Seattle's Best: Holmgren will have Seahawks back in the postseason
Quick Pre-MMQB This-Is-What-the-Olympics-Mean-To-NFL-Players Interlude:
On the night Michael Phelps was swimming in a relay for his record eighth gold medal, the New York Giants were spending their final night at training camp at the University at Albany. Thirteen offensive linemen gathered around a big-screen plasma TV in a dorm room. Phelps dove in and lengthened the U.S. lead. "U-S-A! U-S-A!'' the linemen chanted. And when the race was won, one of the linemen -- no one's sure who -- started to sing. And they all joined in, at the top of their off-key lungs.
"God bless America ... land that I love ... stand beside her, and guide her ...''
Shaun O'Hara, the leader of the pack, told me: "What a night. The coolest thing. Pretty patriotic. Pretty memorable.''
You never know what you'll run across on the training-camp trail.
RENTON, Wash. -- We forget about the Seahawks quite often. It's easy to. Players do, too. When Corey Simon was a free agent once, he got a call from the Seahawks to gauge his interest but said no thanks. "I don't want to play at the North Pole,'' he said. As Matt Hasselbeck said, "We're in America, but Alaska, Hawaii, Seattle, the commitment's the same. You've got to really plan to come here. To get here, it's like, OK, stop everything, set aside a day, we're going to Maui. Same thing.''
"That's part of the reason why we built this place,'' club president Tim Ruskell said Saturday, standing at practice and turning to nod at the brand-new $76-million Virginia Mason Athletic Center, which just opened for business last week, replacing the perfectly fine but crammed practice facility a few miles north of here in Kirkland. "Recruiting free agents is part of the business today. This should help.''
Winning should help more. Here's your morning NFL quiz: Two NFL teams have won division titles and won at least one playoff game in each of the past three seasons. Name them.
New England, of course. And Seattle. Playing in the weakest division in football has helped, but every year we pay no attention to the Seahawks' chances, and there they are, in the final eight at season's end, while the more celebrated teams -- Dallas, Philly, Denver, Carolina -- are home. In the last three years, the Patriots have won 38 regular-season games, five playoff games and are 0-1 in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have won 32 regular-season games, four playoff games and are 0-1 in the Super Bowl.
This is a long-winded way to get to the interesting story of their coach, Mike Holmgren, who, if it is possible in today's massively over-covered National Football League, remains an underrated figure. Holmgren announced in the off-season he would coach out the final year of his two-year contract extension in 2008, then part ways with the Seahawks. Seattle named secondary coach Jim Mora the coach for 2009 and beyond.
When I say underrated, consider these numbers before I get back to the Holmgren 2008 story.
Bill Parcells averaged 9.63 wins per NFL season. Holmgren's average: 10.63.
Holmgren's 16 teams have won 170 games. Joe Gibbs' 16 teams won 171.
Holmgren is 170-110 as an NFL head coach. Paul Brown was 170-108-6 in the NFL.
That last one is fairly remarkable.
So Holmgren, the lame duck, is back for one final year here. The question is: Will 2008 be his last year of coaching?
I got the feeling in a long and winding chat in his office after practice Saturday that Holmgren will very likely be back, either as a GM or coach or maybe both, as soon as 2009. And not for just a year or two.
"I'm absolutely at peace with my decision,'' he said. "I'm going to have fun and enjoy coaching this team this year. It's business as usual. That's what I've told the coaches and the players.''
After the season, Holmgren said he and his wife, Kathy, would get away to their vacation home in Arizona, spend at least 30 days decompressing and clearing their minds after another season, then think about making a decision on the future. Notice I said, "think about making a decision,'' not "make a decision.'' Holmgren said he would not put any time frame on when he'd decide what to do with the rest of his life.
"I'm calling this a sabbatical leave,'' he said. "It's not a retirement. I've got to find out how I'll feel about being out of the game. How will I react? I don't know. I have to go through it and see. I have other interests. I'm a curious guy. When you're in this business for as long as I've been in it, you miss a lot of things. Once, when I was in San Francisco [as an assistant coach], we're sitting in an offensive meeting, going through the grind of training camp, and Bill Walsh looks up and says, 'You know, I hear August is a very nice month.'
"Will the future involve football? Will it involve something else? Who knows? The beauty is I'm going to prepare to deal with whatever comes up.''
Several interesting points here. One: This is Holmgren's 10th season in Seattle. He coached seven years in Green Bay. Weird. Most people would think the opposite -- 10 years in Green Bay, seven here. Two: Holmgren has long been heavily admired by other owners in the league. Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder love him, and I think part of Holmgren would love to prove his mettle in a cauldron like the NFC East, a part of the country he's never experienced. Would those jobs be open in 2009 or beyond, if Holmgren takes 2009 to find the inner Mike? Who knows? Three: League friends of Holmgren think he's never gotten over being stripped of his GM responsibilities three years ago, when Ruskell came in.
Holmgren said he didn't regret leaving Green Bay because he wanted to run and coach his own team. "Things changed, and when that was taken away from me, I did have a few of those thoughts,'' said Holmgren, meaning regrets on leaving Green Bay. But he said he doesn't look back on leaving Green Bay with regret, because he had no reason to think Ron Wolf wouldn't run the Packers for several more years, and he didn't know if a chance as good as total control in Seattle would ever come up again. "If I didn't think I could handle how we're set up, I wouldn't have come back this year. But I can. We're fine here.''
On the practice field, he looks and coaches the same. He growls. He teaches. "I see a little more intensity,'' said linebacker Leroy Hill. Hasselbeck said Holmgren "might teach life lessons more than he has, but I'm searching here. He seems the same to me.''
I asked Holmgren about a famous Parcellsism: When you say you're thinking about retirement, you're already retired. He chuckled. "I love Bill, but hasn't he retired four times?'' said Holmgren. "I'd say the same thing if Bill were sitting across this desk from me.''
My gut feeling? Why shouldn't he coach again? Holmgren is 60, and aside from a recent non-life-threatening health scare (he won't disclose what it was), looks good. This season, Tom Coughlin will be 62, Wade Phillips 61 and Rod Marinelli 59, and no one is saying those guys don't have the gumption to coach five more years.
Seattle's going to be a 10- or 11-win team, by the way. Hasselbeck, who has been sidelined for a couple of weeks with lower back spasms, will be fine. "If there were a game today,'' he said Saturday afternoon, "I could definitely play. They're just being cautious.''
The facility here is just another in a line of ridiculously beautiful places NFL players are using these days. The place is on Lake Washington, and eight boats were anchored in the water next to the practice field, with fans with feet up on a couple of them, drinking beer and enjoying the sights on a beautiful summer afternoon.
Inside, Hasselbeck has been using one of the neatest inventions in rehab history -- a real, honest-to-goodness underwater treadmill -- to stay in shape while resting and strengthening his back. "I weigh 235,'' he said, "but when I'm running on the underwater treadmill, my body's 135. It takes so much pressure off the back.''
An underwater treadmill. What will they think of next?
This: There's a yoga and Pilates studio here.