As one of the hot assistant coaches in the NFL as offensive coordinator of the juggernaut 49ers, Mike Holmgren had several suitors in January 1992.
He chose Green Bay, which had gone 10-22 the previous two seasons and not won a playoff game since the Super Bowl tournament in 1982.
“I think three things,” Holmgren said on Saturday as he met with reporters in the Lambeau Field media auditorium before being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. “One was Ron (Wolf). I came in, and we didn’t know each other. I knew of him and we might’ve said hello on the road scouting or something, but I really didn’t know him. But we spent a day together, and it wasn’t too long before I realized, ‘Listen, for a young coach, a first-time head coach, I can’t do any better. I’ve got the best person to teach me how to do this, to get me my players, to run the organization.’ That was one thing.
“Secondly, the Green Bay mystique, if you will. I grew up in San Francisco and the 49ers were obviously as a kid that was the team we rooted for, but we all knew about Bart Starr, we all knew about Jim Taylor, all the great things in Green Bay. So, to be able to be the coach of the Green Bay Packers was really something very special. Lastly, I’ve learned something about myself over the years, to try to build something up and be part of a group of men and women coming together and taking something that has been a little broken, fix it and push it in the right direction — that appeals to me. But the main thing was Ron. That really was the main thing.”
Why did Wolf want Holmgren, especially with Bill Parcells a candidate?
“When I finished with Mike Holmgren, I knew where I wanted to go,” said Wolf, who was Holmgren’s presenter on Saturday night. “I knew who it was I wanted to be the head coach for the Packers. Unfortunately, there were eight other teams that were looking for head coaches. He had already been to two places, I believe. One of which was Tampa, I think, Indianapolis was the other place. And then he was going to go to Pittsburgh, going to go here, going to go there, and finally I talked to Bob Lamonte, who represented Mike, and asked him, ‘What do we have to do to get it done?’ And we got it done.”
Got it done, indeed, as Wolf and Holmgren combined to raise the Packers from the NFL’s abyss.
Coaching the Packers for seven years, he led the team to an 84-42 record (75-37 regular season; 9-5 postseason), including a victory in Super Bowl XXXI and a trip to Super Bowl XXXII. His win total trails only Curly Lambeau (212) and Vince Lombardi (98) in Packers history.
He guided the Packers to a winning record each year, that seven-year run the best since Lombardi’s Glory Years teams. He also led the Packers to the playoffs a team-record six consecutive years, and he’s one of three coaches in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in five consecutive seasons, with Bill Belichick and John Madden being the others. His record at Lambeau Field was an astounding 47-5 record, including playoffs, and he posted a franchise-record 25 consecutive home games, which is the second-longest streak in NFL history.
Holmgren’s 1996 Super Bowl championship team led the league in points scored (456) and points allowed (210), becoming one of only 12 teams in NFL history to accomplish the feat and the first since 1972.
“I’ve always said this: You build a team to be a playoff-caliber team with a chance to be talented enough to get to the Super Bowl, and then to actually get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, things have to bounce your way,” Holmgren said. “You need luck and some good fortune. That year, of course I knew we had a good team. It was about as unselfish a group as I’ve ever been around. In this business, that means a lot. You have a good team that can approach their work that way, you really have a leg up on people. And not just the team. Everyone was pulling in the same direction. You couple that with great talent, you should have a chance every year.”
Holmgren left the Packers to become Seattle’s coach and general manager starting with the 1999 season. He compiled an 86-74 record in 10 season as the Seahawks’ coach, including an NFC championship in 2005. His career coaching mark is 161-111 in the regular season and 174-122, including playoffs.
“First of all, it was hard to see him leave (but) it was inevitable,” Wolf said. “All his peers were getting those types of jobs. I was very, very biased and very prejudiced,. I thought he was better than all those people getting those jobs. So, I knew at some point this was going to happen. He went to Seattle and took them to the Super Bowl.”
Much of Holmgren’s family returned to Green Bay for the ceremony, as did many past Packers Hall of Famers. One legend not in attendance was Brett Favre, who turned down an invitation from former team president Bob Harlan.
“I don’t hear from him,” Holmgren said. “I hear from him maybe once a year, on his birthday or my birthday or something. But he did text me and wished me well tonight. Some very nice things, we had a nice exchange. I wasn’t here, but I know this: I know the principles involved. Everybody involved, they’re all good guys. They’re all good men. My feeling is, time will heal anything. We’re talking about football, but I’m talking about anything. Give it a little time and it should work out just fine.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.