Mike Holmgren Wraps Up The Season

"Although it certainly can be said that it is far too soon for Holmgren or anyone else to make definitive comments on the future of the team, his address did contain some interesting messages. First of all...Holmgren will likely stay on for a seventh season."

On Tuesday afternoon at Seahawks HQ in Kirkland, WA, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren addressed the media in his traditional season-end press conference. Despite winning the NFC West for the first time, the Seahawks were defeated thrice by their key division rival, the St. Louis Rams – the final time in the 27-20 loss that ended their season last Saturday.

Although it certainly can be said that it is far too soon for Holmgren or anyone else to make definitive comments on the future of the team, his address did contain some interesting messages. First of all, as Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer first reported on Tuesday, Holmgren will likely stay on for a seventh season, despite a 50-46 regular-season record plus three playoff losses and no postseason victories in his first six years.

When asked how he would grade his own coaching performance after several late-game collapses in the last two seasons, Holmgren was frank: “I said it a couple of times in press conferences: I always thought that in close games I could make a difference. And we had too many close games this year where I didn’t make a difference. I blame myself for that. I have to start with me. You can’t be pointing fingers. I just think I could have done something strategy-wise or play-wise, something that could have allowed us to win a game. So in that respect I wish I had done a better job this year. That way. The players play and I’m not out there throwing passes or catching balls or blocking people. But I just always felt that way.

“The assistant coaches are running around doing all the stuff they do, when it comes time (for) strategy in games I always think I should be able to make a difference. I’ve done this long enough. This year a couple of things kind of blew up on us, and I take that very personally. I just think in close games I’ve got to be able to make a difference. That was a hard part of this season for me.”

In the matter of his assistant coaches, Holmgren provided some very severely mixed messages. In firing first-year special teams coach Mark Michaels, Holmgren pointed to the position coach’s responsibility. “I had to let (Michaels) go yesterday (Tuesday), and so we're looking for a special teams coach. Part of the problem, and this was not Mark's fault, because of our injury situation his core special teams players all of a sudden became starters. And we had some depth to allow us to do that, but not on special teams. It allowed us to have Koutouvides, Kacyvenski, Tracy White, those guys played defense, but there wasn't a lot left in the tank for the special teams thing. But things like onside kicks and blocked punts and things like that; I think we must do a better job of those types of things. Those are very specialty things and, quite frankly, they cost us a couple of ball games this year.”

Yet when asked about wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell, whose receivers have led the NFL in dropped passes in each of the last two seasons, Holmgren appears to hold a double standard, blaming it on the players. “Nolan is really a good football coach. I’ll stick with Nolan as long as I’m coaching. To me that’s a dead issue. I know what he’s doing out there. I know what he does in meetings; I know what does in drills. I know what he does in the off-season. He’s been with me now for 12 or 13 years. He is not a yeller or screamer. He’s a nice person and a good man. The only thing is there are times when a player might take advantage of that just a little bit. But not in the physical part of playing football. You can’t convince me if you get another coach in here and put a player on the J.U.G.S. machine for 24 hours a day he’s going to catch the ball any better. I don’t believe that. I think the next step is to replace the player. It’s not the replace the coach, that’s for sure."

Holmgren was even more positive on the future of defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, whose defense placed 23rd in the NFL against both the run and the pass, and 26th overall. His overall numbers have not been an improvement over those of his predecessor Steve Sidwell, but Holmgren apparently believes that Rhodes is his guy: “I thought Ray did a great job. I really did. You know what? He, and you know, we were hurt over there. And people, you know, it's interesting, you know, you get tired of hearing that but in this league, heck, you can go back to other teams in the league, when that happens, sometimes your season drops out of sight. Just kaplooey! They can't stop anybody, they can't score any points and they wind up 4-12. OK. I think it's a credit to Ray Rhodes and the defensive staff and to those players that we suited up that we did what we did, quite honestly. Now, did I want to win those other two games and finish 11-5 and get a first-round bye? Yeah, and I thought we could have done that, too. So that was disappointing.”

