Will Relocate If Price Is Right
Come February, if another team offers Packers coach Mike Holmgren the lucrative coach-general manager job he craves, the club that secures his services will have to give Green Bay only a 1999 second-round draft choice as compensation. That's amazing when you consider what the Jets had to give up to get Bill Parcells from the Patriots after Super Bowl XXXI: a fourth-, a third-, a second-and a first-round pick over three years beginning in '97 Parcells came to the Jets with a .576 winning percentage and three Super Bowl appearances. Entering this season Holmgren had won at a .667 clip and coached in the last two Super Bowls, and his team is a favorite to reach the title game this season. So why would Holmgren come so cheap?
Several days after Green Bay's Super Bowl loss to Denver last January, Packers president Bob Harlan told Holmgren the club wouldn't release him from his contract, which runs through the '99 season, to take a coach-G.M. job elsewhere. Convinced that the Seahawks would have pursued him for the dual role if he had been available, Holmgren was steamed. Although contractually bound to the Packers, he felt he had been denied an opportunity to advance his career and in the off-season sent in his agent, Bob LaMonte, to negotiate the exit clause. Green Bay agreed to accommodate him.
The Packers, of course, hope Holmgren returns to Green Bay, but they realize some teams will be desperate for a savior after the season and may look in Holmgren's direction. One of those clubs could be the expansion Browns, despite a clause in the player stocking plan that prevents them from using draft choices to pursue a coach who is under contract Cleveland president Carmen Policy said last Friday hell press commissioner Paul Tagliabue to throw out the clause on the grounds that it gives the other 29 teams an unfair advantage over the Browns.
If Holmgren gets the chance he covets, he may not come cheap after all. At about $2.4 million a year, Parcells and the Broncos' Mike Shanahan are the highest-paid coaches. Look for LaMonte to seek twice that amount.
Cincinnati Job Is His to Lose
In early July teams like the Bears, Bengals, Rams and Saints entered camp with great uncertainty at quarterback. Meanwhile, Neil O'Donnell, an unspectacular but efficient passer who had been released by the Jets on June 24, couldn't get a team to express serious interest in signing him.
The summer is a horrible time for a quarterback to look for work because of the amount of time it takes to learn the intricacies of a new offense. "I didn't exactly have 15 teams beating down my door," O'Donnell, 32, said last week. "There was one." On July 8 the Bengals signed him to a four-year, $17 million contract, handed him a six-inch-thick playbook and gave him seven weeks to learn everything in it. When incumbent Jeff Blake, who lost his starting job to Boomer Esiason (now retired) late last season, continued to struggle during the preseason, O'Donnell moved up to first string.
"I've always started on opening day, and I was thinking in training camp, Stay a day ahead of everyone mentally, keep learning and study hard every night," says O'Donnell. "And the offense came to me."
After the first two games, which Cincinnati split, O'Donnell led the league in completion percentage (.721). But on Sunday the Bengals' bid for an upset of the Packers fell short, 13-6, when O'Donnell was sacked three times and completed only 16 of 30 passes for 151 yards.