It won't get much worse for Seattle Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren in the NFL than what he experienced four days ago in Texas Stadium. First he lost starting quarterback Trent Dilfer for the season because of a torn Achilles' tendon in the first half. Then he watched helplessly as medical personnel worked frantically on wide receiver Darrell Jackson after he went into convulsions in the locker room as a result of a concussion suffered late in the game.
"The simple fact of the matter is that Darrell almost died," Holmgren said today, three days after the Seahawks had salvaged a 17-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. "He came close, it was touch-and-go there for a while. It was scary, particularly for a lay person. It's one of the scariest things I've ever seen."
It has been that kind of a season for the Seahawks, who are 2-5 going into Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins in Seattle as Holmgren struggles to disprove the adage that good coaches do not necessarily make good general managers. He is 26-29 after leaving Green Bay to become executive vice president of football operations, general manager and head coach for Seattle in 1999.
The big difference in the Pacific Northwest has been his failure to get a little lucky on a big-time starting quarterback, as he did with Brett Favre. Holmgren thought he had done it by acquiring Matt Hasselback from the Packers last year, only to see him displaced by Trent Dilfer. But Dilfer hurt his knee early in training camp, then returned rusty in Game 2 and struggled to catch up. Now he's gone for good.
Hasselback will have nine games to prove Holmgren was right all along. Holmgren decided to take a major chance this week by signing Jeff George as a potential backup, even though George hasn't played since Marty Schottenheimer cut him from the Redskins early last season a few days after he said leadership was overrated at the quarterback position.
Holmgren said today he has had a long talk with George about his checkered NFL past, and told him he had wiped that slate clean. George, jobless throughout training camp, said he wants to continue playing beyond the 2002 season, if not in Seattle, then somewhere else.
Holmgren has taken some hits over some of his personnel moves, most notably trading running back Ahman Green to the Packers for cornerback Fred Vinson. Green has gone on to become a Pro Bowl back; Vinson, plagued by health problems, is out of the game.
"In hindsight, you don't make that trade," Holmgren said today, "but those things happen. I really don't think [being coach and GM] is a burden. I may not be the smartest guy in the world. But I am a good manager, I understand the game, I can coach a little bit and I think I'm a fair evaluator of talent.
"But I've got good people all around me. I can't do everything. I know that. And I really believe things are in place now for good things to happen. Ultimately, you're always judged on your record, but it's a little early yet to make any kind of final judgment."
On closer glance, Holmgren seems only slightly behind the pace he set in his first three seasons with the Packers in the 1990s, when his teams went 9-7 every year. Last season, the Seahawks also were 9-7 and what he described as "just one long drive away" from making the playoffs.
Former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, who hired Holmgren to coach the Packers and provided him with much of the talent that fueled six straight playoff appearances, two NFC titles and a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, has no doubt that Holmgren eventually will succeed.
"I've always thought if anyone could be successful in that dual role, it would be Mike because of how smart he is," said Wolf, now retired and living in Annapolis. "He's a brilliant tactician. I don't know why it hasn't worked so far, but I know with Mike, it will work."
Said Favre: "This is the God's honest truth, Mike Holmgren has meant so much to my career and to the Packers' success today that I would never question what type of coach, what type of man, Mike Holmgren is. I won't give up on him yet."
As for Jackson, he won't play Sunday and continues to undergo tests. Jackson was hurt when he tried to catch a pass, and the ball and Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson arrived simultaneously. Woodson's helmet first hit Jackson's shoulder, then crashed into his head, knocking the receiver down and out and jarring the ball loose, draw an immediate unnecessary roughness call.
Seahawks sources said the major concern in the locker room was keeping Jackson's breathing passages clear. He had already vomited, and the medical team struggled to keep him still and avoid having him swallow his tongue.
Today, the NFL announced it was fining Woodson $75,000, one-tenth of his base salary. It was Woodson's third fine for a helmet-to-helmet violation this year. Holmgren said he did not consider it a dirty play but also said "it was a fineable hit because the league has rules."
With the frightening incident behind him, Holmgren still believes his young team is getting closer, making his recent frustration even that much more intense. He admits he was furious about an ugly Monday night loss to the 49ers, and let his team know it. But he's also tried a slightly softer, gentler approach recently.
"I'm the eternal optimist," he said. "I thought we'd be a better team. . . . I still believe we're on the right track. Our drafts have been pretty solid. If I can solidify the quarterback situation, that will help. We still have work to do, and I'm very optimistic. No, they haven't named a street after me here, but hope springs eternal. Maybe I still have a shot. But we're all big boys here, and any pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself."