LeRoy Butler squinted his eyes when I mentioned that Mike Holmgren was no longer well-received in Seattle, either by the public or players.
"Why not let him teach you what he taught us here?" asked Butler, the Green Bay Packers' veteran safety. "Mike knows what it takes. He knows how to coach. He's the one who has the Super Bowl ring. He took us to the big game twice."
Something strange is going on in the NFL. I'm not sure what. Holmgren's job status is up for speculation. Players are grumbling. Fans are restless. How did that happen?
Same deal with Marty Schottenheimer. True, Schottenheimer does not have a Super Bowl ring. But no active coach has more playoff appearances -- 10.
||Do you think Marty Schottenheimer is the first coach who ran a tough training camp that players hated? Hey, get over it. You pick up your paycheck after every game, right? Players have a responsibility to be a professional and give their best every week. ”
||— Gene Upshaw, NFLPA executive director
Apparently, credibility is not an easy sell to players or fans. Or, maybe Holmgren and Schottenheimer have lost their edge.
All I know is that Bill Parcells ran a dictatorship in his last two jobs with the New England Patriots and New York Jets. He didn't run Club Med, and the players knew it. He seemed to get away with still being able to tell players to "jump!" And they'd respond, "How high?"
But Parcells had two Super Bowl rings. Maybe it takes two to hold an audience.
Jimmy Johnson had two rings, though, and felt the frustration of getting players to buy into the program when he returned to coach the Miami Dolphins. He once confided to me that the days of "players running through a wall without asking questions are over."
Schottenheimer decided to answer the questions from players this week during a team meeting. He did a big thing by admitting that he had failed in communication. He did not stick his head in the sand, and I know that his good friend, Dick Vermeil, placed a call to him this week.
Vermeil knows all about player rebellion when he took over the St. Louis Rams. Players despised his rigid ways. "Mutiny" was an operative word in his second season. He won the Super Bowl in his third season. He did it by changing, although it should be noted that he needed some serious prompting from management, especially when it came to hiring a new offensive coordinator in Mike Martz.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, recently talked about how players have a feeling of "empowerment." He talked about the refusal of players to risk their health in a preseason game at Veterans Stadium between the Eagles and Ravens. He mentioned how the Jets and Giants were not about to play on the weekend following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. He even noted how the Saints rebelled when coach Jim Haslett tried to get them to travel to Pittsburgh for a three-day practice against the Steelers after that ominous week.
However, Upshaw does not endorse player rebellion when it comes to playing the game.
"Players have to maintain their integrity," he said. "Do you think Marty Schottenheimer is the first coach who ran a tough training camp that players hated? Hey, get over it. You pick up your paycheck after every game, right? Players have a responsibility to be a professional and give their best every week."
Of all the stuff that has gone down in the first four weeks of the 2001 season, Holmgren's unpopularity is most puzzling.
The strangest stuff is the "revelation" that Holmgren is an ogre at times. That is the same guy who coached the Packers. In fact, Brett Favre would tell you that, "Mike Holmgren can chew butt with the best of them." That gentle exterior is deceiving. The guy has always run a tight ship.
Holmgren's problem is most coaches' problem -- the bottom line. He has lost 18 of his last 26 games in Seattle. See, he inherited a borderline playoff team that Dennis Erickson coached. He was supposed to take it to the next level.
That's how Holmgren saw the team he inherited -- borderline. His goal is bigger than that. He didn't see many of those players as championship players. So he has gone out and gotten his own guys. They haven't responded yet.
How much time does Holmgren have? It must be through the 2002 season, which would be his fourth year. A young quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, and young receivers should be ready to make a difference.
Honestly, I think Holmgren is a little surprised by the 1-2 start. But we now know that the Cleveland Browns -- whom the Seahawks beat on the road by a field goal to open the season -- are a little better than anybody thought. The Philadelphia Eagles might be a great team. The Oakland Raiders are an elite team. The Eagles and Raiders embarrassed the Seahawks.
And in this league, if you get embarrassed, if you don't compete, then the coach better be ready to face the heat. That's whether your name is Holmgren or Schottenheimer.
Come to think of it, it would have been the same for Parcells, too. Except Parcells seldom got embarrassed -- or he didn't stay embarrassed for long.