Holmgren Resigns from Competition Committee

Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren resigned from the NFL's Competition Committee on Friday. The Committee oversees rules and their interpretations, among other aspects of the game. Officiating is often discussed, and there is speculation that Holmgren's decision to resign is related to the officiating in Super Bowl XL, a game in which several questionable calls went against the Seahawks in Pittsburgh's 21-10 win.

The NFL’s stance all along has been that the Super Bowl, and the postseason in general, was “properly officiated”, as league spokesman Greg Aiello put it in a February 10 statement. NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira’s attempt to explain five calls on the NFL Network’s “Total Access” show on February 15 was hardly satisfactory to anyone who doesn’t have a Pittsburgh mailing address.

Seahawks.NET took a detailed look at those explanations, and what the tape really showed, in the following two-part article:

Plausible Deniability, Part One

Plausible Deniability, Part Two

When asked why he resigned, Holmgren was succinct. “I can’t really articulate that,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “I just told them I’m not doing it anymore.”

Committee co-chair Jeff Fisher said that Holmgren never brought up the calls, though he certainly had the opportunity to do so. “We’ve been with Mike for three days and not once did he bring up the Super Bowl or anything that had to do with the Super Bowl,” Fisher said. “All he talked about was what was good for the game. Mike epitomizes what is important as far as the committee is concerned.”

Holmgren had served on the Committee from 1994 through 1998 when he was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. He resigned in 1999 when he became the Seahawks' head coach, only to be asked back on by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2002. Holmgren has been a co-chairman in the past, although not during his tenure in Seattle.

If Holmgren resigned in frustration, it would not be the first time. In a CNN/SI article written in August of 1999, Peter King intimated that Holmgren felt that his work with the Committee was getting “short shrift” – in 1999, the Committee only addressed the owners for half an hour at the owner’s meetings – and that Holmgren felt he was spinning his wheels on issues that owners didn’t care about.

Holmgren and Charley Casserly, the former Washington Redskins and current Houston Texans GM, were the two primary facilitators of the return of instant replay. In recent years, rules changes suggested by the Committee have been implemented on the field with mixed results. 2004’s renewed emphasis on the five-yard illegal contact rule, disallowing defenders from contacting receivers after the first five yards, was an iffy proposition at best.

The rule itself was actually put in place years ago, and the focus was on calling the rule as written. According to Rich McKay, co-chair of the Committee, illegal contact calls went up from 79 in 2003 to 191 in 2004. However, certain crews seemed to view the guidelines differently (certainly Walt Coleman's crew was throwing flags if defenders so much as breathed on a ballcarrier after five yards, while other officials had more of a 'let them play' attitude), and there appeared to be confusion from crews as to how severe the guidelines were supposed to be.

One of the primary points of emphasis in 2005 was the “horse-collar tackle”, after film of the 2004 season was reviewed, and six serious injuries were thought to have directly resulted from this practice. Most prominent among them was the severely sprained ankle and broken fibula suffered by Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens when he was brought down by Dallas safety Roy Williams in a game on December 19, 2004. Williams was involved in four of those six injuries, leading some to call this the “Roy Williams Rule”. On May 23, NFL owners voted 27-5 to ban the tackle, in which a defender uses a pull on the shoulder pads to instantly and violently bring a ballcarrier down in the open field. Players caught making horse-collar tackles in the open field would supposedly face a possible fine in addition to a fifteen-yard penalty.

But unlike the illegal contact rule, the “Roy Williams Rule” didn’t seem to get circulated and executed with quite the same vigor. The rule was barely ever called during the 2005 season, despite some obvious transgressions. Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter’s tackle of Shaun Alexander in the Super Bowl certainly appeared to fit the guidelines of a horse-collar tackle, especially if the officials on that day, led by Bill Leavy, had been calling Pittsburgh’s actions as closely as Seattle’s.

If Sean Locklear can be called for a drive-killing (and very questionable) hold, and Mike Pereira’s explanation is that the penalty had the “ingredients of a hold”, what are the “ingredients” of a horse-collar tackle? Despite the actions taken by the league in the form of a vote and a rule, nobody seems to agree when the rule hits the field.

In the end, this may be where Mike Holmgren’s frustration with the Competition Committee really resides – the difference between theory and practice when rules are put in the hands of the NFL’s current officials.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.

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