RENTON, Wash. – As the Seattle Seahawks began their final week of game preparations on Tuesday afternoon, head coach Mike Holmgren stood in the middle of it all with his typical presence.
Jim Mora, meanwhile, was working in a bubble. The Seahawks’ head-coach-in-waiting had little concern for the defensive tendencies of this weekend’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. Mora showed minimal regard for Seattle’s young offensive linemen or even for the development of quarterback Seneca Wallace.
As Week 17 of the NFL season began, so started Mora’s final week as the Seahawks’ defensive backs coach. He was more focused on cornerback Josh Wilson’s technique than the questions about how Seattle’s receiving corps might shake down next summer. The 47-year-old Mora was concerned with how Kelly Jennings will play this Sunday, not how the Seahawks will fare during a 2009 season that includes games against Indianapolis and Tennessee.
The Mora era begins later this winter. For now, he’s just another assistant coach.
“He’s handled himself as well as you can handle yourself in this situation, I think. I’ve appreciated that,” Holmgren said this week. “I think purposely, he has not talked a great deal to (the media). Purposely, we haven’t discussed what’s happening next year. There’ll be time for that.”
Holmgren said that Mora’s role has not changed at all this season, despite an upcoming change in coaches that was announced before the campaign began. Mora did not even attend the press conference announcing him as the future coach, and he has tried to fly under the radar all season.
“That’s one thing about Jim,” defensive back Jordan Babineaux said. “He respects that this is Coach Holmgren’s last year. He never once tried to overstep his boundaries.”
During rare conversations with media members, Mora hasn’t directly addressed his future job or the coaching transition that will come with it. After Tuesday’s practice, he said that his only focus right now is the Cardinals.
But Mora did take a few minutes to talk about how fortunate he has felt to spend two seasons working under Holmgren.
“He’s a rare man,” Mora said. “You look at him and say, ‘What lessons can I learn from him that have helped him get to this point?’
“I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some great coaches, great players, great administrators, and I’ve taken something from all of them. I’ve been extremely fortunate over the past couple years to be around Mike and just see how he treats people and the respect that that’s garnered.”
While it appears likely that Holmgren will return to the NFL in some capacity after taking the 2009 season off, his Seahawks career appears likely to be over. That leaves Mora to take the reins.
“I don’t think it will be an issue for anybody,” fullback Leonard Weaver said of the upcoming transition. “He’s a great guy, he’s got a lot of energy, he’s young, so he’s got a lot of things going for him.”
Wilson said that, as a defensive back, he knows what to expect because he has worked so closely with Mora.
“It’s a good situation. We know Jim,” the second-year cornerback said. “We know how he is, and we know what’s important to him.
“As a secondary, we feel real comfortable with him being our future head coach because of his mentality and his style of coaching. I’m excited. I’m happy for him.”
One of the few Seahawks players who knows exactly what kind of a head coach Mora can be is running back T.J. Duckett, who played two seasons under him with the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think he’s a great head coach,” said Duckett, who spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons playing for Mora. “I think he brings a whole lot to the table. It’s going to be exciting when he (takes over).”
Duckett was part of Mora’s first team in Atlanta, a 2004 squad that went 11-5 and advanced to the NFC Championship game after going 5-11 the previous year.
“He just came in with a new energy,” Duckett said of that 2004 season. “It was like a new life. Coach (Dan) Reeves drafted me (in 2002), and I thought he was a great coach. But I think when Coach Mora got there, he added a new life, a new energy.
“Anytime you get new blood, it definitely helps out the situation – especially after a season like that.”
The Seahawks (4-11) will be getting some new blood next season, and now the question is whether Mora can engineer another rags-to-riches story overnight.
“I definitely expect a turnaround,” Duckett said. “If it could be like that (2004 season), it would be great.
“No one in this organization wants to have a season like we’ve had this year. We’re definitely focused on having a better year than we did.”
The 2008 season has been mostly forgettable, but it’s not over yet. Holmgren will coach his final game with the Seahawks on Sunday, and then the transition begins.
“It’ll go smoothly,” Holmgren said. “Just handing the baton.”
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