RENTON — The Mike Holmgren who serves as president of the Cleveland Browns is different than the Mike Holmgren who spent 17 years as a head coach, including 10 seasons guiding the Seattle Seahawks.
He is calmer now, he insists, better equipped to handle a disappointing result from time to ti
me. All it took for Holmgren to mellow was some time away from the sidelines, as well as a stern talking to from his wife, Kathy.
Following the Browns’ season opening loss this year, Holmgren recalled on a conference call with Seattle reporters, he was “Kind of a jerk,” while out for dinner with Kathy and some friends. After blowing off some more steam the following Monday, Holmgren came home and heard it from his wife.
Kathy’s message: “If you wanted to be that big of a jerk, get back into coaching. … Do you want to be that angry all the time? Do you want to be that frustrated?”
Holmgren, who was best known in Seattle for making the Seahawks a perennial playoff team and leading the franchise to its only Super Bowl, but also known for his fiery sideline demeanor, realized his wife was right.
“You know what, I don’t (want to be angry and frustrated),” he told himself. “I’m 63 years old, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I want to build this up again to be something special. I said, ‘You’re right, I don’t want to be like that.’ It was an epiphany of sorts.”
And as Holmgren’s new team prepares to host his old one this weekend, it’s perhaps fitting that both his demeanor and his role in Cleveland are different, because so, too, is the Seahawks team he’ll see on Sunday.
Holmgren admitted that it will be emotional to see “players that went to the trenches for you,” but the thing is, there aren’t too many of those players left on Seattle’s roster. Of the 53 players currently on the active roster, just seven played for Holmgren: receiver Ben Obomanu, running back Justin Forsett, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, defensive end Red Bryant, linebacker Leroy Hill, linebacker David Hawthorne and punter Jon Ryan.
“The fewer number of players that there are, yeah, I think it will take away from the emotions just a little bit,” Holmgren said.
Those few remaining Seahawks who did play for Holmgren say it will be a special moment when they see their former coach.
Like Seahawks fans, players can appreciate what he did for the team. When Holmgren was hired away from Green Bay in 1999, the Seahawks hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1988, and hadn’t won a playoff game since the 1984 season. Under Holmgren, the Seahawks made the playoffs six times in 10 seasons, won four consecutive division titles and made their only Super Bowl appearance.
“He changed the face of this franchise,” said linebacker Leroy Hill, who played four seasons under Holmgren and was a rookie on the Super Bowl XL team. “I think people will always remember that.”
Holmgren’s former players are thankful for the coach who gave them a chance in the NFL, and hope to pass that message along this weekend. They also will have a hard time believing that the man who not too long ago intimidated professional athletes with simple stare could possibly have mellowed.
“I can’t imagine it at all,” Obomanu said with a chuckle. “On game days, when a play went wrong, he would turn around and nobody wanted to be in his eyesight, because you didn’t want to be the one to get yelled at first. So, I can’t imagine him being a front office guy upstairs, seeing things not going the way he wants, and turn around have nobody there to fuss at.”
After leaving Seattle following the 2008 season, Holmgren took a year off. When Seattle was looking for a new president after Tod Leiweke left for a job in the NHL, Holmgren was a candidate for that job, but ultimately he chose to go Cleveland where he would have total authority over the franchise. He and Kathy have made Cleveland their home, but they still have family in the Seattle area, and see themselves back here someday.
For now, however, Holmgren’s focus is on doing in Cleveland what he did in Seattle — turning a struggling franchise into a Super Bowl caliber team.
Holmgren said he doesn’t plan on coaching again. He did consider taking over as Cleveland’s coach last season before hiring Pat Shurmur to replace the fired Eric Mangini. And staying out of coaching will probably sit just fine with his wife after his dinner performance following that Week 1 loss.
Instead, the calmer, less fiery Holmgren will try to make the Browns a winning franchise while staying off the sideline.
“I want to help,” he said. “I want to be there for Pat Shurmur. I don’t want to be the guy banging on the table all the time anymore. I did that for a number of years in coaching — and it’s part of what you have to do to get everyone’s attention — but now my role is different. That’s how I’m approaching it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog