- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

Even though Seattle has earned two division titles and a wild-card berth in his six seasons, the marriage of Mike Holmgren and the Seahawks nearly broke up after January’s first-round loss to St. Louis.

The problem wasn’t just Holmgren’s continuing failure to coach the Seahawks to postseason success. His feud with Bob Whitsitt over spending on players became heated when the club president took away his general managerial role late in 2002.

Then, executives Mike Reinfeldt and Ted Thompson, both Holmgren associates from his Super Bowl-winning tenure in Green Bay, left when their contracts expired. Whitsitt didn’t try to keep either.

“The football part of it has always been fun, but when they changed my job description, I didn’t agree with that,” Holmgren said. “Then when the organization started losing what I thought were really capable people, that was hard to deal with. All those things put together led up to my really thinking hard about the job I had been doing [and wondering], ‘How much fire do I have left?’ ”

But just as the 56-year-old coach was contemplating his departure, Seahawks owner Paul Allen surprisingly fired Whitsitt, a colleague from their NBA days. Reinfeldt soon returned as senior vice president, and Holmgren was pleased with the hiring of experienced NFL personnel man Tim Ruskell to replace Whitsitt.

Reinfeldt quickly got deals done with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, a perennial training camp holdout, allowing the Seahawks to franchise NFC rushing champion Shaun Alexander. Although Alexander is unsigned and the 26th-ranked defense doesn’t seem much improved after changing four starters, Holmgren is much happier despite a 50-49 record in Seattle.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract,” said Holmgren, the NFC’s longest-tenured coach and 16th on the all-time list with 135 victories. “A lot [of my future] will be determined by how the Seahawks feel.”

Honest man — Second-year Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t mince words when it came to trying to fix his team’s NFL-worst offense. Smith fired coordinator John Shoop after just one season and replaced him with former Illinois coach Ron Turner (Norv’s brother).

“It’s not the ideal situation, but when something is so bad, that overrules everything else,” Smith said of quarterback Rex Grossman learning a third system in three years. “When you’re so bad, guys are ready to just grasp anything.”

Grossman’s development should be enhanced by Chicago’s signing of former Carolina receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who is coming off a career year with 93 catches, 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. No Bears wideout caught more than 42 passes or scored more than two touchdowns in 2004.

“My job is to make Rex’s job as easy as possible,” Muhammad said. “I played with Jake Delhomme, and he hadn’t really had any NFL experience until two years ago [when he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl]. I’m not saying we’re going straight to the Super Bowl, but as the [2003] season went on, Jake felt more and more comfortable. The reason is he had guys around him who made his job easy.”

As for Muhammad’s impending 32nd birthday, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo noted standout receivers Terrell Owens of Philadelphia and Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis are 32, and no one questions whether they still can be productive.

Lucas remembered — There will be a moment of silence at all Arena Football League and Arena Football League2 games this weekend for former NFL defensive lineman Al Lucas, who died Sunday after suffering an apparent spinal cord injury on a kickoff. All players will wear Lucas’ No. 76 as a decal on their helmets for the rest of the season.

The AFL has renamed its Hero Award, given to the player who best exemplifies the AFL spirit on and off the field, for Lucas. The AFL Players Association created a trust fund to help pay for education and living expenses for his daughter, Mariah.

Florida’s fallen — Just two years after being defending Super Bowl champion, Tampa Bay won’t play in prime time in 2005. Neither will Miami for the first time since “Monday Night Football” began in 1970. Tennessee is the third team so ignored.

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