Whatever that means.

Holmgren also addressed the perception that with players like Koren Robinson on the roster, the team lacks character – especially since Holmgren seems to have given Robinson a limitless number of chances. Despite the fact that Robinson was suspended for four games by the NFL for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy and suspended for two different games by Holmgren himself for missing team meetings, Holmgren has pledged to stand by his troubled receiver. “I met with Koren. He was one of the players I met with after my team meeting. He's in the process now of taking care of some stuff, and we're going to be there with him through that process. I'm not going to go into any more detail than that. We're going to stay with him. What that does to his playing football next season, now he's got some ground to make up now. Because he was one of the fellas, quite honestly, that I was counting on. I'm not telling you anything I didn't tell him. That I was counting on him to have a big year and it didn't happen. It hurt us. It hurt us.” Whether the Seahawks as a team will pay, again, for what many perceive as an enormous blind spot on Holmgren’s part remains to be seen. Holmgren did allude to the fact that “We're immature in some areas, and if that doesn't change, then we have to change it. We have to make some changes.”

When asked about the overall character of his team in the wake of some serious disappointments on a personal level from his players and Trent Dilfer’s recent call to Seattle sports-talk radio station KJR (click here for transcript), the Seahawks’ coach sounded more hopeful than many of the fans. “I think the character on the team is excellent. Having said that, I think we have a couple of characters. I like this football team. I like what they stand for, but we have a couple of guys that are characters… We have the whole spectrum of players. You have at one end the Trent Dilfers, the Grant Wistroms, the Robbie Tobecks, the Mack Strongs. The guys that have figured out what it means to have the privilege of playing in this league.”, Holmgren said.

“They view it as such, they view their profession a certain way, and they prepare accordingly. Then you’ve got some guys in the middle where their work ethic isn’t quite the same—and that’s the bulk of your team—the work ethic isn’t quite the same but they’re good players and they try hard and they do all those things. Then you’ll have some guys down at the other end of the spectrum that, one, might never figure it out. Two, are young and immature and will get it and then pop into one of those other two categories. I think our team was no different than any other team that way. The statement I made in July, however, I think was pretty obvious. For us to meet our goals our best players—and I identified those guys in July and I have all season long—had to have great years. Our best players had to have great years. Either by injury or other things a couple of them didn’t come through that way.”

”I think when Grant (Wistrom) and Trent (Dilfer) make those statements, one, you’ve got to understand where they’re coming from. They’re the consummate professionals. They’re the consummate professionals and they are going to have less tolerance for a young kid trying to figure out what is going on. That’s the first thing. The other part of that though is they’re correct. They’re dead on that there was a handful of guys that didn’t commit the way those two certainly did and the way you need them to commit. And you deal with that a couple ways once the season is over. They’re no longer here and if there is a salary cap issue where you can’t do that, than you must kind of redirect them or they don’t play. That’s pretty simple. So that’s what happened.”

Of course, the elephant in the living room for the Seahawks is the alarming number of unrestricted free agents (16) the team must now look to re-sign or jettison. Players who would seem crucial to the future of the team, such as Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Itula Mili, Ken Lucas and Chike Okeafor, were not offered contracts by the team during the season. Now, while forward-thinking teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons have already negotiated with many of their key free agents and are looking forward with the playoffs as their #1 priority, Holmgren and Team President Bob Whitsitt have nothing to focus on but the future…again.

Holmgren inferred that such decision-making won’t even begin until the front office re-assembles for meetings, most likely in early February. “Maybe we can meet again (with the media) in a couple of weeks or after the Super Bowl or something, when we've had a chance to talk about that as a staff just a little bit more. Right now my coaches are grading our team. That's what they're doing right now, and we'll have a good idea of how the guys played by the end of this week, and I trust their judgment. (General Manager Bob) Ferguson is doing the same thing with the personnel department, so we'll have two sets of eyes looking at how the players did this year. Then from there, it's a process. We have to deal with free agency and deal with the gaps in free agency on our football team. There are some guys that have played a long time, you know. Are they part of next year's program? Those are the types of things we'll talk with here down the road a little bit. Right now it'd be premature.”

