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Coaching Brett Favre: 'Like trying to rein in a giant stallion'

CANTON, Ohio -- Seven men coached Brett Favre in the NFL. Several of them, including Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and current Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, will be on hand to watch his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction Saturday.

In the weeks leading up to the Hall of Fame ceremony, six of those seven explained what it was like to coach Favre. Only Eric Mangini, who coached him for his lone season with the New York Jets, could not be reached.

Here’s what those coaches had to say about their time with Favre:

Jerry Glanville (Atlanta Falcons, 1991)

Favre threw four passes as a rookie. He completed none of them. Two were intercepted. He was the third-stringer behind Chris Miller and Billy Joe Tolliver. Favre, as was detailed in the oral history of his trade from the Falcons to the Packers, was out of shape, missed team functions and enjoyed the Atlanta nightlife.

“He hadn't grown up yet,” Glanville said. “But we've all been there. Guess what? If I was that age, I'd probably be the same guy.

“He had a great spirit and unbelievable ability, but he had a physical toughness that you cannot teach. I did a TV show with Jimmy Johnson and John Madden after I quit coaching, and it was about Favre. When I got done telling them what he was like, I’ll never forget Jimmy Johnson saying, ‘You just described an offensive guard, not a quarterback.’ If you ever have a quarterback with that much courage, it’s easy to coach him.

“He feared nothing. He was overweight. He was fat, but nobody could sack him. He wasn’t fast, but he could get away. He could throw the ball. When we traded him, I had a sick feeling inside of me.”

Mike Holmgren (Packers, 1992-98)

Favre won all three of his MVPs and his lone Super Bowl title with Holmgren, who was perhaps harder on Favre than any coach he ever had. Favre threw as many interceptions (37) as he did touchdowns (37) in his first two seasons in Green Bay. At one point in the 1994 season, Holmgren polled his assistant coaches and asked whether they should bench Favre in favor of Mark Brunell.

“Coaching Brett was like trying to rein in a giant stallion,” Holmgren said. “There was nothing he couldn't do on the field. It was the most fun I ever had coaching. He was the son I never had.”

Ray Rhodes (Packers, 1999)

In pain most of the season because of an injured right thumb, Favre started the season with three last-minute, game-winning touchdowns in the first four contests. After he beat the Raiders in the opener on a touchdown pass to Jeff Thomason with 11 seconds left, he became choked up at his postgame news conference, apologized and walked away. The 3-1 start fizzled and then-general manager Ron Wolf fired Rhodes just hours after the Packers finished 8-8.

“It was a wild year,” Rhodes said. “Brett could accomplish anything. You just had confidence that he would pull it out in the end. You always felt good with him on the field with the ability he had.

“Brett is one of the best ever to play the game, being the iron man that he was, all the games he played in and what he accomplished throughout his career. You can’t put a number on that.”

Mike Sherman (Packers, 2000-05)

One of Favre’s most memorable performances, the 2003 game in Oakland after his father died, occurred on Sherman’s watch. Three times during Sherman's tenure, Favre threw for more than 30 touchdowns in a season. But in 2005, he threw a career-high 29 interceptions and Sherman was fired after a 4-12 season.

“It was fun to go to practice every day because he was going to do something pretty spectacular,” Sherman said. “After a game, you would ask me if I’d ever seen a throw like that before, and I would say, ‘Yeah, I have; I’ve seen him do it in practice a bunch of times.’ He was the epitome of what a coach wants because he was a great practice player.

“I was coming into a job, I had never been a head coach, everybody’s wondering who I am and I’m coaching a Super Bowl MVP and future Hall of Famer and he came out to practice every day and practiced as hard as he could. Made it a lot easier for me.”

Mike McCarthy (2006-07)

Favre had previous experience with McCarthy, who was Rhodes’ quarterbacks coach in 1999. McCarthy helped Favre cut his interceptions almost in half in 2006. The Packers went 13-3 and reached the NFC title game the next season, but lost in overtime to the Giants after Favre threw an interception in overtime of what would be his last game as a Packer. He announced his (first) retirement on March 4, 2008.

“Really, having two opportunities to coach him was definitely unique,” McCarthy said. “As his position coach, he clearly was the most aggressive quarterback that I’ve ever been around. That was a great coaching experience for me and obviously a lot of fun. People talk about how tough he is and his record for the consecutive games, but more importantly he practiced every day.

“When we got here [in 2006], we really didn’t spend any time talking about ’05, frankly. We were putting in an offense that had a different language, and that was tough on him because he had been here for so long and he had one language and one system. Then we went to a different approach. We just went back to the basics of how to play the position. I think ’07 was clearly the offense that you saw who we wanted to be. And that was really a product of his experience and his ability to handle everything.”

Eric Mangini (New York Jets, 2008)

Favre unretired in the summer of 2008, when Packers GM Ted Thompson traded him to the New York Jets on Aug. 6. Favre and the Jets started 8-3 but stumbled to 9-7. Favre, playing with a torn biceps tendon, threw nine interceptions in the final five games (four of them losses). Mangini was fired after the season and Favre retired (again). Some thought Mangini wasn’t crazy about the trade for Favre, but he did name his son after the quarterback, giving him the middle name Brett. Mangini, who is currently out of football, could not be reached.

"He wasn’t looking to be anything but part of a team,” Mangini said in 2009, when as the Cleveland Browns' coach he was preparing to face Favre and the Vikings in the season opener. “That’s what makes him a special guy. He likes hanging out with the O-linemen. He likes being with everybody. He’s a fun guy to have around, not because he isn’t serious, but because of the way that he treats everybody, the way that he approaches things. There was never anything but a real team-first attitude from him.”

Brad Childress (Minnesota Vikings, 2009-2010)

Favre came out of retirement once again, and Childress was there to pick him up at the airport on Aug. 18, 2009. He led the Vikings to a 12-4 record, including two victories against the Packers, and a berth in the NFC title game, where another late interception kept him out of the Super Bowl. Convinced to return for one more season, Favre’s record streak of consecutive starts ended at 297 on Dec. 13, 2010.

“I will say this when he played for us, he had his best year,” Childress said. “He had 33 touchdowns and [seven] interceptions. I know some stuff’s been reported about the relationship being testy and that, but I think you still have to stay within the confines of the system and then stay aggressive within that. The thing that always rang true, and I know coach [Andy] Reid believes this and coached him that way, was ‘keep shooting, keep shooting.’ And he had no trouble following those orders.

“He was on a mission coming off his experience with the Jets and the torn biceps and all that. He was on a mission to, if you will, rehabilitate who he was. He was all-in. He was happy to be there and happy to be part of our team and happy to be back in the NFC North where he got to play the Packers twice, and we were happy to have him there because that was kind of our missing ingredient.”

ESPN’s Mike Sando contributed to this report.