Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren addresses the New England media during his conference call on Wednesday, December 3, 2008.
Q: What's going on out there this season? Obviously, it hasn't unfolded the way I'm sure you hoped it would.
MH: Yeah, it's difficult. It's been an unusual year right from the get-go, you know. But I've been very proud of the players. The guys that have been left standing have been going like crazy. We just haven't been quite good enough. We have four games left and there's a lot of pride in the locker room. There's still a good feeling in the locker room, but going through a season like this is new for a lot of them and it's new for me, honestly. My job is to keep them going, keep them playing hard until the end and then next year this type of injury situation shouldn't occur again.
Q: No coach or player will ever really use injury as an excuse, but have you charted where your injury situation ranks compared to the rest of the league as far as man games lost?
MH: I have not done that. I think we have people here that do that but I've told them I don't really want to be reminded of that or know where it is. I think injuries—the Patriots have had injuries. One of the best players in football got hurt in the first game, so every team gets hurt. I think it's a credit to New England and to Bill [Belichick] that the team is doing so well even after the injuries they've had. They have a good football team and they were able to withstand that, certainly better than we have. I think at times you look at where you get hurt and how that has effected your particular situation. Every team is different, and in our case it was pretty disruptive.
Q: Being around the league as long as you have been, are you at all concerned about whether injuries are in general up around the league? Or is that something you might look at after the season?
MH: Well, I'm not going to look at much after the season except my motorcycle and my swimming fins. So I'll let someone else worry about the injuries. But this year, this has been—I don't know. I think you might have a year where it's a little bit higher or lower. I don't think anyone would be able to pinpoint that. The players are bigger and stronger and we all know that kind of stuff. They're always studying the shoes and studying the fields and stuff like that, but the simple fact is football is a different sport that way. The injury factor is definitely part of our world in this game and you just keep your fingers crossed that you don't get big ones and you don't get key guys hurt and sometimes that doesn't happen. I know this: the teams that typically are left playing at the end of the year typically are the teams that have been most healthy.
Q: You mentioned what you'll be doing after the season and I'm sure you've been asked this question constantly, but what are your plans? Could you be wooed by an organization looking for a general manager or are you firm "I'm out".
MH: Right now, I'm looking at it as I'm going to take a year off. That's how I'm looking at it right now. And if you ask my wife, Cathy, that's definitely how she's looking at it right now. We thought and I thought long and hard about this before I came back for this season. I've had 17 years in a row of being a head coach in the league and I've learned some things about myself and also some things I don't bounce back from so well. So, I think it's the right time for me to step back and get recharged and maybe learn a little bit more about myself in the next year. So, right now that's what we're going to do.
Q: This might be tough to answer now, but in your situation where your replacement seems to be in house, has that been tough or made for any awkward situations?
MH: I think that's a very fair question and it's something that we knew was going to come up. The only thing I had wished for at the time—even though I wanted people in the building to know what the situation was, particularly the coaching staff—I didn't want it to be that public. And when it went public, of course the cat's out of the bag. But, Jim Mora has been here. He's been the secondary coach. He'll be the next coach of the Seahawks. Jim and I spoke a number of times about how we wanted it to go this year, prior to the year starting. And he's been great. He's coaching like crazy, coaching the secondary. And I can honestly say that even though people—because of our record—would like to think that's been part of it and I can honestly say it hasn't had anything to do with it. The players have responded to me the same way they always have. It's just too bad that we're having the season we're having because then it opens up some questions about how we're doing this. I know the organization is comfortable with how they did it and I did it because I didn't want the speculation going into my last year—'is he coming back?' and all that—taking away from the football team. It's just too bad that we didn't play a little better this year.
Q: What are the potential challenges associated with that type of arrangement, if there are any?
