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Mike Holmgren: An underrated, undervalued NFL head coach
Mike Holmgren celebrating Green Bay’s Super Bowl 31 victory. (Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Mike Holmgren: An underrated, undervalued NFL head coach

GREEN BAY, Wis. (BVM) — The NFL has seen its fair share of legendary coaches like Bill Belichick, Vince Lombardi, and Tony Dungy. But one accomplished former head coach who is often overlooked: Mike Holmgren.

Early coaching career

Holmgren’s coaching career began at his old high school, Abraham Lincoln High School. He only coached there for a year before deciding to coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral High School. Holmgren also coached for Oak Grove High School, where he helped the Eagles capture a Central Coast Section (CCS) championship in 1978

College coaching career

After his high school tenure, Holmgren rose to the college ranks in 1980. He’d get his start with San Francisco State University, working as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. 

Holmgren would only stick with the Gators for one year before heading to Provo, Utah, to help coach BYU.

There he’d join then head coach LaVell Edwards. At the same time, Holmgren also had the chance to develop BYU’s up-and-coming quarterbacks, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco. Alongside these QBs, Holmgren coached with future NFL head coach Andy Reid. Holmgren’s tenure with BYU was highlighted when he helped Bosco and the Cougars capture a national championship in 1984.  

With the NFL calling his name, Holmgren was ready for the next challenge. 

NFL coaching career

Holmgren began his NFL coaching career with the  San Francisco 49ers under Bill Walsh, the father of the West Coast offense, in 1986. From 1986-88, Holmgren continued his work with quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young. However, from 1989-91, Holmgren was promoted to the offensive coordinator role. In those three years, Montana won two MVPs, and in 1989 the 49ers’ offense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL. 

With a successful stint in San Francisco, it was clear that Holmgren was ready to lead a team. He’d get that chance in 1992 when the Green Bay Packers hired him. In Green Bay, he would turn around a franchise that hadn’t been a championship-caliber team for nearly two decades. Holmgren also got to work his magic with another young QB in Brett Favre. With Favre, Holmgren ultimately led the Packers back to the playoffs in 1993. In the 1996-97 season, the Packers would capture their first Super Bowl since 1968. 

The Packers would reach the Super Bowl again in 1998 but fall short against the Denver Broncos.

Under Holmgren, the Packers won at least one playoff game in five consecutive postseasons. The only other coaches to do that are John Madden, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Belichick.

Following the 1998 season, Holmgren resigned from the Packers. He wanted total control of the Packers’ football operation, but it wasn’t to be. So he went out to find a team that’d give him that. That team turned out to be the Seattle Seahawks

Mike Holmgren coaching the Seattle Seahawks.
Dec 21, 2008; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren stands on the sidelines during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks game against the New York Jets at Qwest Field. The Seahawks defeated the Jets, 13-3. (Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

It was reported to be an eight-year deal worth $4 million per year, which made Holmgren the highest-paid coach in the NFL.

From the jump, Holmgren would turn a franchise that hadn’t seen a postseason game since 1988 into a relevant playoff team. In his first season, Holmgren led the Seahawks to a 9-7 overall record and a trip to the wild-card round. Holmgren led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005, coaching 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. They’d fall short against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Winning the NFC championship in 2005 helped Holmgren make NFL history once again. He became just the fifth coach in NFL history to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl. If he’d won, he would’ve been the first to lead two different teams to Super Bowl victories. 

The case for being underrated 

When it comes to the case of Holmgren being underrated, one could point out three main points. Holmgren’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After providing two teams with nearly a decade of success each, one would think he’d be appreciated by more voters.

Another detail that isn’t talked about when it comes to Holmgren is his coaching tree. Everyone talks about Belichick’s coaching tree, but if one were to look at Holmgren’s, it’s a quality group. Those coaches include Reid, Steve Mariucci and Jon Gruden. Along with those notable coaches, Holmgren also developed would-be coach Doug Pederson, who was a backup QB in Green Bay. 

The final focal point of this argument is how he turned sixth-round draft pick Matt Hasselbeck into a borderline franchise QB. Hasselbeck was a Pro Bowler in 2005 and 2007, but was never the same after Holmgren left. 

Holmgren finished with a 174-122 overall coaching record (.588 winning percentage), 13 wins in the playoffs (seventh most wins all-time) and three Super Bowl appearances as a head coach (five overall). Just having those accomplishments could garner votes for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Despite everything that’s happened in his career, Holmgren’s legacy as an exceptional coach in NFL history will live on. Time will only tell if his accomplishments will be remembered properly, and the underrated label will be removed.