Holmgren reign to end drought?

New Seahawks coach finds himself in familiar situation

July 30, 1999|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Mike Holmgren is new to the Seattle Seahawks, but he knows their neighborhood. It is smack in the middle of mediocrity, just south of football nirvana.

The Seahawks haven't seen the klieg lights of the postseason since quarterback Dave Krieg and coach Chuck Knox threw the switch in 1988 after a 9-7 regular season. That 10-year playoff drought ranks as the longest in the NFL, but it's nothing new to Holmgren, Seattle's first-year general manager and head coach.

When Holmgren reported to Green Bay as a rookie head coach in 1992, the Packers hadn't been to the playoffs in nine years and three coaches. But after a near-miss his first year, his Packers went to the postseason six straight seasons, winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 1996 campaign.

Holmgren has the most prominent profile of the league's nine new coaches. None is better paid (eight-year contract worth $31 million), has more control (complete autonomy) or operates with greater expectations (he's expected to push the Seahawks over the top in short order).

Even if the Seahawks fail to end the drought this season, though, he clearly has a long-term future in the Northwest. That's not the case for every coach in the playoff-less neighborhood. The coaches of teams with the next four longest playoff droughts are operating on thin ice. The roll call:

Dick Vermeil, St. Louis Rams. The Rams' nine-year absence goes back to their Los Angeles tenure in 1989 with Jim Everett at quarterback and John Robinson as coach. Vermeil, 9-23 in two seasons in St. Louis, doesn't necessarily have to end the drought to keep his job, but he must show considerable progress.

Bruce Coslet, Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals haven't made the playoffs since 1990, when quarterback Boomer Esiason and coach Sam Wyche turned the trick. Like Vermeil, Coslet needs to show major improvement.

Norv Turner, Washington Redskins. Turner is on the ultimate hot seat with a new owner and a six-year playoff drought, all but one of those seasons under Turner. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, with Mark Rypien at quarterback, produced Washington's last playoff team in 1992. It's now or never for Turner.

Mike Ditka, New Orleans Saints. Coming off consecutive 6-10 seasons, the Saints haven't gone to the postseason in six years (quarterback Bobby Hebert and coach Jim Mora did it last). After trading his entire 1999 draft for running back Ricky Williams, Ditka said he should be booted if the Saints don't make the playoffs this season.

With training camps opening this week, here are some of the unfolding story lines to follow early in the season:

Brister on the spot

No player will bear more scrutiny than Denver Broncos quarterback Bubby Brister, who replaces the retiring John Elway. Can Brister complete the Broncos' attempt at a Super Bowl three-peat? Can he pull out a victory in the final two minutes of a game the way Elway could?

Brister played well when Elway was hurt last season. He had a better passer rating than Elway and won all four of his starts. But look at who he had to beat in those games -- Washington, the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, teams that went a combined 21-43 a year ago.

Rejuvenated Chris Miller, who retired after the 1995 season with post-concussion syndrome, and second-year quarterback Brian Griese will be warming up just in case.

Passing on Ricky

If Ditka was convinced that Williams would lift the Saints to the playoffs, there were five other teams at the top of the draft that felt differently. In order, the Cleveland Browns, Eagles, Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Redskins had the chance to draft the Heisman Trophy winner, but didn't.

The Browns, Eagles and Bengals took franchise quarterbacks, the Colts went for another running back, Edgerrin James, and the Redskins traded down to get cornerback Champ Bailey.

The shocker seemed to be the Colts' selection of James. But at least one other team, the Miami Dolphins, had James rated ahead of Williams. And remember this: Colts president Bill Polian passed on Ryan Leaf's huge upside to select a more polished Peyton Manning with the first choice of the 1998 draft. He hasn't looked back for an instant.

Baptism by fire

Five quarterbacks were drafted among the first 12 picks this year, and all but one -- the Minnesota Vikings' Daunte Culpepper -- figure to be a starter at some point as a rookie.

Assuming his holdout is not lengthy, Cade McNown will probably open the season as the Chicago Bears' starter now that they've cut Erik Kramer. He has to beat out Shane Matthews, Moses Moreno and Jim Miller to win the job, and he had tougher competition at UCLA.

Donovan McNabb of Philadelphia and Akili Smith of Cincinnati, both unsigned, could be next in line for fiery baptisms, playing behind Doug Pederson and Jeff Blake, respectively. Neither will have a lot of help.

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