Jim Mora, who coached the Seahawks secondary last season, was designated as coaching successor to Mike Holmgren today.

Share story

The Seahawks didn’t have to look far to find their next coach.

They didn’t have to look too long, either.

The team designated Jim Mora as its coaching successor to Mike Holmgren today.

Saying the Seahawks were going to be about “stability and unity,” team president Tim Ruskell announced at the team’s headquarters in Kirkland that Mora would be the Seahawks coach beginning in February 2009.

Ruskell and the team’s chief executive officer Todd Leiweke said the decision was made to name Mora now to avoid any uncertainty as Holmgren coaches his final season.

“We have a guy that everybody likes and we’re united in the organization from top to bottom,” Ruskell said. “What precipitated this was Coach Holmgren’s decision.”

The team and Mora have agreed to a five-year contract, four years as head coach.

Mora and Holmgren did not attend the news conference.

“They are not here today because they didn’t want this to be a big focus, they want the focus to be on 2008,” Ruskell said.

Ruskell said he had no doubt Mora was the right coach to succeed Holmgren.

“Everybody knows who Jim Mora is, he’s a high-energy guy,” Ruskell said. “His players respect him and they play hard for him.”

Leweike said that Holmgren endorsed the decision.

“We will focus on the field [in 2008], but we will also pay tribute to everything Mike Holmgren has done,” Leiweke said. “We think the greatest tribune we can pay Mike is to keep this train rolling.”

Holmgren will coach the Seahawks in 2008, the final year of his contract. He announced last month that next season — his 10th with the franchise — will be his last with the Seahawks.

Mora, 46, is the Seahawks’ assistant head coach and coaches the defensive backs. He attended junior high and high school in Bellevue and played football at the University of Washington. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Washington, but has worked in the NFL since 1985.

He was named head coach in Atlanta in 2004. The Falcons won 11 games their first season under Mora and reached the NFC Championship Game. Tim Ruskell, who was hired as the Seahawks’ president in 2005, worked with Mora in 2004 with Atlanta. The Falcons’ victories declined in the two following years, and he was fired after the team went 7-9 in 2006 and missed the playoffs. The Falcons were 4-12 last season, their first without Mora.

Mora’s three-year record with Atlanta was 26-22, the highest winning percentage of any coach in Falcons history. He was criticized during his final season in Atlanta for his statements during an interview with KJR-AM in Seattle when he described being Washington Huskies coach as his dream job, one he would leave any post to take. He later said he was joking.

After leaving Atlanta, Mora was a finalist to coach Miami in 2006. The Dolphins hired Cam Cameron. The Giants inquired about Mora’s interest in being their defensive coordinator. Instead, he took a job on the Seahawks staff, and he cited the opportunity of working with Holmgren.

Mora coached the secondary this past season, a group that was one of the most improved on the team. Cornerback Marcus Trufant was chosen for his first Pro Bowl, and new safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant shored up the back end of a defense that was burned over the top repeatedly in 2006. Seattle allowed 23 touchdown passes that season, ninth-most in the league. The Seahawks allowed 15 touchdown passes in 2007, fewest in the NFL.

Mora is a defensive-minded coach whose rapport with his players is a strength. He took players like Trufant and defensive end Patrick Kerney on offseason training runs up a 3-mile trail on Tiger Mountain. He’s a coach who jokingly took away Jordan Babineaux’s nickname of “Big Play Babs” after Babineaux dropped two passes he could have intercepted. Babineaux earned it back with a sack and a forced fumble in a Monday night game against San Francisco.

Mora was a candidate for the Washington Redskins’ head-coaching job in January, but withdrew himself from consideration to remain on the Seahawks staff.

The Seahawks have made the playoffs five consecutive seasons under Holmgren. He signed a contract extension in 2006, which runs through the upcoming season. When he announced he would return for the final year, he said that designating this as his final season with the team would have some advantages in terms of charting the future course for the franchise.

“Being able to transition to the next year knowing that you kind of have to get things in order, I think there are some advantages to be quite honest with you,” Holmgren said.

Mora is the second coach to be designated the successor for his team this offseason. Jim Caldwell will replace Tony Dungy as Colts coach once Dungy decides to step down. Dungy announced last month he will return for at least one more season.

NFL protocol for hiring a new head coach is the team must interview at least one minority candidate for the position, a stipulation commonly referred to as the Rooney Rule. However, the NFL has spelled out one exception to that rule. If a team has made a prior contractual commitment to promote a coach from within, then no additional interviews need to take place, such as when Mike Martz became St. Louis’ coach in 2000.

Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

The Mora file
Jim Mora, who is expected to succeed Mike Holmgren as Seahawks coach, led Atlanta to the playoffs once in three seasons. A look at his tenure as Falcons coach:
Season W-L Postseason
2004 11-5 Advanced to NFC championship*
2005 8-8 Did not qualify (3rd in NFC South)
2006 7-9 Did not qualify (3rd in NFC South)
*Lost to Philadelphia 27-10.