THOSE OF US who gave up on our C-Hawks (maybe by now it's more like D-Hawks or D-minus-Hawks) about 60 Rick Mirer flubs into the


The Player-Coach

The Seahawk general manager needs to own up to the hand he has dealt himself.

THOSE OF US who gave up on our C-Hawks (maybe by now it's more like D-Hawks or D-minus-Hawks) about 60 Rick Mirer flubs into the Bubba Behring era have found fall Sundays eminently less unpleasant. Morbid curiosity has drawn some of us back to the franchise. Maybe it's also the new house, that glam football (and, of course, soccer, right?) stadium we bought for poor Paul Allen. I'm watching because the game is so much easier to follow than it was during the Kenny Easley-Steve Largent years. Back then, you had 22 guys to watch, whereas now there's just one "player" on the team.

Unfortunately, as we've seen during five losses (or "blown wins," if you prefer), the player is named Mike Holmgren, who, to look at him week after exasperating week, is gradually morphing from the relatively trim sideline monitor of 1999 into an ambulatory version of Jabba the Hutt.

He looked somewhat less ready to murder somebody last Sunday, when the club improbably ignored the many distractions in Dallas to wander away with what was stacking up as yet another wound-licker. The Seahawks, of course, committed the obligatory third-quarter fumbling of a lead. But Matt Hasselbeck, heretofore the Rick Mirer of his time, played bravely and—gasp!--gamely while fathering a 17-14 win that looked like anything but what Holmgren has been making us watch. Hasselbeck threw downfield. Shaun Alexander gutted out a second-half running game. The defense (the notable exception being the somehow self-reverential Shawn Springs) actually contained a Cowboys O design that opened the passing lanes, while the whole world (and parts of Canada) was watching Emmitt Smith set the all-time rushing record.

AND SEATTLE WON, even though Trent Dilfer, who had been playing as though he actually deserved his fate, left for the year with an apparent ripped Achilles tendon. The victory would mean a lot more were it (a) not so little so late and (b) against a better Lone Star State opponent such as, say, Texas A&M. It also would prompt among many of the Hawk partisans much high-fiving had they not been treated to (then tricked by) that local rarity: a string of consecutive televised games, including:

*The Field Goal Bowl loss Sept. 22 against the Giants.

*The Terrell Owens autograph-hound outing Oct. 14 vs. the San Francisco 99ers. (They were called the 49ers until the Bay team, moving like sportswriters through a buffet line, drove 99 yards to score, effectively ending the game.)

*Marshall Faulk Appreciation Day (Oct. 20), when, at times, the Hawk O line let the St. Louis Lambs grope Dilfer as though he were a strip-club slut.

Through the adversity—and I hope nobody really believes it's over just because the Holm Team finally won (or didn't lose) a game—the man with the plays summoned various public postures. After the San Franfiasco game, he said of his men: "I've about had it with some of these guys."

That's the pity. Holmy doesn't even acknowledge that "these guys" are, very obviously, his guys. He picked them. We didn't ask him to send Ahman Green Packer-ing or give up on Pete Kendall and other vets who didn't meet Holmgren's arcane job specs of "my kind of guys."

Holmgren is answering in the negative the question about what happens when you give the ultimate control freak ultimate control. It can mean a Bill Walsh- style dynasty when everything clicks. When everything clunks, it means the freak just gets freakier. As planned by Holmgren, owner Allen, and his sports capo Bob Whitsitt, the New Franchise meant that Holmgren, the general manager, got to lose all the guys he didn't want and pick up players to his liking. But the various incarnations of the Raiders have shown that a good team isn't about social compatibility. It's about good players being allowed to play.

Early on, Holmgren signaled that he'd do anything to avoid losing. That's how the once 8-2 Hawks of 1999 limped into the playoffs at 9-7. When you play to not lose, you wind up in a lot of close games; the team was close enough to win in four of this year's losses. These are games a conservative team invariably loses. (Last year, Holmgren elected for a field goal—missed—when it wouldn't tie a game the fans were begging for him to try to win.) It often leaves a team that has average talent somewhere in the middle of the standings, ergo, the middle of the next year's draft. You never acquire the great players that way. With a conservative coach, it means you're in effect consigned to mediocrity.

Fans (only the ghost of Bill the Beerman knows why) will go along with it to an alarming extent, possibly remembering the 120-decibel years in that perfect NFL cockfight pit, the Kingdome. But even the most loyal fan has a legitimate reason to ask why a given team in this most balance-oriented of leagues can't contend for the postseason more than once a decade.

WHAT'S A COACH WORTH? Ask them at Notre Dame: Drop the name Tyrone Willingham and see what they say. A good coach coaches the other coaches and lets the players play: Simple, but c'mon, this game is very knowable and, for all the 168-hour-a-week effort to make it complex, it can be an easy pursuit that was often more fun when we played it in the street after school. How simple? Ask Chuck Knox, he of the simple declarative sentence and competitive football teams. Football players make football plays, he said. The key statistic in football, he said, is not hang time, take-away ratio, possession time, or doo-rag style. It's points for vs. points against.

Do you can G.M. Mike and retain Holmy the coach? Sure. Like when Ronald Reagan suggested asking former President Ford to join the ticket as veep.

Whitsitt could admit Holmgren isn't Vince Lombardi incarnate and whack the G.M./coach midseason. It might cost buy-out millions, but Allen still has billions. What Paul and Bob don't have is a fan base with unending patience. Seahawk management, if that's what it is, already had to roll back ticket prices when it was discovered that the unwashed wouldn't pay Tony Bennett dough for a lounge act. As for a replacement staff, it would fall upon Whitsitt to find apt custodians of another season that pencils in at, maybe—maybe—4-12. Then it would be another "permanent" coaching/managing group to bring yet more football brilliance to the region.

Does all this seem futile? Maybe, but if we're stuck with an NFL club—and we are—then shouldn't it at least be at parity with others, say, every half-decade or so? Getting there would mean good efforts from four dozen guys in blue (or murky green on my TV) uniforms. When the only "player" is usually stalking the sidelines with a scowl, it's pretty obvious that the guy with the problem doesn't even know whom to blame.

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