SEATTLE — Mike Holmgren is now one of the intruders.
After so many seasons of trying to insulate his teams from the noise on the outside and shield players from nosy media, he now finds himself on the other side. He may be a coach with Hall of Fame credentials, but he’s simply a fan, observer and part-time member of the media when it comes to Sunday’s NFC championship game between Seattle and San Francisco, two franchises he knows quite well.
“It is different. Very different. I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to enjoy every moment of it. When you’re in it, you would like to say you’re enjoying it but you’re nervous about everything. It’s exciting and that’s what you coach for and all of that, but it’s a different perspective for me and I’m looking forward to the excitement of it all,” Holmgren said this week. “I must admit, now, when I was coaching, maybe because I never got out of the building very much during the week, you’re aware of the fans and the excitement in the city but now you’re really aware.”
Holmgren knows something about playing in the postseason. In six seasons as an assistant coach in San Francisco and 17 overall seasons as a head coach in Green Bay (seven) and Seattle (10), Holmgren coached seven times in NFC championship games, winning five.
And while his ties to the Bay Area are strong, from growing up in San Francisco and working as a high school coach in the area to serving as an assistant for the 49ers, Holmgren said he’s firmly in the corner of the Seahawks going into Sunday’s game.
“Well, I’m pulling for the Seahawks but I’m happy the 49ers are in because I think they are the two best teams and that’s the best game,” Holmgren said. “A couple of my colleagues at the radio station, I’m going to have to talk them off the ledge this week but I think it’s the best game and the teams know each other. There’s a lot of good stories from this game. It’s a good week.”
This season is the second time Holmgren has not been associated with the NFL in either a coaching or front-office capacity since 1985, when he was an assistant coach at BYU. After his coaching career with Seattle ended following the 2008 season, Holmgren spent the 2009 season out of football before becoming president of the Cleveland Browns for a brief stint.
This year, Holmgren has found himself on the media side of things, serving as a regular guest and sometimes interviewer on Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle. Last week, Holmgren arranged an interview with New Orleans coach Sean Payton two days before the NFC divisional playoff game. He hasn’t been shy about sharing opinions and has done shows from the Seahawks facility.
Holmgren still has connections in the Seahawks building with many of the staff and a couple of players that have remained on Pete Carroll’s roster. He’s had a chance to attend practices on occasion and developed a relationship with a few new players, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
“When I watched him play in the beginning, I didn’t know him, and I didn’t like some of the things he did, quite honestly. Great football player, but all that other stuff,” Holmgren said. “Then I was over there and had a sandwich with him, had lunch with him one day and I got a chance to meet him, talk to him. I’m one of his biggest fans, he’s a great kid.”
Now 65, Holmgren finds the setting when he attends a Seahawks practice a little odd compared to the way he ran things, between the music blaring and players sometimes dancing. But he has great respect for what Carroll has accomplished in rebuilding the Seahawks and getting them to this point.
“It looks like they have more fun at practice than my teams did, quite honestly,” Holmgren said. “I go to practice and the music is going, they’re jumping around, they’re dancing, they just do stuff. I thought if I ever saw that happening they’re not concentrating on what I want them to concentrate on.”