As sports reunions go, Sunday’s match between Mike Holmgren’s old team and his new one in Cleveland isn’t such a much. The Seahawks barely recognize themselves.
Not that he doesn’t have affection for Mike Holmgren, who helped take him to a Super Bowl. But Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill knows how the cruel the NFL calendar is regarding such ephemeral things as personal sentiment.
“What is he now, two-three years removed (from Seattle)?” Hill said, smiling. “It over.”
Indeed, Holmgren, the most imperial figure in Seahawks history, has been gone from coaching the Seahawks for 2 1/2 years. And it’s been 22 months since he was in the mix to become Seahawks ayatollah.
His name comes up now only because the Seahawks at 10 a.m. Sunday play the Browns in Cleveland, where Holmgren received what he sought in Seattle — command of an NFL empire.
Holmgren is president, and also makes personnel calls and front-office decisions down to, presumably, whether to go Mac or PC. And who knows? Maybe he’s a Mac guy, and that’s why owner Paul Allen, the ex-Microsoft billionaire, decided to cut ties with Holmgren.
It was never made clear publicly exactly why Holmgren, after a year away from coaching, was not selected as Seahawks team president, as many fans and some media demanded. But the deduction did not require a degree in quantum physics: The Seahawks already gave Holmgren ultimate power once, and it didn’t work. He became more successful when he was confined to coaching. Besides, 10 years tied to an epic ego is usually enough to wear out a franchise, unless one owns (Jerry Jones, Dallas) the franchise.
So Holmgren found an owner, Randy Lerner, willing to give him the nuclear button. He fired the coach and hired a rookie who was willing to play a rookie quarterback. The coach, Pat Shurmur, Wednesday by phone offered up the critical virtue that assured his hiring (other than being the nephew of Holmgren’s longtime friend and assistant coach, the late Fritz Shurmur).
“I told (Holmgren), I said, Hey, I pride myself on being a good listener,” Shurmur said. “I know I dont know everything. To have a resource like Mike Holmgren, its invaluable.
All is true, especially the part about needing to be a good listener with Holmgren. But after the Jim Mora regime ended with a single dubious year, the Seahawks bosses were done with inexperienced head coaches. When Pete Carroll let his availability be known, there was no way he would be as compliant as Shurmur, nor a fit under Holmgren. Thanks for a great decade, Mike.
From Holmgren’s end, there doesn’t figure to be much sentiment toward players and coaches, although delivering a figurative uppercut to the Allen ownership Sunday probably will feel a tad tingly. As far as personnel, there’s almost no one left in Seattle that he knows.
Only eight players remain from Mora’s last game, and only one remains from Holmgren’s Super Bowl team — Hill. Now that cornerback and defensive captain Marcus Trufant is on injured reserve with a back injury that threatens his career, Hill, a third-round draft pick in 2005, is, at 29 in his seventh season, the lone gray eminence in terms of tenure. Preceded by the departure of linebacker and team leader Lofa Tatupu, the 2011 defense is largely a group of strangers to themselves, much less Holmgren.
“It’ll be great to see him — I appreciate everything he did for me,” Hill said in the locker room Wednesday. “He did a fantastic job here, taking the franchise from obscurity to the national scene. He’ll probably do the same for Cleveland.”
Holmgren also was here when the Seahawks receded from the national scene, although he would be one of many to lay the decay upon ex-general manager Tim Ruskell’s personnel judgments, most of which have been wiped off the roster.
The turnover most notable for this week is the secondary, where Trufant is replaced by Walter Thurmond, a second-year player. The other corner is Brandon Browner, a rookie with four years in the Canadian Football League. The safeties are two second-year guys, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. A secondary doesn’t get much younger without having child seats on the team bus.
Then there’s the quarterback spot. The Seahawks go to Cleveland presumably with Charlie Whitehurst in charge. He took most of the snaps Wednesday in practice as starter Tarvaris Jackson rested a strained pectoral muscle. Although Carroll was vague about who would start, barring a miracle recovery by Jackson, Whitehurst will get the chance he thought he would get at the beginning of the season, before Jackson was imported from Minnesota.
Holmgren would loathe such a situation, not having a premier quarterback, or one he could groom into one, such as now with rookie Colt McCoy. But this team is far from Holmgren’s team, in so many ways.
Carroll and Holmgren share some roots — both are from San Francisco, and Holmgren played at USC, where Carroll coached — and have known each other for a long time. But they are as different in football tactics as they are in personality.
Carroll had to throw away Holmgren’s team and start over. Holmgren would very much enjoy throwing away Carroll’s team Sunday. Too bad their jobs won’t allow a post-game handshake on the field.