RENTON — Contrary to his sideline demeanor, Mike Holmgren was able to keep his emotions in check on Tuesday afternoon.
There were no jowls shaking, no cheeks reddening, no fists pounding.
And during this, his final public appearance as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Holmgren also showed no tears.
The only time he had to compose himself during a 60-minute session with local media members — many of whom were making a rare appearance at the team’s practice facility — was when Holmgren was asked about his exit interviews with the players 24 hours earlier. The 60-year-old coach said that visits with longtime Seahawks like Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones were more brief than expected.
“There wasn’t a lot that needed to be said,” Holmgren said as he fought back tears for the first time, 55 minutes into Tuesday’s press conference.
For most of Holmgren’s final farewell — in Seattle, anyway — the coach maintained a stiff upper lip. Holmgren was upbeat throughout, whether re-visiting memories, talking about the Seahawks’ future or responding to an onslaught of questions about his own plans in 2009 and beyond.
Holmgren continued to admit that he’s leaning toward a return to the league at some point, but he held strong to his comments about taking 2009 off and all but ruled out a return to the Seahawks at any point.
He said that the 2008 season was filled with frustration and that the Seahawks’ struggles left him tempted to come back and fix what was wrong. But he’s come to terms with the fact that he won’t do that next year — in Seattle or any other NFL city.
“I’m not fixing anything for a while,” he said, “except for maybe a squeaky door or something.”
About his upcoming sabbatical, which will last at least one year, Holmgren seemed genuinely excited.
“I’m going into a big adventure here,” he said. “I’ve been doing the same thing for 40 years, and now I’m not going to be doing anything. … I am looking forward to this time. I need this time.”
As for whether Holmgren will return to the game — as a coach, general manager or both — he said the year away will help make that decision for him.
“It’s hard for me to think I can’t do it anymore,” he said when asked whether he expects to coach again. “But I’m going to see how it goes. There’s a chance I might not (coach again).”
Holmgren has positive memories of his run in Seattle, saying that the NFC Championship game in Jan. 2006 was a highlight and that his final victory, a 13-3 win over the New York Jets on Dec. 21, will forever be etched in his memory.
He refused to take any parting shots at the team, saying that there were moments of frustration with letting others make personnel decisions but adding that he did not feel the need to address any specifics.
Holmgren also expressed optimism in the Seahawks’ future, which will begin under new head coach Jim Mora next Monday morning.
“What happened this year,” Holmgren said, referring to an injury-plagued season that saw the Seahawks go 4-12, “it will never happen again.”
In assessing the 2009 season, Holmgren said that injuries were an issue but not the only thing that held the Seahawks back. He said that the Seahawks’ best players had to play at their highest level but that it “didn’t happen this year, for whatever reason.”
He added that he’ll continue to call Seattle home, even though he owns houses near Phoenix, Ariz., and Santa Cruz, Calif. While Holmgren has no plans to visit the team’s practice facility next fall, he does intend to keep up on the Seahawks.
“I suspect I’ll watch the team play” on television, he said, “and I’ll be yelling like I do on the sidelines — but rooting like crazy.”
As for his 10-year run in Seattle, Holmgren said that he didn’t quite accomplish everything he set out to do.
“In my first press conference, I said we were going to win a Super Bowl,” Holmgren said, referring to his arrival in Jan. 1999. “We didn’t. But everything else, I feel good about.
“… The team is in a better place than it was when I first got here. I feel good about that.”
There is a chance that Holmgren, who ranks 10th in NFL history with 174 career victories, has coached his last game for any team.
And if that’s the case, he said Tuesday, his career still went beyond even his wildest expectations.
“I’m just a U.S. history teacher,” he said, “that got lucky.”