- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2008

The imminent collapse of the Seattle Seahawks should have been apparent the instant coach Mike Holmgren announced last winter that this season would be his last.

Going out with a whimper is an NFL tradition:

The last roundup of legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry resulted not in a Lombardi Trophy, but a 3-13 record.

Weeb Ewbank won three championships as a coach but exited the game having led the New York Jets to a 4-10 mark. Four-time Super Bowl winner Chuck Noll left after a 7-9 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The crash of the Seahawks, then, should come as no surprise.

The Seahawks reached the Super Bowl three seasons ago and won their division the next year and again last season, when they finished with a 10-6 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

They enter Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at Qwest Field on a much different course, with a 2-8 mark that ties them for last place in the division.

Such collapses aren’t without precedent — except for Holmgren. Landry, Ewbank and Noll knew failure early in their careers. Not Holmgren.

He served six highly successful years as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers. He took over a struggling Green Bay franchise and coached his teams to the playoffs in each of his eight seasons, winning two NFC championships and a Super Bowl.

Holmgren joined the Seahawks in 1999 in order to add the general manager’s role to his duties.

The Seahawks, who hadn’t reached the playoffs in the decade prior to the arrival of Holmgren, won the AFC West in his debut season. Holmgren finally suffered a losing season in 2000 and another in 2002, but he returned to the playoffs in 2003 and has won the past four NFC West titles. In the 2005 season, he earned his third trip to the Super Bowl.

“I hate it for Coach Holmgren,” said Redskins running back Shaun Alexander, who played for Seattle from 2000 to 2007. “He deserves to go out a lot better.”

Holmgren said he is shocked and saddened by the way this season has unfolded, but he at least still managed to laugh about it during a conversation this week.

“It’s been painful, but the idea of going out on the field and coaching and working, I’ve always enjoyed that part of it,” Holmgren said. “The wins and losses this year - this is new territory for me, but I’ve learned some stuff about myself. I kind of hoped that my last year would be a little different, but I have no complaints. This game’s been awesome to me.”

Redskins coach Jim Zorn, an assistant to Holmgren the previous seven years, said his old boss has been equally awesome for the game.

Holmgren didn’t invent a system or win multiple championships, but he did help spread the West Coast offense of mentor Bill Walsh throughout the league.

His one-time assistants Jon Gruden, Andy Reid and Zorn have implemented it elsewhere with success.

“Mike’s had a tremendous amount of influence in this league,” Zorn said. “When he leaves, there’s a major gap that has to be filled by somebody to continue to push the National Football League forward.”

Holmgren, 60, hasn’t ruled out a comeback. Rumors persist that he’ll return to the struggling 49ers as their front office boss.

“I’ll never say never,” Holmgren said. “Right now, I probably need to take a little bit of a break.”

Much of the Seahawks’ troubles this season stems from injuries. Receiver Nate Burleson and guard Rob Sims were lost for the year in Week 1. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed five games and receiver Deion Branch seven.

Hasselbeck and Branch returned last week for a 26-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, which all but ended Seattle’s hopes of winning the NFC West again. And top pass rusher Patrick Kerney will miss a fourth straight game Sunday.

“When we came to camp, we had very, very high expectations coming off of last year,” Holmgren said. “No one really wants to hear about the injuries because everyone gets [them], but this was an unusual thing. I’ve had teams that got hurt and you kind of battle around them, lose a couple of games and win a couple, but this is really quite different. I refer to it as the perfect storm.”

That storm has helped sink the Seahawks, who rank second-to-last in yards, passing and pass defense, 28th in yards allowed and 26th in scoring and points allowed.

“We set our goals each year to win the division,” Hasselbeck said. “Now we’ve had to kind of rearrange our goals. To have lost it with a chance to do something about it was really tough. This is definitely a tough time for our team. It’s just not us. We were used to being in the top 10 in most categories, and now we’re nowhere near that.

“We’re going through a lot of adversity right now. We’re trying to come together and figure out what our identity is.”

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