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Originally published Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 10:01 PM

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Steve Kelley

Holmgren is ready to return to the NFL

Former Seahawks coach doesn't know if he wants to return as a coach or in the front office, but either way, the desire to return is there.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Mike Holmgren misses the game. Misses the Sunday rush. Misses those circles on the calendar that tell him where he should be and what he should be doing.

At certain points in this sabbatical season, the loss of the game has been especially profound, like that day last spring when he went into the Seahawks' headquarters in Renton to pick up some mail.

Since his departure after being the Seahawks' coach since 1999, Holmgren periodically came to the Virginia Mason Athletic Complex for some final housekeeping chores.

He tried timing his visits for what he called "the dead time," when most of the players and coaches and front office people were gone.

But this one day, he walked into the teeth of a mini-camp practice. The players were on the field and Holmgren went to the window in an upstairs office, scanned the field, watched the drills and, briefly felt the pain that told him exactly what he was missing.

"I walked in to a full-blown deal," Holmgren said. "When I walked to the window, I thought, 'Man this is hard,' and I backed away and thought 'I can't do this. I can't watch this.' "

An hour before Saturday's Apple Cup, Holmgren sat in a conference room inside the University of Washington athletic offices, a short walk from Husky Stadium and talked about his season away from the game and his future in the game.

He said there have been "three or four times" when the sense of loss was the most profound.

Last April's draft was especially hard for him. Holmgren said he found himself yelling at the television set. His wife Kathy said to him, "Listen to yourself. What are you doing?" Finally, Holmgren had to turn off the TV.

A coach's biological clock reminds him what time of the year it is. The alarm goes off on draft day, on the first day of training camp and on the opening day of a new season.

"I was so dialed in to those times of the year," he said. "There was always that time in the summer when we would have to leave our cabin in Santa Cruz to start training camp. The same thing, every year, but not this year."

Now Holmgren, 61, is ready to return to the National Football League.

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In addition to his 10 seasons as Seahawks' coach, Holmgren was the team's general manager from 1999-2002. He said he isn't sure if he wants to come back to the league as a coach or a general manager, but he will have options to do either.

"That (whether he wants to be a GM or a coach) is still to be determined," Holmgren said. "I don't know yet. But we're getting near the end of the season, so I probably should come to some conclusion. I know I would like to work again, so I'm trying to stay open to the opportunities that will present themselves.

"It depends on who is trying to hire you. They have an idea of what they need. So I don't want to lock myself in, necessarily, and say, 'This is what I want.' That's how I'm looking at it."

The miserable Cleveland Browns want him, but closer to home, the team that needs him is Seattle. General manager Tim Ruskell's contract is expiring and, arguably, the quality of the Hawks' player personnel has diminished every year after 2005, Ruskell's first season in Seattle.

Holmgren wouldn't discuss his level of interest in succeeding Ruskell, but Holmgren still lives here. His children live here. His return would be greeted with generous cheers from the majority of Seahawks' fans.

I believe hiring him is a no-brainer. The Hawks don't need to turn the search for Ruskell's replacement into some national American Idol-type audition. They should cut to the chase and give it to a future Hall of Famer, who knows the game like a geologist knows rocks.

"When I left the building after last season was over, I wasn't sure at all whether I wanted to come back," Holmgren said. "We had a poor (4-12) season. I was tired, just like I always am after each season. You kind of go, 'Gee whiz, I don't know. Let me catch my breath. Maybe I don't want to do this anymore.' "

Holmgren said he had an "epiphany" about three months after he left the Seahawks. Kathy and he were sitting in their backyard in Arizona, drinking coffee and enjoying the sun. There was nowhere he had to be. There was nothing he had to do.

"I just had this feeling, you know, that I just don't think I'm quite ready to do this all the time," he said. "I think I want to work again and I told that to Kathy. I was feeling kind of squirrelly. I had this itch I couldn't scratch."

This season away has given Holmgren the clarity he was hoping to find. It has reawakened his excitement for the game.

"I realize I miss it. I miss the players, the coaches, the people," he said. "Miss the chess game on Sunday. Miss the excitement of it."

Holmgren gets too much of the blame for his bad draft picks in the years he was general manager, like defensive end Lamar King and tight end Jerramy Stevens, but not enough credit for building the Seahawks into a championship contender.

Every general manager makes mistakes and Holmgren's successes far outweigh his failures. He rebuilt the Hawks into a playoff team. And he could do it again.

"There's no question I goofed up early on," he said. "One of the reasons is just setting it up. You come into a new place and, our first draft, I tried to merge what they had been doing with how I wanted to do it.

"Our first draft, well, we were better after that, let me just say that. Once Ted Thompson came on board (in 2000) and we settled down a little bit, we started making good decisions."

Holmgren is available and the Seahawks would be foolish to over-think the process of replacing Ruskell. Holmgren is here. He is ready. He is rested. And he is tested.

But in the meantime, Holmgren isn't going to hang around the house, waiting for the phone to ring.

Later this week, he and Kathy are leaving for Oaxaca, part of a group from Medical Teams International that will build concrete floors for dirt-floored houses that will improve the health of families in this startlingly poor part of Mexico. They will spend a week there.

Kathy Holmgren has gone on many of these humanitarian trips, including a trip to the Congo, during the Seahawks' Super Bowl appearance in 2006.

"In the past, I've been able to help out financially, but the beauty of this trip for me is that I can help physically," Mike Holmgren said. "I don't have the same calling Kathy has, that way. She has a heart for people who are really in trouble, whether it's internationally, or at the Pike Street Clinic. It's awe-inspiring to me."

Oh yeah, keeping Kathy Holmgren in the community, just another reason to bring back Mike.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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