In another life, Mike Holmgren could have had a long career as a history teacher and high school football coach, and he would have been happy with a lifetime of helping shape young minds.
That's how Holmgren got into coaching, spending a decade coaching and teaching at three Bay Area high schools. But then Holmgren took a break from teaching to coach at San Francisco State, and that led to an interview for a job at BYU he figured he'd never get, a job that in turn led to, of all things, coaching Joe Montana as the quarterbacks coach of the 49ers.
The decision to leave his teaching job and explore college coaching led to a rapid ascent up the coaching ladder for Holmgren, who after six seasons with the 49ers became the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, where he won one Super Bowl and led his team to two NFC titles. Holmgren then, of course, left Green Bay for Seattle where he led the Seahawks to new heights, including six playoff berths, four NFC West titles and the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
And for all he meant to the franchise, Holmgren on Sunday will be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor, becoming the 14th member a week after Matt Hasselbeck, the quarterback he hand-picked to lead the offense, went into the Ring of Honor himself.
In addition to this well-deserved honor, Holmgren also has a street named after him in Green Bay outside of Lambeau Field, and while he has not yet made into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has a Hall of Fame-worthy resume that should someday get him enshrined in Canton. It's heady stuff for a former high school history teacher, and something he couldn't have possibly imagined as he enjoyed that relatively anonymous career in the 1970s.
"I've said this before too, honestly, I really loved high school coaching," Holmgren said Friday on a video call with Seattle-area reporters. "Believe it or not, I taught history, I was a classroom teacher, and I coached all sorts of stuff, but I loved it. I loved the opportunity to work with young kids and help them, not only on the field but hopefully develop life skills and how they approached things. Then I took a leave of absence for a year, a sabbatical like a lot of high school people did. Then I went to San Francisco State and coached there where my brother played. Then all of a sudden, I'm coaching with LaVell Edwards at BYU. He got me an interview there, I didn't want it, but they worked it out. I said, 'I'm not getting that job.' So, I got that job and then the same thing happened with the San Francisco 49ers. They had other guys applying for this job and I wanted to go through the interview to learn about how to do it. By that time, it was too late to go back to my high school, I was already on a different path."
That different path turned Holmgren into the one of the most important figures in franchise history, a coach who helped change the perception of what the Seahawks could be as an organization. While the Seahawks had some early success under Chuck Knox, they weren't necessarily on the radar of football fans outside of Seattle, reaching the postseason only four times prior to Holmgren's arrival. The Seahawks also had double-digit win totals only twice before Paul Allen brought Holmgren to Seattle in 1999, then from 2003-2007, Seattle made the playoffs five straight times, winning 10 or more games three times, including a franchise-best 13-3 record in 2005 when Seattle reached Super Bowl XL.
"So much that Mike did for this program and for our fans and connecting us with winning and division championships and all the great post season stuff, but also the personality that he brought and the style and the competitiveness and the toughness and the glib and everything that Mike's all about, we're lucky to have him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I feel like he set the stage for us to be successful here and the expectations and the standards that he set. We're really grateful that he gets the shot to do this."
Holmgren will be honored during halftime of Sunday's game, joining 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, Paul Allen and Matt Hasselbeck.
"Obviously, it means a whole lot," Holmgren said. "Our time in Seattle, as a family and my time as a football coach, it's been special. To be able to see my name up there, honestly, it's pretty cool. It's quite an honor, I'm humbled by it, and it's going to be a good day for me and my family."
That Holmgren has meant so much to two different NFL franchises is a statement about his success as a coach and his impact on the league, and it's not lost on him how rare and significant that feat is.
"It's very cool," he said. "Your body of work in whatever you do, I happen do be a football coach, if you are honored by this in your profession by other people as a thank you for what you had done, you should feel good about it. In Green Bay as an example, when the powers that be like the mayor and politicians said to me that they wanted to do this, I said no but they said, 'No, we want to do this.' There is a corner in Green Bay which is the corner of Holmgren and Lombardi. How cool is that? Being in a stadium like (Lumen Field), and having your name there, I don't want to overstate it, but it's very, very special to me."
The next logical step for Holmgren would be a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of only five coaches to take two different teams to the Super Bowl while winning one, as mentioned earlier, he took the Seahawks to new heights after also helping restore the winning tradition in Green Bay, a team that had been the playoffs only twice from 1968 until his arrival in 1992, and his win-loss record compares favorably to other coaches already in the Hall of Fame. Holmgren also helped Joe Montana win two MVP awards, and helped develop the likes of Brett Favre, Steve Young and Hasselbeck, and he has his fingerprints all over the current NFL thanks to an impressive coaching tree that includes multiple Super Bowl-winning coaches, including Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
Asked about the Hall of Fame, Holmgren said, "I think that I've remained consistent and honest about this. When I got into this business, particularly after high school and so on, my goal was to earn the respect of my fellow coaches so they could look at me and say I was doing a pretty good job. That's really what I wanted so anything after that is great, it's really good. Now to say that going into the Hall of Fame wouldn't be special would be dishonest, it's something. I'm 73 years old, hopefully I have some years left, so maybe it will happen. If it does, it will be something special, just like Sunday will be."
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.