it," Haskell said. "That's a great coach working there. We hung in that game."
Holmgren honestly doesn't know what he'll be doing in the new year. Doesn't know if he'll be in the league. Doesn't know if he'll be on the sideline. Doesn't know if he'll be in the country.
He joked that when he returned home Sunday night, his wife, Kathy, would remind him of all the broken promises and good intentions from past postseasons.
"There will be a giant list there," Holmgren said. "You know, 'You promised me this in 2003. And you promised me this in ... But she's my partner and she knows I'm probably going to want to work again.
"But I'll say what I've always said, and I mean, I'm going to be open to how I feel and what's there. If there's nothing there, I think I can really enjoy riding my motorcycle and doing all those fun things and taking it easy a little bit."
Holmgren has been a head coach in the NFL every year since 1992. He has known where he'll be in mid-July when another training camp opens. He has known how he'll feel and what needs to be done.
Welcome to Holmgren's great unknown. The new part of his life over which he doesn't have absolute control.
"I'm working on that," he said. "As an example, my daughters and Kathy and I went to the Seahawks' kids' Christmas party over at the Hyatt Hotel. I'm driving in there, and they didn't have enough valets.
"So right away I say, 'They need two more guys there and another guy here.' And they go, 'See? You see now why you have to back away? It [controlling his environment] is kind of in me. But I'm going to try to back away a little bit."
In these first moments of his post-Seahawks life, Holmgren, 60, admitted he wasn't sure how he would react next July if he's not working in the league.
"My feeling is I'll probably get a little squirrelly," he said. "Now, she [Kathy] may have mentioned the fact that we probably should be out of the country when that time comes, so I can't do anything about it.
"But I've been doing this a long time, and everyone that I know who kind of stopped doing what they've been doing for a long time has gone through a little bit of a period of wishing this and wishing that. I don't think that I'm going to be any different, but who knows?
The Seahawks finished the season 4-12. It was hardly the exit Holmgren planned. Hardly the season anyone expected. The best laid plans were stopped cold by injuries before the season's first snap.
Still, there were reasons for an old coach to feel proud. There were unsung players he watched every day fight through injuries and disappointments. Players like tackle Ray Willis, center Steve Vallos, Wallace and cornerback/kick returner Josh Wilson, who got better in this bad year.
"I'll look back on this team and remember a lot of these kids that probably shouldn't have been out there, but were out there and played a lot," Holmgren said. "It reminds me of my first year of coaching in high school, where you're dealing with guys and you're lucky if they know how to put the pads in their pants."
Somewhere, some time, I believe he'll be back in the NFL. The league needs him. It needs his brain, his heart, his communication skills. He is an ambassador for the league. A future Hall of Fame coach who gets it.
"I've been with him 15 years and we've never had an argument, ever," Haskell said. "We've discussed many, many things, and I have nothing but admiration and great respect for him. And this franchise has been very lucky to have had Mike."
This franchise should feel very sad that he is leaving.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
UPDATE - 9:02 PM
Steve Kelley: What happened to the once-scary Huskies?
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.