Posted: Monday April 3, 2006 8:57AM; Updated: Tuesday April 4, 2006 1:47AM
Ten Things I Think I Think
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was irate after a few questionable calls in Super Bowl XL.
1. I think, as many of you remember, I was pretty adamant after the Super Bowl that Mike Holmgren should have been fined for his comments about Seattle knowing it was playing Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl but not knowing it was also playing the team in the striped shirts, too. Incendiary, particularly from such a league cornerstone as Holmgren. And compared with some of the other criticisms of officiating over the years, I thought this one was worse because of the stage.
But now I understand why Holmgren wasn't fined. I think there are two key reasons. The first is the unconscionably poor mechanics by head linesman Mark Hittner on the Ben Roethlisberger touchdown dive that no one can say for sure was a touchdown. Hittner came running in from the left side of the play, raised his right arm, then took three running steps and signaled touchdown. So at some point, seemingly, he changed his mind from Roethlisberger being down short of the goal line to the play being a touchdown.
Officials are taught, obviously, not to make a call until they're sure of what they see. For an official to screw up the mechanics of such a big call and, perhaps, change his mind a second and a half after making his original call is a pretty big error. The league knows this and I'm sure doesn't want the light shone on the call any further.
The second reason, and it's a major one, is the relationship between NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Holmgren. This isn't going to help guys like Mike Shanahan from doing a slow burn over the league's giving Holmgren a pass, but it is the truth. Tagliabue said as much at his closing press conference at the NFL meetings.
Tagliabue said he and Holmgren spoke in Orlando. "[Mike] said he just wanted to express strong appreciation for the relationship we've had and what he's learned from me,'' Tagliabue said. "I felt the same way. Mike ... was one of the first coaches, if not the first, to emphasize to me how important it was for me as the commissioner to make myself accessible to the assistant coaches, to the coordinators. We talked about a meeting we had in Green Bay, when he was the head coach, and I was visiting training camp and expected to spend some of my time with the players, or with the head coach, or with the Packers' executive committee.
"Mike urged me to have lunch with all the assistant coaches and the coordinators. Then [defensive coordinator] Fritz Shurmur wrote me a note saying he'd been in the league for 34 years and never had had a prior conversation with a commissioner, but it was one of the most important things that ever happened in Shurmur's life. From that point forward, whenever I went to training camps, I would meet with assistant coaches and coordinators whenever I could.
[Mike and I] talked about learning from each other and then he said he knows he popped off a little bit about the officiating after the Super Bowl. I told him I had a letter on my desk written by my staff to fine him, but that particular letter falls under the category of something I learned a long time ago -- the first draft of a letter is better put in the trash can than sent to the addressee, which means you should think twice before you start firing letters off. I think this issue is resolved.''
That's why I think Tagliabue is a good leader. He made a popular decision among his staff in not fining Holmgren, but he took all the heat himself by basically saying, "Don't blame my staff. They told me the right thing to do and I chose not to do it. So if you're going to shoot at anyone in this thing, the heat should be all on me.'' Tagliabue knows unpopular decisions are part of the job, and he has no problem making them.
2. I think the one thing Tagliabue will leave messy and undefined is the unprofessional way he has allowed coaches under contract to be dangled and traded for draft choices. How Herman Edwards engineered his profitable deal from the Jets to the Chiefs for a fourth-round draft choice -- absurdly low compensation for a coach who'd had three playoffs season in five years with New York -- has never been rationally explained by anyone associated with the league.
3. I think I don't often give free pub to Web sites, because that could last all day. But if you want to know anything factual about any player with a remote chance of being drafted, you should check out nfldraftscout.com. When you do, you might actually feel like an NFL draft scout. You know how the NFL Scouting Combine results are supposed to be confidential? Not on that site. You'll find them there.