Mike Holmgren will be inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor on Sunday, a hugely deserving honor for the man who took the franchise to its first Super Bowl.
But this ceremony should just be an appetizer for the ultimate honor for Holmgren — a berth in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, Holmgren’s plaque in Canton, Ohio, should have been hung long ago.
His résumé screams out Hall of Fame. And coaching protégés of Holmgren’s who have made the Hall of Fame in recent years only amplify how glaring it is that he remains on the outside. That’s not an indictment of the likes of Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy and Jimmy Johnson; they deserve their enshrinement. It’s just that Holmgren is every bit as worthy, if not more so.
The clock is ticking. Let’s hope the Hall of Fame voters come to their senses while Holmgren can still savor the honor. The arcane selection process of the Pro Football Hall of Fame often requires worthy candidates, both players and coaches, to patiently wait their turn; other coaches such as John Madden, Hank Stram and George Allen all waited more than 25 years.
I have no doubt that Holmgren will eventually get in. But let’s hope they get on with it soon.
I watched firsthand the misery of Seattle native Ron Santo and his family as the former Cubs third baseman was passed over time and again for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Santo was finally elected by the Veterans Committee in 2012 — two years after he died.
Santo wore his emotions on his sleeve and made his heartbreak quite evident while he was alive. Holmgren is being much more stoic about it, but there’s not an athlete or coach of his stature I’ve ever met who doesn’t have a deep yearning to receive the ultimate recognition.
“I think that I’ve remained consistent and honest about this,” Holmgren said Friday during a Zoom news conference in advance of his Ring of Honor induction.
“When I got into this business, particularly after (coaching) high school and so on, my goal was to earn the respect of my fellow coaches, so they could look at me and say I was doing a pretty good job. That’s really what I wanted, so anything after that is great, it’s really good.
“Now to say that going into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be special would be dishonest; it’s something. I’m 73 years old. Hopefully I have some years left, so maybe it will happen. If it does, it will be something special, just like Sunday will be.”
The depth of Holmgren’s credentials for the Hall of Fame is remarkable. There are the 161 regular-season wins, 16th-most in NFL history. There are the 12 playoff appearances, tied for sixth all-time. There are the 13 playoff wins, ranking No. 7 in history.
Of course, there is the Super Bowl title Holmgren won with the Packers after the 1996 season (over New England and Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells), and the two other Super Bowls he reached as a head coach, one with Green Bay and one with Seattle after the 2005 season.
The loss to Pittsburgh in the latter still clearly rankles Holmgren, who when asked about the many controversial calls in that game Friday replied: “Yeah, I felt that was a poorly officiated game. The officials should never be the story line for the Super Bowl. That’s ridiculous, and it was. You didn’t have to be a Seahawks fan to see that.”
There are also the two Super Bowl rings Holmgren earned as an assistant coach with the 49ers. And the Hall of Fame quarterbacks he helped nurture — Joe Montana (who was already established when Holmgren was hired by Bill Walsh, but who then won two MVP Awards under his tutelage), Steve Young and Brett Favre. Not to mention his stellar coaching tree, topped by Super Bowl winners Andy Reid and the since-disgraced Jon Gruden.
Holmgren also showed he could get to the Super Bowl with a quarterback who wasn’t Hall of Fame caliber by helping to elevate Matt Hasselbeck into a Pro Bowler. There is a strong affinity — and affection — between Holmgren and Hasselbeck, who preceded his former coach into the Seahawks Ring of Honor by six days. The two went out for lunch last week, and Holmgren told Hasselbeck — whom he brought to Seattle in a trade with Green Bay — how proud he was of him.
“When Matt came in, I always referred to it as tough love,” Holmgren said. “I was hard on him. He’s a very smart guy. He pushed back on things. He would bang around a little bit, and all of a sudden, I remember distinctly that he came into my office one day and goes, ‘Mike, I get it.’
“From that point on, it was different. That’s the nurturing, and in my opinion, that’s what you have to do when you have a young guy playing quarterback. The coach and quarterback have to connect at some point, and that’s what makes the whole thing work.”
The glaring absence of Holmgren in the Hall of Fame was amplified two years ago when Cowher was selected in the expanded 2020 “Centennial” Class.
Cowher has the same number of Super Bowl wins as Holmgren (achieved at Holmgren’s expense) and got to the big game one fewer time. Holmgren won 161 games to Cowher’s 149 (though Cowher had a higher winning percentage). Holmgren went to the playoffs in 12 of his 17 seasons, with seven division titles and four NFC title games. Cowher had 10 playoff berths, won eight division titles and reached six AFC title games.
In other words, it’s hard to see why Cowher got a ticket to Canton and Holmgren is still waiting.
You could play the same game with Dick Vermeil, who was selected as the coaching finalist for the 2022 Hall of Fame Class. And again, Holmgren more than holds his own.
Here’s hoping that Holmgren, who will be feted by the Lumen Field crowd Sunday, has another, even greater, honor to celebrate in the very near future.