MH: Really, what you have to think about is how is it going to affect the players. That's the number one thing. A lot of these players have been with me a long time. I've been here 10 years. They know how I operate. They know my emotions and I don't think I've changed this year. Had I changed and had the dynamic on the field, in practice or in meetings been different, then I think you open yourself up to the players saying 'who should we look to?' But if you don't change that and you approach it as business as usual, then I don't think there's a problem. I really don't. I'm a demonstrative guy, I'm an emotional coach and the players know. I had a good meeting with them at the beginning of the year and they've been super about it. So, I think if you handle it right, if you do it right and everyone knows, everyone knows what the program is you have a change to make it work.
Q: What about some of the things that are out of your control? The job at the University of Washington has been open for some time now, and with Coach Mora having played there, there have been rumors floating around about him taking that job. Is that maybe the negative of the situation: if a rumor like that comes up then it puts everyone in an awkward situation?
MH: Well, I think that could happen. Absolutely, that could happen and that rumor was floating around here pretty strongly. But I have very little to do with that. As head coach of the Seahawks, I'm concerned with what I'm doing. But I think if things were to come up with the heir apparent, in this case Jim Mora, then the organization and Jim have to work that out. That has to be clear and I think everyone has to be upfront and honest about it. In this day and age if you want to be a college head coach and have the opportunity, you have to make those decisions as a coach. I think it's only reasonable and fair that you're honest with the organization.
Q: If Coach Mora did have a change of heart and decided he wanted the Washington head job instead of the Seahawks job, you would think that as understandable?
MH: I'm kind of out of that. I have my hands full trying to figure out how to pick up the blitz on the Patriots. But say I was in charge; say I was dealing with the coach in this area. I would expect that coach to be upfront with me; I would be honest with him. I think that's how you conduct business. I just don't see that as being a particular problem as long as both sides are willing to be up front.
Q: Despite the injuries, is it still surprising to see a team that has as much success as they did last year be in the situation they are this year?
MH: I think—I've had to do a lot of thinking about this because of our own injury situation. In trying to evaluate our situation, I think the Patriots are so good and they've been able to withstand this and still are in the playoff hunt. In our case, let's just assume for a second that you were projected to be a 12-4, 11-5 team and win your division and do all that. Bang, you lose your quarterback. I don't care who you are and I'm not talking about a Tom Brady type quarterback, you're starting quarterback—typically that's two or three games automatically. Now in our case, we lost the quarterback, then we lost all of our wide receivers—not only the starters, but the backups and then the two guys we hired from the Chevron station, all of them. There're another two games. Then you lose four offensive linemen: that's another two games. Then you lose your top defensive player, Patrick Crane and that's another two games. So, they [injuries] absolutely have an effect on what your win-loss record is going to be. Like I said, it's a real tribute to the Patriots to see where they are. It's a little shock to everyone's system since they've been so good—heck, undefeated for Pete's sake. But that's what this business is. Injuries do affect the outcome of games and the outcome of your season.
Q: Is there one thing that sticks out about teams who do win through injuries?
MH: I think it's the type of team you are and where you get hurt. If you live and die, as an example, by the pass and you lose your quarterback and wide receivers, that's going to have a profound effect on you. If your team is built to run the ball and pound the ball—say Baltimore, with a young quarterback, a great defensive team. They play the team a certain way. If you lose your young quarterback and then have to play with a veteran backup, that's not going to have the same effect on your roster. It absolutely has to do with how you put your team together. If you were a running, pound them team and you lost all of your running backs and three of your linemen, you wouldn't have a very good year, I wouldn't think. That's part of it. I think there a really lot of good coaches. Coach Belichick is one of the best of all time, so he can sort of overcome some of those things, but again, he's human. I think it's mainly how you set up your team, what are your strengths, have you been hit in your strengths, and in our case, can your defense carry the load a little while and we've struggled that way.
Q: Can you comment on Deion Branch's time with you guys?
MH: I think Deion's been frustrated because he's been hurt a little bit too much and he hadn't been hurt before. I just told my guys when I was asked that question in my own press conference, if you had to pick a game where you were going to showcase your talents - he hit it in the Super Bowl. The timing was just brilliant and wonderful for him. You guys know him. He's a great guy, but he'd never been hurt before and he has been injured out here, which is unfortunate. My hope is, now he comes back off these injuries, he's playing again for us this year—he just started playing a couple weeks ago—and he's making a contribution. Is he the 100-catch guy who kind of carries your offensive team? He has not been that for us. Maybe he will be in the future. I know this: I enjoy him, he's a team guy and he works very hard, so all of that's good.
