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Coach sitting pretty on Seahawks' perch

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Mike Holmgren will not gloat, not a lot anyway. He will not wag his finger and say he was right, that one year ago this week, the Seattle Seahawks needed a serious shakedown, a regime change.

He will not, in a playoff season in which the Seahawks have much reason to be considered the favorite among Super Bowl contenders, spend inordinate time insinuating that had things gone the other way, who knows if the Seahawks would be where they are right now: 13-3 and supreme among NFC playoff seeds, with one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL.

But there was this pithy little aside, uttered among friends at the Seahawks' facility this week.

"I almost quit last year," he said.

And he was smiling, a grin under his distinctive walrus mustache, because now it has all come out clean, like a clear lane to the end zone.

But last year, Holmgren was worn out and disgusted and incapable of dealing any longer with Bob Whitsitt, the abrasive Seahawks president who was fired last January once it was clear what Holmgren was thinking.

Holmgren? Quit? The man who was handed the keys to the Seahawks in 1999, given a whopping $32 million, long-term contract by billionaire owner Paul Allen and named vice president/general manager and coach?

"I felt pretty good about the football team," said Holmgren, who gave up his GM duties after the 2002 season. "I thought we were very close last year, the football side of things. But to really win, the organization has to be really solid. I wasn't sure about that.

"Now, I've never quit anything in my life, but as tired as I was, I needed to go to Arizona to clear my head. In the end, [wife] Kathy and I did exactly the right thing."

It was actually Allen who probably did the right thing by removing Whitsitt - a non-football guy who once ran Allen's Portland Trail Blazers before being fired after the basketball organization became a national joke called the Jail Blazers. Whitsitt resurfaced in Kirkland as the Seahawks' president.

People reportedly hated their jobs - including the team's Super Bowl-winning coach.

In a meeting with Allen, Holmgren said he didn't think he could continue. And when Holmgren went off to the desert, Allen made a bold decision, firing Whitsitt and sticking with Holmgren.

Now, with the team having won 11 of its past 12 games, everyone is rowing in the same direction, staffers and players say. Allen has installed Tod Leiweke as chief executive officer and Tim Ruskell as president.

This might be the ultimate lesson that Holmgren, Allen and the Seahawks have to teach this playoff season: Sometimes, it takes a serious retooling of the machine to put together a winner.

After making the playoffs his first season in Seattle in 1999, Holmgren merely tweaked the Seahawks. They missed the postseason the next three seasons, and though this is their third straight year in the playoffs, the Seahawks have been eliminated in the wild-card round the past two seasons.

For many critics, Holmgren was given too much rope. Witness the NFL advertisement aired during last week's playoff games that depicted a series of preseason gripes and predictions by "fans." The last scene shows a Seahawks fan announcing that Holmgren ought to be fired.

But this year, Holmgren has the league's Most Valuable Player in running back Shaun Alexander, plus quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and tackles Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones anchoring the NFL's No. 2-ranked offense.

Still, without a playoff win since 1984, the Seahawks have some history to throw off. No one is calling the Seahawks a team of destiny, but that doesn't mean the team doesn't have a good feeling about the way things have turned around since last January.

Thank goodness, said 13-year veteran fullback Mack Strong.

"We'd all be home right now if [Holmgren] had been allowed to quit," Strong said. "It would have been the worst thing in the world for this organization for Coach not to be here. He spent so many years molding this team. He brought in players. He brought the vision."

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