Last Chance In Seattle?
Coach Mike Holmgren needs the '03 Seahawks to restore his reputation
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has heard all the raps against him. Can't win without Brett Favre. Lousy personnel guy who's lost without Ron Wolf. No improvement over his predecessor, Dennis Erickson. And for now, in the wake of giving up his general manager's title with the appointment on Feb. 10 of Bob Ferguson, Holmgren knows that the only way to change those perceptions in the Pacific Northwest is to win big.
"Every coach cares what people think," Holmgren said last Friday, nursing a cold cup of coffee before beginning another day at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Guys would be dishonest if they said they don't care. But the people who I care most about—my peers, coaches-think I'm a pretty good coach. Still, I know this is an important year for us. At some point you've just got to make the jump from 7-9, 9-7, and I think this is the year we do that."
After two NFC championships and one Super Bowl win as coach of the Packers, with Wolf as his G.M. and Favre as his quarterback, Holmgren arrived in Seattle four years ago with a savior's reputation. But he hasn't taken the Seahawks to the playoffs since his first season, and his record with Seattle is a pedestrian 31-33. In fact, he was in danger of losing his job midway through last season before his team won four of its last six games and the offense started looking like the one owner Paul Allen had envisioned when he signed Holmgren to an eight-year, $32 million contract in January 1999.
According to one club source, in December team president Bob Whitsett wanted to install a G.M. who would have final decision-making power over Holmgren. The coach was willing to add a body to the front office but not to relinquish his player-personnel authority. So the Seahawks hired the well-traveled Ferguson, who had been let go as Arizona's general manager on Jan. 6. He's a strong pro scout who will team with Holmgren but not overpower him. Add fiery new defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes and a healthier defense (last season's unit was ravaged by injuries to six starters), and Seattle looks as if it might finally be a 10-win team in 2003.
There's still one big if, though: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Holmgren's risky trade acquisition from Green Bay two years ago, has to play as well as he did after regaining the starter's job with nine games left in 2002. Over the final six games Hasselbeck threw for more yards (2,062) than any other NFL quarterback, including a club-record 449 in a 31-28 win at San Diego. During that span the Seahawks averaged 29 points per game, compared with 18 over the first 10 games. "I think Man's had an epiphany," Holmgren says. "He's pretty stubborn, but we talked after the season and he said to me, 'I finally stopped fighting you.' " Holmgren hopes that's an omen for a playoff season to come. He needs it.
Cincinnati's Draft Scenario
Bengals Size Up Quarterbacks
The Bengals seem to have narrowed their options to three for the No. 1 choice in the draft: select USC quarterback Carson Palmer, take Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich or give up the pick in a trade. Because it's a long shot that another team will give Cincinnati multiple high picks for the right to pay a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $13 million to any player in this draft, it's very likely the Bengals will end up with one of the quarterbacks.
With Leftwich's twice-fractured left leg a concern, smart money has Palmer going No. 1. And the Heisman winner seems more eager than resigned about going to the team that has had the worst record in the NFL over the last 10 years. Last week Palmer called embattled club president Mike Brown "an awesome guy" and said the team "is very close to turning it around."
Here's one view of Palmer to keep in mind: A scouting director for a team likely to draft a quarterback in April says, "If he'd come out a year ago, we'd have had him rated as a fourth-or fifth-rounder. One good year doesn't make him a sure thing."