When Mike Holmgren was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame in 2018, he brought down the house with a moment of feigned arrogance.
"I'll tell you right now, I had Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck; none of them were any good until they got with me," Holmgren said to big laughs.
The former Seahawks and Packers head coach and 49ers offensive coordinator was joking, of course, yet so many of those great quarterbacks who learned under Holmgren do indeed credit him with a lot of their success.
In a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Favre wrote, "I know without a doubt I would not be where I am today without him. The three MVPs I was fortunate to win are a direct result of his coaching and leadership. He taught me how to play the QB position. He was brilliant as an offensive play-caller; the best I've ever seen."
Young, who was a young backup quarterback when Holmgren was the quarterbacks coach then later offensive coordinator for the 49ers, wrote to the selection committee, "Mike Holmgren really reflects all these great quarterback whisperers that are around the NFL today. They all come from that Mike Holmgren tree and the way he approached and coached the position. For me personally, I was a project. I wasn't easy to handle, and I had a lot of ways to do it. The fact that he was so successful with so many others says everything. I could see success with Joe and myself, but then he went to Brett, who is his own unique guy. It shows his athleticism as a coach that there's not one kind of quarterback that he can lead. I needed somebody who treated me as unique, who wasn't going to just lay his coaching principals on top of me, like a heavy blanket. He individualized his approach and I really appreciated that."
Montana, who was already an established star when Holmgren got to San Francisco, won two MVP awards working under Holmgren, and wrote in support of Holmgren's Hall of Fame candidacy, "Mike Holmgren is one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, who belongs in the Hall of Fame… Mike was like Bill Walsh in many ways, especially in the way he demanded perfection. He always pushed us to be perfect and those demands and his attention to detail helped make me and our offense better. The fact that he played quarterback only enhanced our relationship. When you have someone who has coached and played that position, when you come off the field you know the guy that you're going to be talking to is going to understand what you're going through. His method of being able to communicate as a player as much as a coach really made a difference for me."
So yes, Holmgren was indeed at least partially responsible for some of the best quarterback play in the NFL over three decades, including in Seattle where he helped Matt Hasselbeck transform from a young backup into a three-time Pro-Bowler who rewrote the Seahawks record books while leading the team to new heights.
And fittingly only a week after Hasselbeck went into the Seahawks Ring of Honor, Holmgren will join his former quarterback and 13 others in the Ring of Honor when the Seahawks host Jacksonville on Sunday.
Holmgren and Hasselbeck are the first additions to the Ring of Honor since the late Paul Allen was inducted in 2019, and they join in the Ring of Honor Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, Pete Gross, Curt Warner, Jacob Green, Kenny Easley, Dave Krieg, Chuck Knox, Cortez Kennedy, Walter Jones and Allen.
Following the 1998 season, Allen made a bold move to get Holmgren away from Green Bay, where the head coach had led the Packers to six playoff appearances, two Super Bowls and one championship. Holmgren in turn trusted his quarterback instincts and made Hasselbeck the centerpiece of his offense, and those two decisions helped the Seahawks reach the playoffs five straight years from 2003-2007, win four straight NFC West titles, and most notably, reach the Super Bowl for the first time in team history.
That 2005 Super Bowl team, which saw the Seahawks go 13-3 to earn the NFC's No. 1 overall seed, was a particularly memorable one, even for a coach who was part of multiple Super Bowl teams in San Francisco and Green Bay.
"I worked in the league for a long time—and not just because we made it to the Super Bowl—but that team, those people there, I'll never forget them," Holmgren said of the 2005 Seahawks. "They're special to me to this day."
Holmgren, who came to Seattle as one of the league's most accomplished head coaches, continued his success in Seattle with the Seahawks reaching the playoffs six times, including five straight from 2003-2007. The 2005 Seahawks won a franchise-best 13 games, ended a 21-year playoff victory drought, and reached the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. Under Holmgren, the Seahawks won five division titles (1999, 2004-07), had a winning record in seven of his 10 seasons, with six playoff appearances and three 10-win seasons. In the previous 23 seasons before Holmgren's arrival, Seattle had a winning record eight times, won one division title, with four playoff appearances and two 10-win seasons. Holmgren is also one of only five NFL head coaches to take two different teams to the Super Bowl while winning at least one championship.
As an executive, Holmgren not only acquired Hasselbeck, he also had a hand in acquiring Hall of Fame offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson, 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander, Pro-Bowl defensive players Lofa Tatupu and Marcus Trufant, and several other starters on Seattle's Super Bowl team.
"He deserves it. He's the most underrated coach around in my mind," Hasselbeck said. "I'm not exactly sure why, but he is not talked about enough. (The Ring of Honor) is a huge honor. This is a huge honor to me. It means so much to my family and my kids, especially, but the fact that my name will be up there with his name is an honor as well."
For some reason Holmgren's impressive resume hasn't gotten him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not yet anyway, but on Sunday he will join an exclusive group in the Seahawks Ring of Honor, and the quarterbacks who became stars under his tutelage all know that Holmgren was one of the best to ever do his job.
"He was a coach that pushed you harder than you thought you could even be pushed," Hasselbeck said. "He demanded things from you that you didn't know if you could deliver on. And he would say, 'Hey, listen, my job is to push you further than you think you can be pushed. My job is to make you better than you think you can be. And part of that is getting you to believe that you can go further.' So I'm extremely grateful."
Mike Holmgren spent ten seasons as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, going 86-74, including leading the team to their first NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance in 2005. Take a look back at photos from throughout his time in Seattle.