A Holmgren homecoming

Mike Holmgren always has extra things to talk about whenever he comes home to one of his "favorite cities in the world," and particularly this time when the former 49ers offensive coordinator brings his Seattle Seahawks to Monster Park for a battle of teams currently 1-2 in the NFC West on a day when one of the greatest players he ever coached gets his retirement ceremony in the San Francisco sun.

Here, Holmgren - San Francisco's quarterbacks coach from 1986-1988 and offensive coordinator from 1989-1991 - talks about the talent of Jerry Rice, whose retirement as a 49er will be honored during a halftime ceremony, along with his days and experiences coaching with the 49ers and working with former mentor Bill Walsh. Holmgren - a native San Franciscan - also gives his personal takes on the team's proposed move out of the city to build a new stadium in Santa Clara.

And, oh, yes. There's also a football game to talk about - perhaps the biggest so far of the Mike Nolan era - and Holmgren gives his takes on the Seahawks and 49ers and Sunday's game between the two teams.

On the development of Alex Smith and Frank Gore from last year to this year: "First of all, I think Alex is a tremendous talent. I think a young guy getting thrust into that situation as a rookie is tough going, on anybody. When you have a team that's building it becomes a little harder. This season he appears to be a different guy. He's obviously more confident and you really see him use his ability. He's got a strong arm and in my opinion he's going to be fine in this league for a long time. Frank Gore is a good player. Norv Turner believes in running the football, and he's responded. He's got good quickness, he's tough, and he is a good back.

On what he attributes the 49ers defensive improvement over the last two games: "They really do look good to me on defense. I think they have good team speed on defense, and they tackle well. That's the one thing that jumped out at me. Also, I'm very impressed with Brandon Moore. I think he has done a good job and he's in on a lot of stuff. They are just playing hard, good defense."

On Julian Peterson's contribution this year: "I've said this before, and I'll say it again, I think you are always surprised when you can acquire a player of his caliber. I have not been that fortunate. He's a great young man who is getting to the quarterback and he's become a very popular guy on the football team. It's all very good, and I have to pinch myself because it doesn't happen that often when you can get a player like that."

On if he was apprehensive when signing him that he may not live up to the deal: "No. I know how it was when we played against him. He had that Achilles issue and he was hurt, but he's a young man in the prime of his career, and he's got great athletic skill. No, I wasn't worried."

On the way he is being used in Seattle as opposed to the way he was being used in San Francisco: "Because of his talent, and he's not the first guy we thought about doing this, because we had a couple in Green Bay that were in similar situations. He's a player who is a really good pass rusher and a really good linebacker, or small defensive end type of player. You think of all these ways you can trick the offense and use him and confuse people, and you are really taking something away from the player. If we've learned anything over the years, I think that's what we've learned. We kind of narrowed down how we are going to use him, what he does best, and how he is most proficient in our defensive scheme. We're probably taking some things off his plate that were on there when we started."

On memories of Jerry Rice: "I have wonderful memories of my times with Jerry. It was a privilege to coach a guy who is that talented, that good, and cared so much. Those were good years in San Francisco. I think I was double blessed because he also came here and played for a year near the end of his career. He couldn't run quite the same way because he had some leg problems, but he was certainly good at setting an example for the young guys. Having him around, it was Jerry Rice, so that was special. I'm glad that I can be there, at least at the stadium when they are doing this, because he is such a special guy. When I was the offensive coordinator in the couple of years where he was catching 100 balls a year, I can just remember him at moments coming in and saying Mike, I'm not getting the ball, you have to get me the ball. I created a list on my sheet on Jerry Rice passes, and I've used that on every sideline sheet I've ever created since. I just put a different name on the top. He really showed me the importance of making sure your best players touch the ball during the game because that gives you the best chance to win the football game. For me, that started with Jerry Rice."

On who he has on his sheet now: "I can't tell you."

