SEATTLE — Mike Holmgren will be coming back to Seattle. Just not necessarily how anyone imagined it. Holmgren will leave as Cleveland Browns president after this season, and will retire. At least that’s what the team’s new owner, Jimmy Haslam, stated Tuesday as he took over control of the team.
That’s significant not just because Holmgren still owns a home here and because of what he will always mean to this Seahawks franchise. It’s meaningful when you stop to think about what might have been had Holmgren returned to the Seahawks three years ago.
It could’ve happened. It almost did, in fact, at the end of the year he took off after coaching the Seahawks from 1999 to 2008. Seattle inquired about bringing him back as president or CEO or whatever title you pick for a team’s top pigskin official. Things had progressed far enough that some had discussed the possibility of bringing him out to raise the 12th Man flag before the team’s Dec. 20 game against Tampa Bay.
Instead, negotiations collapsed so suddenly and completely that the sides couldn’t even agree why they disagreed and whether it was the degree of control Holmgren would have over the franchise as he implied or the size of the contract terms, which the team indicated.
Three years later it’s possible to look back on that weekend as a crossroads in the Seahawks’ history. On a Saturday, Seattle announced it had failed to reach an agreement with Holmgren to return to the team, and on Sunday, the Seahawks went out and lost at home to a 1-12 Tampa Bay team that had lost eight consecutive regular-season road games.
That 24 hours constituted the lowest point in this franchise’s history that did not include moving vans, and it led to owner Paul Allen hitting the reset button on his franchise. To not only find a new president to replace Tim Ruskell, but to inquire about and then hire Pete Carroll to not just coach his team, but to consult in the selection of the general manager.
It wasn’t a smooth process. Not only did the Seahawks fire a coach after just one season for the first time, but they had Jim Mora conduct a season-summarizing news conference in the same week they were pursuing his eventual successor.
But three years later, it’s possible to look back and see that Seattle has turned over its roster to the point that only seven players remain from when Carroll arrived.
The Seahawks have rookie Russell Wilson starting at quarterback, and a free-agent acquisition, Matt Flynn, who is sufficiently intriguing that some people in this town are convinced he should be starting even though Wilson is 4-2.
Cleveland is 10-28 going back to 2010, Holmgren’s first full season as president. The Browns’ victory over the Bengals on Sunday ended an 11-game losing streak, but to use that as a measurement is misleading. Holmgren didn’t fail in his attempt to oversee a rebuilding chance nearly so much as he won’t get a chance to see it through. He just this year picked his quarterback, Brandon Weeden.
This isn’t to say Holmgren couldn’t have rebuilt Seattle. He is an incredible coach, a charismatic person, and bringing back the man most responsible for the most successful era in Seahawks football isn’t exactly going out on a limb.
But the fact that he didn’t return cleared the way for the Seahawks to start over cleanly. To not just reboot the machine, but reprogram the entire franchise. Three years later, Seattle is seeing the results of that decision to start from scratch.