Frankly Football: Holmgren puts Seahawks in unique predicament
Last Sunday, Mike Holmgren quietly celebrated his 60th birthday. The Seahawks head coach can expect a little more attention for his next big day, when he coaches his final game in Seattle and, likely, his final game ever.
When Holmgren announced in January that the 2008 season would be his last with the Seahawks, it put him in a rarely seen position in the NFL -- coaching his final year with everyone knowing it. Many coaches work year-to-year, but rarely do the players, front office and fans know when the end will occur. This situation can work several ways for Holmgren:
The Very Good
The fact Holmgren is not coming back will allow him to throw conventional wisdom and play calling to the wind, which should give him a distinct advantage over opposing defenses. Every third down call in Seattle will now be made with the understanding that going for it on fourth down is a distinct possibility.
I once said to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan regarding a risky call he made: "It took a lot of guts to call the option backed up near the goal line." He replied, "The benefit of being in the league awhile is you don't worry about your job status with each and every call." Every call Holmgren will make this year will not be made with his job status in mind.
Most of Seattle's playoff team from 2007 is returning and they'll want to send their coach out on a high note. Moreover, the Seahawks released former MVP star running back Shaun Alexander and replaced him with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Alexander never looked determined in his running style last year and could not gain the critical yards on third and short that all great teams must convert. In fact, last year Seattle ranked 31st in conversion of third and short. Having a big short yardage back like Duckett and two slashing runners like Maurice Morris and Jones will help their run game.
Holmgren's successor, Jim Mora, who is currently the assistant head coach, knows where he'll be in 2009. The same cannot be said for the rest of Seattle's coaching staff. Assistant coaches who worry about their job status could possibly let those worries affect their daily preparation. There is also potential for a divide among the staff, one side being all Holmgren coaches and the other side being Mora's guys. Division in either the locker room or coaching staff is never good.
The Very Bad
Lame duck status is never good, whether you're a politician or an NFL coach. Players have to know the coach is in full control of their future employment. Once the locker room senses the coach is on his way out, then the important details in game preparation may not be handled. And football today is a game of details. So who will the players work and try to please during the season? Will they work for Tim Ruskill, the president and GM; Mora, the assistant and soon-to-be head coach; or John Marhsall, the current defensive coordinator? When the chain of command isn't clear, players don't always respond well.
Knowing Holmgren for over 20 years, it's my belief he will go out the same way he came into the NFL -- as a winner. His strong personality, along with his relationship with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, will prevail above and beyond any other obstacles this unique year will present. And having the NFL head coaching experience to handle the tough decisions will make this somewhat awkward situation smooth and easy to navigate.
The situation with Chris Baker and the Jet front office is going from bad to worse very quickly. From the Newark Star Ledger: "During minicamp, Baker, who wants a new contract, angered the organization by parking his red Bentley in the "Team President" parking spot and refused to move it. Baker was fined $3,000 for missing a treatment session on his back. He tweaked his back while warming up for his second practice and spent the remainder of camp on the exercise bike." The Jets cannot let this situation linger much further, and until there is a resolution, this problem will affect the team like the Pete Kendall situation did in 2007.