When asked why the organization allowed so many contracts to expire, Holmgren was predictably evasive. “That's a tough question to answer. It gets very complicated and there are a lot of issues. There are agent problems. I don't have to do that any more, by the way, but I did have some experience in it and there is any number of reasons. You look at that list, there were 15 guys on the list and the list is quite varied, you know. What jumps out at you is you have Matt, Walter and Shaun on there, you know, and they are Pro Bowl players. So it causes a lot of stuff. But I don't, the reason, you know, some years it's like that. Some years you don't have very many. Sometimes they just hit it right. It's very difficult - very difficult - to sign a player entering free agency in a year, or entering his free agency, to an early contract unless probably you overpay them. Because otherwise they're saying, well, you know, or not overpay, but you know, it's one of those mega-contracts, you know. Sometimes you can't do that. There are cap restrictions. There is any number of reasons. But the important thing is that we have this list and we've got to do our darndest to try and keep the guys together. That is a commitment the organization has made. Now, will we keep them all? Who knows? I can't answer that. It will be an interesting off-season and we'll work very hard at it.” It would appear, from these comments, that the Seahawks will let the market dictate to them.

One player Holmgren has a vested interest in keeping is Matt Hasselbeck, the quarterback he brought to Seattle from Green Bay and “raised from a pup” in a football sense. "I think he has progressed to the point now where you kind of don't have to think about that position, which is the most important position, in my opinion", Holmgren said. "And you never want to go into a season without, you know, we've done that. We did that. It took us a lot of hard work and effort to solidify the quarterback position and I think by most people's standards it's solidified. So I tend to look at the glass half full and we're going to get that done.”

In the end, the 2005 Seattle Seahawks will be directed by a man who many would say has come up short in his six-year tenure. When asked if he thought that his superiors (Whitsitt and owner Paul Allen) might be dissatisfied with where the team is after six years under his tutelage, Holmgren did accept the possibility. “I think they probably, on any given Sunday, they might lose a little patience with me. But at the end of the year we sit down. I’ll sit down. Maybe I will talk to Mr. Allen. But once we got into the playoffs last year, our expectation levels were higher this year and we got into the playoffs again. I think what happens is that if you can maintain a team that gets you into the playoffs – sometimes you sneak in there, sometimes you don’t – but you get in there and you can play in the game, in a lot of games where it’s a one-play game and you get that play bouncing your way, now you’re in the next level. As long as you can keep doing that, and the fans and people like football that’s exciting and to get excited – they can get angry, but if they get excited about football. But as soon as I think I’m not the guy, I don’t think anyone will have to beat me over the head. I’ll know.”

And in the wake of so many miraculous turnarounds like the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers, does Mike Holmgren still believe that his “take it slow” method of franchise-building is the way to go? “I suppose there are times when a Carolina, like last year, emerges and they have this huge swing. Or like San Diego this year had a huge swing. But usually that’s not the way it is. Usually it’s steps”, he said.

”I can’t answer that question”, Holmgren said when asked if his record should guarantee a future with this team. “I’m a good guy. I just try and do the best job I can do. That decision has to me made by somebody else. I have had experience getting there, to that game (Super Bowl). As an assistant coach. As a head coach. I know as long as I have the fire to do this, as long as the players continue to listen – we might reach a point where all of a sudden I’m so old they don’t listen. But as long as I think they’re still listening, and as long as I want it, I’m going to keep trying.”

A very uncertain off-season awaits this team, but it certainly appears that, for better or worse, Mike Holmgren will be back once again. Large and in charge, he’ll help direct a very uncertain offseason in which the organization’s lack of proactive motion in several areas now becomes a set of glaring issues.

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