On if he had an idea that Rice was going to turn into the receiver he did when he first got to San Francisco: "I think so. I got there in 1986, and he had been there for a couple of years and already established himself. Now, he had some wonderful years, he was the MVP of the Super Bowl and all those things when I was there. He did some amazing things in games, and I think really at the prime of his career. I think that if you are a football coach, you didn't have to watch him for very long before you got the idea that this guy was special. The other thing is that in the day and age when some receivers are getting their notoriety by being controversial, he was just the opposite. He certainly let his play speak for himself, and he was such a hard worker. I can remember taking him out of practice a couple of times just because I felt that he might run himself into the ground. But if I didn't do it he would just go and go and go. He and Roger Craig seemed to have this competition of who can work the hardest, which is something very special on any team."

On if he is planning to visit Bill Walsh this weekend: "Yeah, I am going to try and see him."

On when that might be: "I'm just going to keep that between us."

On Ray Rhodes status: "Ray is doing fine. In fact we are both looking forward to coming back to one of our favorite cities in the world. He is healthy, and his role has changed here. He is a defensive consultant. I think that's what we call him. He's in all the meetings and he's in the press box. He's feeling better, and he's taking care of himself. I check in with him every once and a while to make sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing."

On what Bill Walsh has meant to his career as a coach: "That's funny because Kathy (Holmgren) and I were talking about that this morning. I had mentioned that I was going to try and see him, and then she said I'm glad, because he has meant a lot to you. Bill gave me my chance to coach in the NFL, plain and simple. Actually, he took a chance, the way I look at it now, having been there. I was five years removed from being a high school coach in San Jose at Oak Grove High School, and here I am coaching quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers. I think he took a little bit of a shot hiring me, but then, and I've said this many times, that if I was nothing I was a good student. I wrote down everything he did, and watched everything he did. I didn't always agree with everything he did, but it certainly helped formulate my philosophy when I had a chance to become a head coach. I owe Bill Walsh a great deal. Over the years we have kept in contact and if I have a question I might ring him up and listen to what he had to say, and he'd straighten me out. I hope I get a chance to see him."

On if he knew him before he was hired: "I can't say I really knew him. I used to visit the 49ers training camp in Rocklin, when I was coaching at BYU and San Francisco State. I'd go up there, spend a day and watch practice. I knew some of the guys up there who were on his staff, Bill McPherson being one. I really didn't know Bill Walsh too much prior to my interview in Redwood City."

On what he recalls about the interview: "I know it was very relaxed, and we talked a little football. We talked a little football, but a lot about family and things other than football. I have used that same interview tactic myself just to get a little feel for the person. It was very relaxed, and then he kicked me over to Bob McKittrick, George Seifert, and those guys. The couple of days I was there I probably talked to everybody on the staff that was there. I went in with the idea that it was a long shot, but I thought the experience would be great. Then I really didn't hear from them for a couple of weeks. I figured aw, well, shoot, it was too bad. Then all of a sudden, he phoned, and it really changed my coaching life."

On if this game is a chance for the Seahawks to separate themselves and establish them selves at the top of the division: "I think we understand how the 49ers are looking at it and I would say we are looking at it the same way. The thing is that it's a division game. There are four teams in our division and you take every one of those games seriously, because it gives you a chance to think about the playoffs when you can take care of your business in your division. The 49ers are a much improved football team and they are playing very well right now. We are looking at it the same way they are. It's a very important division game, and there are only a couple of games separating everybody. Plus, we are going down there, and they are playing at home, so we know what type of game it's going to be and we know we have to be ready to play."

On his thoughts about the 49ers stadium situation and if that would be a drastic change for the 49ers: "Now, you are asking a San Francisco native who taught school there, you are not asking the football coach, OK? I would say yes. I was a guy who used to go to games and played at Kezar Stadium and I remember the Y.A.Tittle days. To me, as a San Franciscan, I would hope that they wouldn't have to do that. I would hope that there was some way that the politics and the finance of the situation could all come together and they could keep the team in San Francisco. That's me. But being in the league for a long time, and we built a new stadium here, with the finances and everything, that the game and the money has changed with the new stadiums that create all different sorts of new things. There is different terminology, product, brand, and all of these things that we never talked about years ago in football. But now that's what the real world is. But my hope would be that they could figure out a way to keep them there. From what I've read, it sounded like Mr. York has tried, but it hasn't worked and now he's going to plan B."


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