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Originally published Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Mike Holmgren's final goodbye

Mike Holmgren mixed humor and honesty in one final appearance as a Seahawks employee, discussing the great unknown of next season, when he won't coach for the first time in 38 years.

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — In a business where most coaches leave town with a pink slip, Mike Holmgren received the equivalent of a parade.

On a day when Denver's Mike Shanahan became the fourth NFL coach in 48 hours to be run out of town, Holmgren ran out of time.

The curtain is coming down on what has been a yearlong goodbye. Holmgren's final home victory has been celebrated, his last game as coach is over and on Tuesday, Holmgren began his final news conference as Seahawks coach with a question.

"I was trying to think of what we could possibly talk about that we haven't talked about in the last two weeks," he said.

Turned out there was 65 minutes' worth of material in a vintage performance by Holmgren. He said he won't be fixing anything except maybe a squeaky door in these next few months, certainly not thinking about how to repair a football franchise. He called himself a U.S. history teacher who got lucky and at one point he had to stop talking and take a drink of water to wash away the lump in his throat when he talked about the final conversations with players like Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones.

Holmgren mixed humor and honesty in one final appearance as a Seahawks employee, discussing the great unknown of next season, when he won't coach for the first time in 38 years.

The coach and the franchise have had a whole year to prepare for this moment when their paths part.

"At the very least, I can say that I've had a chance to process this," Holmgren said. "For me, it's been healthy. It's been good."

The succession plan is in place, the timeline arranged. Next Monday at 9 a.m., Jim Mora will hold his first staff meeting as the Seahawks coach. Holmgren may be in the building, but only because he's preparing to depart.

"That transition will effectively take place then for me," Holmgren said. "That's his meeting. I'm not going in there."

By the middle of next week, Holmgren will finish packing up and leave for Arizona. Much of the summer will be spent in the mountains near Santa Cruz, Calif., where he's having a house built. Come next fall, Holmgren will be back in Seattle.

He won't, however, be back with the Seahawks. Not even as a visitor.

"It would probably be hard for me only because I care about everybody a lot," Holmgren said. "We worked really hard to make this transition seamless, and it's probably best if I'm not around.

"To allow Jim to do his thing and establish his plan, no one needs to see me standing on the sides."

Holmgren provided no answers about his future other than to say that he won't be a commentator for any of this weekend's playoff coverage. He said he'd be surprised if he did not coach again, but left open the possibility that he will find fulfillment in this year away from the game. He downplayed his legacy, and joked about the difficulty of losing the general-manager's duties with Seattle after the 2002.

"Once you've had a little taste of the fine wine, it's hard to get the ones where you screw off the cap, you know?" he said.

The shadow of Seattle's success under Holmgren will remain, though, even though he joked about his legacy.

"You follow Bear Bryant, that's one thing," Holmgren said. "You follow Vince Lombardi, that's another thing. You follow Mike Holmgren, ehh, I think we can handle that one, you know?"

The Seahawks set a franchise record for victories in a season, made their first Super Bowl and set a new standard of expectation. Seattle made the playoffs four times in the 23 seasons before Holmgren arrived in 1999, and the Seahawks reached the postseason in six of his 10 years with the team.

The team and the city have spent the past two weeks saying goodbye. The players gave him a motorcycle, his wife raised the 12th Man flag before his final home game.

Tuesday was Holmgren's turn.

The coach's final news conference after every season is usually a post-mortem examination of the year, from what went right to where it went wrong. This was different. He declined to discuss personnel recommendations he would make if he were returning and didn't want to get into roster decisions made over the past four seasons that he may not have agreed with.

Instead, Holmgren blew goodbye kisses in every direction.

"This is a great place with great people who care working here," Holmgren said. "I wish them well next year."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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