Freeman understands Holmgren's plight

It would be strictly business if coach leaves Green Bay, says Packers wide receiver

January 08, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Antonio Freeman will understand if Mike Holmgren leaves the Green Bay Packers this month for the chance to reign over his own organization.

That's because Freeman, the Packers' All-Pro wide receiver, says he understands the motivation behind Holmgren's bid for autonomous control as coach and general manager.

Business. Strictly business.

"At our team meeting [Monday], he said, `The only way I'll leave is if I'm granted more power to run my own ship,' " Freeman said. "Which of course means [being] general manager.

"He was very emotional. He almost couldn't finish what he was saying. He knows what we have at Green Bay, the great chemistry. [But] this is the opportunity of a lifetime for him. If he calls the shots and coaches the team, that's a dream job.

"If he gets what he wants and is going to leave, nobody can be mad at him."

Five days into Holmgren's three-week window of exploration, fresh off red-carpet treatment in Seattle, the Packers coach will visit the Ravens tomorrow to talk about their coaching vacancy.

If he gets as far as Philadelphia on Sunday, Holmgren might wind up with three viable offers.

"I believe he's gone," said Freeman, a former Poly standout. "There's still a flicker of hope. But you've got to go for what you believe in, what you want in life."

Although there is speculation that Holmgren wants out of Green Bay for unspecified reasons, Freeman said there was no indication of a conflict with general manager Ron Wolf.

"If there was a problem with management, he kept it hidden," Freeman said of Holmgren. "There have been some things that have gone on that haven't been right. There have been some guys he wanted to keep and couldn't. Those are the logistics of the business. That's why you want to put yourself in position to run your own show."

Freeman, a third-round draft pick in 1995 who was named to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team this season, said Holmgren was a big part of his success.

"He's a guy who believed in my abilities, in my skills," Freeman said. "He's a guy I look up to. I can recall a few instances where he breathed that confidence into me. He'd tell me, `They can't stop you, Free.' Whoever lands Mike Holmgren is getting a great coach."

Packers punter Sean Landeta drew a comparison between Holmgren and New York Jets coach Bill Parcells, both of whom he has played for.

"Both guys are very detailed and they make the smallest little things important," said Landeta, who played at Loch Raven High and Towson State University. "As insignificant as it might be, they have a tone in their voice that makes it seem so important, almost a matter of life or death.

"Both guys are intimidators. They will look you straight in the eye and talk to you in words and terms that are straight, but harsh, at times. But underneath, they know you can do better because they wouldn't waste their time if they didn't feel that way."

The other common denominator Landeta identified was intelligence.

"Both of these guys could run IBM," he said. "They are CEO-type people. They are both at the top of their field, and their accomplishments are not by accident."

Bob Valesente, a former quarterbacks coach at Maryland who coaches defensive backs with the Packers, sees a well-rounded person in Holmgren.

"Mike Holmgren is one of the most outstanding coaches to ever come through this business," Valesente said. "He has a tremendous grasp of the entire organization as well as the X's and O's." Said Freeman: "I think he's put himself in a great situation. No doubt he's one of the best coaches in the game. We will miss him if he leaves."

Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/08/99

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