Q: What about Heath Evans?
MH: He's had a great run with you guys. We drafted him. I love Heath. For us, we had Shaun Alexander and he and Heath were actually really good friends. I called him a halfback in a fullback's body. He was a great runner, good pass receiver. We needed him to be a slam-it-up-in-there blocker. Those things don't come easy all the time for guys that are used to touching the ball and carrying the ball more. Maybe we weren't quite patient enough with Heath, but he is one of the good guys that I have ever coached. I've said this before with the guys that are in the league that I've had some time with: I root for Heath Evans. I'm not going to root for him Sunday, but I root for him and how he plays.
Q: Obviously, your pass defense numbers aren't where you want them. What do you think is the cause?
MH: I think anytime the passing numbers are up for any team that would surprise you, typically it's tied in with pass rush. That's what I think. I think we have basically the same secondary and linebackers we've had. We've had trouble harassing the quarterback and making him throw the ball poorly. That's the biggest thing. We've been victimized a little bit this year by the long play. Last year, we were very good at shutting that down. The year before that we weren't so good, so it goes like that. This year has been a tough year all the way around, but I would say pass rush is the biggest thing.
Q: How nice of a surprise has John Carlson been?
MH: I wouldn't call him a surprise necessarily. The only surprise would be that a rookie comes in and does what he does as a rookie. I think he's mature beyond his years. I think he's got a bright, bright future. I wish I had him 10 years ago. He's just what you want at the position and he's smart. And once he gets a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, I think he'll be a really fine tight end in this league for a long time—Pro Bowl caliber tight end.
Q: What are your impressions of Brett Favre, the Jet years?
MH: How about that, huh? You guys have to play against him a couple times. The irony here is my last game in Seattle is against [the Jets] and he's playing for the other team. I thought we played that movie a couple years ago in Green Bay a couple times. Nothing he does surprises me, really. He's a remarkable athlete. We've been talking about injuries a fair amount on this conference call, and when you think about it, of all the great things he's done, the most remarkable is his consecutive games streak. That will never be touched. It's unbelievable. He's just a tough guy who clearly wanted to play some more and the Jets, bless their hearts, they worked it out and it has really worked well for them.
Q: What have you seen on film about how the chemistry between Matt Cassel and Randy Moss has developed?
MH: That's hard for me to judge, honestly. Cassel, to me, has really impressed me with what he's done, given his experience. Again, it's a credit to Bill [Belichick] and his staff and the support that he has around him. There's the case of a young quarterback who hasn't had a chance to play, gets his change, but now he gets to throw the ball to Randy Moss. That's a pretty good deal. And he's got a veteran offensive line. He has Kevin Faulk. He has some guys that can really help him. But he's got to hold up his end of the bargain, and I think he's done it beautifully. I'm very, very impressed with the job he's doing.
Q: I'm just curious league-wide, have you noticed more pick plays? Or have they always been around and we are just seeing more in the highlights?
MH: I think you're probably seeing a little bit more. Being an offensive coach, I would never use the 'P' word. I think what you do see is a lot more man-to-man coverage. You see a lot more press, man-to-man, crowd-type coverages. One of the weapons you have offensively to combat that is to cross your receivers and rub people off and things like that. If it is happening more, it's happening more as a reaction to the type of defenses that you're seeing. Officials to me, think they know if it's a pick more than the fact that it's actually a pick. Often times the guy that gets called for the penalty, honestly, is a potential pass receiver in the route and to me, that's not always officiated just the way it should be.
Q: But isn't that a hard call for those guys because then aren't you almost judging intent?
MH: Exactly. That's my point. It is a hard call, so don't call it. Stay away from the intent because you don't really know, often times—you have no idea often times—what the pattern is all about and what those players have been told.