Simply Super Leaders: Holmgren Can Be Tough When He Has to Be

By Elfin, David | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

Simply Super Leaders: Holmgren Can Be Tough When He Has to Be


Elfin, David, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


NEW ORLEANS - In 11 NFL seasons, Mike Holmgren has never been a part of a losing team. His five straight winning seasons as Green Bay's coach tops the number of such seasons the Packers had in the 24 years before his arrival. He was voted the NFL's Coach of the Year.

By all rights, Holmgren should be walking around New Orleans this week with his ego swelled to the size of one of the cheeseheads being sported by Packers fans. But Holmgren, while friendly with the media, is no Mike Ditka or Jimmy Johnson searching for the nearest camera. He's content to let New England coach Bill Parcells hog the spotlight that's not shining on Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre.

Although Parcells became an Army assistant in just his third year of coaching, Holmgren spent 11 years at high schools and another at San Francisco State before going to Brigham Young at 44 in 1982. And the former backup quarterback at Southern Cal didn't exactly rule the Bay Area scholastic scene at the start. He lost his first 22 games at San Francisco's Sacred Heart.

"Any time I start feeling pretty good about myself or what we've accomplished, my [four] daughters or my wife [Kathy] remind me, `You were 0-22 - relax a little bit,' " Holmgren said as he prepared the Packers for Sunday's Super Bowl XXXI against the Patriots at the Superdome. "I enjoyed teaching [history] on that level. I felt I could make a difference. I wouldn't trade those years for anything. I learned how to coach, how to teach, how to communicate with kids. You work real hard. It was really good for me."

Holmgren knows even a victory Sunday wouldn't make him an immortal in Green Bay, a city where seemingly half the roads and buildings are named for Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach who won five championships with the Packers from 1961-67 and for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named. But Holmgren doesn't shy away from the pressure of Lombardi's legacy.

"When I took the job [in 1992 after six seasons and two Super Bowl rings with San Francisco], I really thought a lot about how I was going to handle that," Holmgren said. "You just come to the realization that no one will be able to match what Coach Lombardi did. I just have to do what I do and do it as well as I can."

Holmgren's done it so well that only Dallas, which won three of the past four Super Bowls, and San Francisco, which Green Bay has now beaten three straight times, have better records during his five-year tenure than his 57-32 mark. No NFC coach has been on the job longer.

"A lot of coaches have three- or four-year plans, but Coach Holmgren said, `I want to win now,' " recalled Pro Bowl safety LeRoy Butler, one of just two Packers who predates Holmgren's arrival. "He's the best motivator I've ever been around."

That's partly because the players know he cares. …

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