The mood at Mike Holmgren's weekly news conference felt strange, melancholy. It was much heavier and more serious than most of these sessions. Less than 48 hours after the Seahawks'...

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KIRKLAND — The mood at Mike Holmgren’s weekly news conference felt strange, melancholy. It was much heavier and more serious than most of these sessions.


Less than 48 hours after the Seahawks’ crushing loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Holmgren’s voice was softer than usual. He was more introspective. He still was wearing this loss on the sleeve of his blue Seahawks windbreaker. You could hear the pain in his voice.


At this stage in his career, especially after six frustrating years in Seattle, these losses linger. Holmgren isn’t bouncing back from the defeats like he used to. He sounded tired and just as disappointed with this season as all of the e-mailers and sign-carriers who have been calling for his head.


“I’ve been at it awhile now so that it’s starting to … it’s like taking too many body blows,” Holmgren said. “Boom, boom. Pretty soon you know you can’t take so many anymore.”


Holmgren has been roughed up this season. Last-minute losses at home to the St. Louis Rams and Dallas. Desperate comebacks that fell short at New England and St. Louis.


He came here six years ago and was expected to take this franchise to places it never before had gone. And never were those expectations higher than this season.


















Sunday
Seattle at Minnesota
10 a.m., Ch. 13

But all he has delivered in six seasons is two wan playoff appearances and a disappointing 6-6 record this year. He lost his job as personnel director. He privately battled with team president Bob Whitsitt. He heard the vitriol from the stands, loud as exploding mortar shells, and read the angry signs that have called for his head.


And yesterday, if you listened between Holmgren’s lines, you could hear the first faint signals that this might be his last season with the Seahawks.


“It’s hard, yeah, it’s hard,” he said. “And the longer I’m at this, the harder it is. I hope nobody has to lose a game like we lost Monday night, and we’ve lost two of them this season. And it’s difficult.”


But the question remains: Should Mike Holmgren, who has two years remaining on his contract, be fired at the end of this season?


The great cacophony in Seattle says he should. But if it is a coach’s job to put his players in a position to make plays, then I don’t think Holmgren should be fired.


“As much as I try to avoid it (the fans taunting), yeah, I do hear it,” Holmgren said. “I am as disappointed as anybody. But what happens in the future? My future is Minnesota (Sunday’s opponent). And then my future is the New York Jets. And then all that other stuff, that’s for another time and other people.”


Two calls usually are used as Exhibits A and B for his failure this season.


The first was the pass to Bobby Engram with less than three minutes to go in Seattle against the Rams when the Hawks led 27-24. The hometown jury thinks he should have run the ball.


But Holmgren called a perfect pass play against the Rams’ man-to-man defense. And Engram was open. But Rams defensive end Leonard Little over-ran Chris Terry and forced quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to hurry the pass into an incompletion.


Coincidentally, the next week in New England, the Patriots under two-time Super Bowl-winning genius coach Bill Belichick did almost the same thing.


Leading 23-20, with 2:55 left, Tom Brady threw an incompletion on first down. Then, after Corey Dillion’s 3-yard run, Brady threw long on third down and Bethel Johnson made a miraculous catch for a 48-yard gain.


One team missed a play, one team made a play, making Belichick look like a wizard and Holmgren look like a dope.


The second play was the fourth-and-one handoff to Mack Strong during the Hawks’ comeback from a 17-0 deficit in St. Louis. Strong was stopped for no gain on a play that has worked dozens of times in the past. The call was right, but it was blocked poorly and the blame fell on the coach.


Holmgren’s West Coast offense still works. If his receivers had caught another dozen passes this year, nobody would be questioning his play-calling or his future.


Sure, he has made mistakes. His record here — 47-47, including playoff games — is the definition of mediocre and correctly a point of frustration with the fans.


He didn’t keep independent-minded special-teams coach Pete Rodriguez, and the special teams have been deadly this season. He probably has spent too much time on the passing game at the expense of the rest of the game. He probably is too stubborn with his play-calling.


He can be blamed for his poor personnel decisions (see the 2002 draft) before losing the all-encompassing, hyphenated title before the 2003 season. And losses like these last two at home to the Buffalo Bills and Dallas, in a season as inconsistent as this, are the types that cost coaches their jobs.


But I also think many of the raps against him are bum. He isn’t a 9-to-5 coach, as some have hinted. He works hard. He remains committed.


Contrary to some opinions, he has developed Hasselbeck into a very good quarterback. And even though he had a reputation for arrogance when he came from Green Bay, he has seemed almost humble here. He is a good guy and is extremely active in the community in a non-look-at-me way.


Still, I don’t think he’ll return. His relationship with the front office has become too contentious. Unless something miraculous happens in the next five or six weeks, Holmgren and Whitsitt probably will come to some mutual agreement at the end of the season.


“I don’t expect the fans to understand some of the business side of the franchise that sometimes has to take place,” Holmgren said. “If I had a chance to talk to those folks one on one, I think I could kind of explain some things to them. But that’s never the case.”


The fans see the record. The fans feel the pain of the losses as seriously as he does. The fans see six years of .500 football from a franchise that has marinated in mediocrity.


His is a cruel business, and it has taken its toll on Mike Holmgren. I believe he still is a very good football coach. It just hasn’t worked in Seattle.


Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com