RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks ended a bad football season and started a new era on Monday with outgoing head coach Mike Holmgren saying good-bye to his players before the squad and coaching staff departed to their offseasons.
One day after losing 34-21 to the Arizona Cardinals to finish their 2008 season with a 4-12 record, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers following the farewell speech from Holmgren. When the team next gathers for a minicamp sometime next spring, the head coach will be Jim Mora.
And that will be strange for those players who have played several seasons — some, their entire careers — for Holmgren.
“He’s obviously been a huge presence and he’s had influence on everything we’ve done here for a long time,” said Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who first played under Holmgren when the two were in Green Bay.
“There is,” Hasselbeck added, “going to be a major void with him being gone. But like anytime when that happens, someone has to step up and fill that void.”
That someone will now be Mora, the former University of Washington player and ex-Atlanta Falcons head coach, who took the reins from Holmgren on Monday. In his last official act, Holmgren addressed all the Seahawks and wished them well.
“He was the same coach,” said offensive tackle Walter Jones. “He had his stuff written down that he wanted to say to the team. And he said, ‘Thank you for all the great years.’”
“Mike gave a great talk, basically affirming Coach Mora,” Hasselbeck said. “Basically the message to the team was, ‘Hey, listen, (Mora and his top assistants) are not going to be the same as me, but you’ve got to buy into what (they’re saying).’”
Neither Holmgren nor Mora was available to the media on Monday, though Holmgren has a press conference scheduled for today.
Perhaps no Seahawk will feel Holmgren’s absence as much as Hasselbeck. The two men were together in Green Bay, Holmgren brought Hasselbeck to Seattle via trade in 2001 (two years after Holmgren arrived), and they have worked closely for the past eight seasons.
“He’s taught me a lot about football definitely,” Hasselbeck said, “but he’s also taught me a lot about leadership and about how to be the quarterback of a football team, and there’s no handbook for that. So I really owe a lot to him.
“And the last few years I think all of us in this locker room would say we’ve learned a lot about being a father and a husband and what’s important that way. There are some things that are big on his list and sportsmanship is one of them. Showing respect for people is another. And just a lot of great life lessons that we’ve learned from a great coach.”
To Jones, what stands out about Holmgren “is just his leadership. The things that he promised would happen here, they happened. He said, ‘If you do it this way, it’s going to happen.’ And it kind of fell in the way he said it was going to happen.”
And even when the coach had sharp words for a player, “you never took it personally,” Jones said. “He’d say something to try to fire you up or try to get you going. But once that situation was over he was like a father figure, asking about your family and how everything was going.”
Because Mora has been the team’s assistant head coach and secondary coach the past two seasons, he has worked closely with all the current players. That should make for a smoother transition than if, say, the Seahawks were replacing Holmgren with a coach from another NFL team or even a college coach.
“It should be fine with Jim Mora,” Jones said. “He’s been here the last two years so you kind of see his demeanor and the things that he wants to bring to this team.”
Moreover, Jones said, Mora will likely provide “that new energy. You say, ‘OK, what’ve we got to do to help us get back on track?’ Because you’ve got a new face for a coach.”
One player who knows the incoming head coach better — or at least has known him longer — than many of his teammates is defensive end Patrick Kerney, who played his first eight NFL seasons in Atlanta, including the last three when Mora was the head coach. Both men arrived in Seattle for the 2007 season — Kerney as a free agent and Mora after being fired by the Falcons.
“He’s a high energy, Type A personality,” Kerney said of Mora. “When we’re running from drill to drill at a pretty high tempo, he’s right there running with us. … He demands a lot out of you. And he makes you feel like you’re earning your keep every day.
“And with talent we have here and his style, there’s no reason we’re not contending for the playoffs every year,” Kerney said.
With Mora already in Seattle, “everything is kind of in place,” Hasselbeck agreed. “All in all, I think the state of the franchise is pretty decent.”