Last Sunday, Mike Holmgren quietly celebrated his 60th birthday. The Seahawks head coach can expect a little more attention for his next big day, when he coaches his final game in Seattle and, likely, his final game ever.
When Holmgren announced in January that the 2008 season would be his last with the Seahawks, it put him in a rarely seen position in the NFL -- coaching his final year with everyone knowing it. Many coaches work year-to-year, but rarely do the players, front office and fans know when the end will occur. This situation can work several ways for Holmgren:
The Very Good
The fact Holmgren is not coming back will allow him to throw conventional wisdom and play calling to the wind, which should give him a distinct advantage over opposing defenses. Every third down call in Seattle will now be made with the understanding that going for it on fourth down is a distinct possibility.
I once said to Broncos coach Mike Shanahan regarding a risky call he made: "It took a lot of guts to call the option backed up near the goal line." He replied, "The benefit of being in the league awhile is you don't worry about your job status with each and every call." Every call Holmgren will make this year will not be made with his job status in mind.
Most of Seattle's playoff team from 2007 is returning and they'll want to send their coach out on a high note. Moreover, the Seahawks released former MVP star running back Shaun Alexander and replaced him with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Alexander never looked determined in his running style last year and could not gain the critical yards on third and short that all great teams must convert. In fact, last year Seattle ranked 31st in conversion of third and short. Having a big short yardage back like Duckett and two slashing runners like Maurice Morris and Jones will help their run game.
Holmgren's successor, Jim Mora, who is currently the assistant head coach, knows where he'll be in 2009. The same cannot be said for the rest of Seattle's coaching staff. Assistant coaches who worry about their job status could possibly let those worries affect their daily preparation. There is also potential for a divide among the staff, one side being all Holmgren coaches and the other side being Mora's guys. Division in either the locker room or coaching staff is never good.
The Very Bad
Lame duck status is never good, whether you're a politician or an NFL coach. Players have to know the coach is in full control of their future employment. Once the locker room senses the coach is on his way out, then the important details in game preparation may not be handled. And football today is a game of details. So who will the players work and try to please during the season? Will they work for Tim Ruskill, the president and GM; Mora, the assistant and soon-to-be head coach; or John Marhsall, the current defensive coordinator? When the chain of command isn't clear, players don't always respond well.
Knowing Holmgren for over 20 years, it's my belief he will go out the same way he came into the NFL -- as a winner. His strong personality, along with his relationship with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, will prevail above and beyond any other obstacles this unique year will present. And having the NFL head coaching experience to handle the tough decisions will make this somewhat awkward situation smooth and easy to navigate.
• The situation with Chris Baker and the Jet front office is going from bad to worse very quickly. From the Newark Star Ledger: "During minicamp, Baker, who wants a new contract, angered the organization by parking his red Bentley in the "Team President" parking spot and refused to move it. Baker was fined $3,000 for missing a treatment session on his back. He tweaked his back while warming up for his second practice and spent the remainder of camp on the exercise bike." The Jets cannot let this situation linger much further, and until there is a resolution, this problem will affect the team like the Pete Kendall situation did in 2007.
• John Madden had a saying about depth charts in football: "When you think you have a lot of something, you have nothing." That quote came to mind when 49ers coach Mike Nolan made this statement regarding his QB situation: "The pleasing thing to me is that we have three guys who can win a game for us." When one of those three guys happens to be former No. 1 pick Alex Smith, you might think he would clearly outshine the competition. But maybe Madden is right -- they have nothing.
• The Bears did a very smart thing getting Tommie Harris to agree to a long-term contract and I expect them to get something done rather soon on an extension with returner Devin Hester. Hester is the key to helping turn this Bears offense around, giving them a real touchdown maker for their offense.
• If Albert Haynesworth plays in 2008 like he did in 2007, he will be one of the highest paid non-quarterback players in the NFL -- ever. The Titans have been reluctant to commit huge dollars until they are convinced he will play hard all the time. They are hoping that '07 was the real Haynesworth. He dominated the game last year unlike any defensive player I have seen since the late, great Reggie White.
• Former Rutgers running back Ray Rice seems to be making an impression in Baltimore. 'It's the size of the heart that makes a great player," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said of the 5-foot-9 rookie. "If we felt like size was an issue, he probably wouldn't be here." Rice is short, not small, and has the running skills to make help the Ravens offense better. He'll put pressure on starter Willis McGahee.
• If I were with the Cleveland Browns, I would make sure my backup offensive lineman had experience and were well-schooled in pass protection because I want Brady Quinn to have a great 2008 preseason. One great preseason might light up the phone lines with trade offers from teams that don't have a quarterback and potentially allow the Browns to recoup their investment in Quinn. Quinn may never be a starter in Cleveland as long as Anderson plays as well as he did in 2007.
• If I were with the Tampa Bay Bucs, I would not give Chris Simms a hard time about missing the mandatory minicamp this past week, considering the Bucs medical staff put Simms back on the field with a ruptured spleen. I think there needs to be a meeting of the minds between Simms and the Bucs. Why did the Bucs turn down trades from two teams on draft day for Simms?
• If I were with the New York Jets, I might call Jerry Reese, the Giants general manager, and discuss trading my unhappy tight end Chris Baker for his unhappy tight end Jeremy Shockey. Baker is a better blocker then Shockey and Shockey is the better receiver. Both are unhappy for different reasons and both need a change of scenery -- badly.
"Well, my dad was a force of nature. And now his own cycle in nature is complete. But his spirit lives on in everybody who loves their country, loves their family, loves their faith, and loves those Buffalo Bills."-- Luke Russert, eulogizing his late father, Tim.
You can bet the 2008 Bills will have someone watching over them this year.