RENTON — Jim Mora said this weekend’s game in San Francisco won’t be any different than any of the others he has coached in his career.
Any emotion about playing the 49ers, the team with which Mora has spent more years than any during his career, came out when he went to San Francisco as the head coach of the Falcons five years ago.
“That was kind of the peak of the emotional part for me,” Mora said. “Now it’s just a game against a divisional opponent that we’re going to try to win.”
But in going back to San Francisco, where he served as the 49ers secondary coach in 1997 and 1998 and as defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2003, Mora will be heading back to the place that shaped him as a coach perhaps more than any of the other NFL jobs he has held.
And Mora won’t be the only person on the Seahawks sideline grateful for the time he spent in San Francisco. Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp broke into the NFL as an assistant in San Francisco, and was the 49ers offensive coordinator for three years before going to Atlanta to do the same job under Mora.
“We were lucky to be around some great people in this business, starting with Bill Walsh, John McVay, Bill McPherson, who was a long-time coach there …” Mora said. “You felt like you were around a very special place. They always talked about the 49er standard and the 49er way of doing things and there was always this feeling that permeated the place that you were a little bit different, a little bit special and you kind of protected that.
“Really, we learned the value of that and I think we also learned the value of peer-to-peer accountability. It was an environment in that locker room where the players held each other accountable to the highest standards and they were not afraid to call each other out, but it was always positive. It was never condescending. So as I’ve gone through my career, that’s something that I’ve tried to duplicate.”
Mora took advantage of having Walsh, a coaching legend who returned to the 49ers as vice president and general manager in 1999, at his disposal. The young defensive assistant would bring Walsh into his meetings to get critiques of his coaching style. He would pick Walsh’s brain and kept a journal of coaching advice. Mora said he still has that journal and references it from time to time.
“For me, I said, ‘Here’s this guy that’s working for the organization, that’s in the building, going to the Hall of Fame—or maybe he was already in the Hall of Fame at the time—and he was willing to sit in my meetings and evaluate what I’m saying, or he’s invited me into his office every day to ask him questions, I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that.’”
One bit of Walsh advice has shown through early in Mora’s Seattle career. When Ken Lucas was signed as a free agent, Mora didn’t say there would be competition at cornerback between Lucas and Josh Wilson, he just named Lucas the starter. When the Seahawks made Aaron Curry the No. 4 overall pick, Curry joined the starting lineup almost as soon as he signed.
Walsh taught Mora that lesson eight years ago.
“When we drafted Andre Carter in the first round to play defensive end, I was the defensive coordinator, and in the first practice I had him as the backup,” Mora said. “And he called me in his offense and he said, ‘Why do you have Andre as a backup?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to make him earn that spot.’ He said, ‘We drafted him [seventh]. He’s earned it. Put him in there now, let the guys get used to having him in the huddle. Let him get used to playing with the first-team defense. And get the guy he’s replacing used to being in that role rather than springing it on him the first week of the season when it can be disruptive.’”
And while Mora was established as an NFL assistant by the time he reached San Francisco, Knapp was the offensive coordinator at Sacramento State when the 49ers gave him his NFL break.
Knapp, a quarterback at Sacramento State, made a few training camps after college, including the Los Angeles Raiders’ when Mike Shanahan was the head coach there. In 1992, Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, and the team needing an extra arm for training camp. Joe Montana was starting what would be his final season in San Francisco, and was battling through an aching elbow. Shanahan remembered Knapp from his time with the Raiders and invited him to come to training camp “To be a camp arm to help offset the throws that Joe didn’t have.”
Knapp spent three training camps with the 49ers as a “camp arm” before eventually being named a quality control coach. From there he was promoted to quarterbacks coach, then eventually offensive coordinator. And a lot of what Knapp knows about coaching quarterbacks comes from those practices with Montana and Steve Young.
“For a young coach—at that time I was 28 years old—I’m in a room with Mike Shanahan, Joe Montana, Steve Young and Steve Bono, and that really helped me grow as a coach to learn quarterback play from some great players and coaches in the business. That was my springboard to help me get in this business.”
So while the emotion may be gone by now, this weekend in the Bay Area will still be a bit nostalgic for a couple of Seattle coaches.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at www.heraldnet.com/seahawksblog