Lombardi: Flashback

Watching ex-Packers head coach re-kindles questions

Mike Holmgren roamed the sidelines. Brett Favre had the Packers up early and the defense forced a bunch of turnovers and a defensive score. Was it 1996? Was it a flashback to the Glory Years from 10 years ago? Had I fallen asleep on the couch? Was I dreaming?

Unfortunately, no. It was 2006. Holmgren was coaching the Seahawks. The snow was falling in Seattle. And as much as I would like to travel back in time to when the Packers ruled the football world, it was not to be. Those days may never return.

Actually, if there was a flashback, it was to last year. Remember last year?

Brett Favre and cast unable to make something happen in the fourth quarter.
The running game stifled.
Packer turnovers near the end of the game sealing the deal.
Penalties and mental mistakes.
Inexperience and a lack of depth.
Special Teams as a negative. A blocked field goal loomed large early.
Close games that the Packers ultimately lost.

Fans and pundits could say with some believability that the Packers had a chance to win the game. They did and let it slip away. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?

In spite of the turnovers and the early weather that leveled the field in the Packers favor, Green Bay was not able to capitalize on their advantages.

Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck, starting for the first time in four games, was awful at the start of the game. Charles Woodson picked him off twice. Al Harris got one, and Abdul Hodge ran an interception back for the Packers' second score. The former Packer rebounded in the second half and threw for three scores to bring the Seahawks back.

Shaun Alexander, who was playing in his second game back from injuries, ran over around and through the Packers for 201 yards on 40 carries. Seattle almost had more carries (48) than the Packers had rushing yards (51). They ran 85 plays to the Packers 57. They held the ball for 36 minutes and change to the Packer 23 minutes and change. They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the game. The Packers young offensive line was unable to get any push.

Mike Holmgren called a good game and if anyone should get credit for this victory, it is the Packers old coach. With his QB struggling, he put the game into the hands of Alexander and gave Hasselbeck time to adjust, which he did. He is not the best coach in the NFL, but the list of guys in front of him is short.

What if Holmgren had remained in Green Bay?
I sat with some buddies watching the game and wondered what would have become of the Packers had Coach Holmgren remained the coach here in Green Bay. What would have happened had he been able to wait for Ron Wolf to retire, or had Wolf stepped aside back in 1998 when Holmgren went to Seattle.

One of two things would have happened in my estimation. The Packers may have won one or more additional Super Bowls and he would have retired, or he would still be the Head Coach. Either way, the team would be healthier than it is now. It is my belief that Brett Favre would have had a more successful career had his first coach remained his only coach. Odds are that the Packers would have been a better team with Holmgren at the helm.

The Ray Rhodes Era would never have happened. Mike Sherman would never have been hired as coach and more importantly, general manager. Holmgren did not distinguish himself running the personnel show in Seattle, but he has done good enough to keep the team more competitive than those who followed him in Green Bay.

It is a shame because this situation was avoidable. Holmgren could have realized that he had a good deal here and just need to wait. They named a street after him after all. Ron Wolf might have seen the future a little clearer and provided Holmgren hope that he need only wait a year or so to get the power. And most importantly, if only Bob Harlan had the foresight to realize that it is ultimately his job to balance the long term needs of the team with today. In hindsight, who would choose Ron Wolf for two more years over Mike Holmgren for eight years or more? Maybe there were other factors and behind the scenes things that none of us know about, but until those things leak out, it looks like an easy decision for me. Nothing against Ron Wolf, who built the team, but facts are facts. I am not a fan of the Coach/GM dual role, but since it was going to happen anyway, I would have preferred Holmgren fill it.

The past is the past, but it is interesting to contemplate.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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