Holmgren loses titles, but closer to championship

No business card was big enough to accommodate all of Mike Holmgren's titles when he took control of the Seahawks in 1999. He was general manager, coach, vice president of football operations and pro personnel director. Holmgren had as many titles as owner Paul Allen had companies.

Holmgren had a guaranteed eight-year contract, and he controlled the clock. Or so he thought. After the 2002 season, team president Bob Whitsitt had a long sit-down meeting with Holmgren and his agent, Bob Lamonte. Three non-playoff seasons in four years had caused impatience.

Only those three know exactly what transpired during the meeting, but the one reality was Holmgren's business card shrunk. He was no longer general manager. Sure, Holmgren still ran the Seahawks. Whitsitt was the Trail Blazers' general manager at the time. Holmgren could still get what he wanted in terms of personnel, but the process was a little more bureaucratic.

One thing was certain during the 2003 season. Even though Holmgren's contract was guaranteed, his future in Seattle wasn't. He was a coach on the hot seat. The league's most powerful coach at the time was vulnerable.

"That's what this business is about sometimes," Holmgren said. "It's more perception than reality. We all know it's a bottom-line business. That's fair. That's what it's all about."

But a 10-6 playoff season turned Holmgren from a coach on the hot seat back to a hot coach again. He has a hot offense operated by a sizzling quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. His receiver and halfback positions are loaded with playmakers. His offensive line is great for starters and deep for backups. The hiring of Ray Rhodes turned around years of defensive frustrations, and the team made a few key additions to take a run at the top 10 in the league.

Perceptions. What do they mean? Holmgren agreed to a step back in authority, but how did that change the perceptions of the franchise?

"After they changed the front office a little bit, I think the perception was they wanted me to stay and coach the football team," Holmgren said. "I'm getting a little up there in age now. I don't worry about it too much right now."

Age isn't a worry for Holmgren. He's 54. Time is a worry, though. There are only two years left on his contract after this season. Most people expect him to play out this contract and take a rest.

The timing affects the Seahawks and owner Allen more. They have this season and two more to grab for the Super Bowl ring.

Without the general manager's title, Holmgren is more relaxed. His days aren't as filled with meetings. He can concentrate on what he does best -- coaching and teaching.

"I don't miss talking to the agents," Holmgren said. "I'm most glad about the people in Seattle getting excited about football again. We went unbeaten at home last year. I hope we can continue to build."

What a tribute to Holmgren's days as a general manager it is that this Super Bowl run is being made with a minimal amount of new additions to the roster -- eight, a league low. The Seahawks are considered favorites to win the NFC West and advance well into the playoffs.

It would be Holmgren's third playoff season in six years with the Seahawks.

"I felt bad we didn't win more games early," Holmgren said. "I think we did a decent job of putting a team together. We finished strong in 2002. It was a credit to the players and the assistants that we finished 7-9 [after a 4-9 start] instead of falling off the map. It springboarded us into last year, where we established ourselves. Now, here we are."

Holmgren's business card might not be so full anymore, but he has the franchise where Allen wanted him to bring it, fighting for an NFC championship.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer at ESPN.com.