Browns, Seahawks getting ready for ‘Holmgren Bowl’

Published 11:40 pm Saturday, October 22, 2011

CLEVELAND (AP) — On game day, he dresses like a banker or businessman, right down to the brief case.

Two years ago, Mike Holmgren swapped his coach’s wind breaker and headset for an expensive suit and tie. His new job required a major makeover.

If he visits the field Sunday it will only be before kickoff. Then, Cleveland’s president will board an elevator and head upstairs to the press box where he’ll take his customary seat in a luxury suite high above Browns Stadium. He has an obstructed view of the visitor’s sideline.

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When he looks down this week, the Seattle Seahawks will be there. Holmgren expects his spine to tingle.

“When you leave a place and then play against that team the first time, there is a little twinge there,” he said. “There is more emotion to it than most games.”

Now the man in charge of restoring Cleveland’s lost pro football pride, Holmgren will experience another reunion as the Browns (2-3) host the Seahawks (2-3) in a matchup of two young, struggling teams.

Holmgren spent 10 seasons in Seattle, reviving the Seahawks and leading them to the playoffs six times — two more than in their previous 23 years of existence — four NFC West titles and to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2005 season. Larger than life, they called him The Big Show.

He became a Seattle institution, like Starbuck’s or the Space Needle.

“He was a big deal here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’ll always be part of Seahawks history. People loved him and he had great teams. He put this place on the map.”

He’s trying to get Cleveland back on it.

Only eight players remain on Seattle’s roster from when Holmgren last coached there in 2008. Seahawks wide receiver Ben Obomanu was a rookie under Holmgren, who helped show him the NFL’s ropes.

“It’s going to be special,” Obomanu said. “I haven’t seen him in a while since he first left here. A lot of memories. A lot of good things. He was my first coach when I got to the NFL. He taught me a lot of things about the West Coast offense and being a professional so it will be good to see him.

“But at the same time, I’m pretty sure that after that it will go right back to the game mode.”

The Browns, coming off a 24-17 loss at Oakland that was more lopsided than the final score, could be short-handed and without three starters.

Running back Peyton Hillis (strained hamstring), top cornerback Joe Haden (sprained knee) and linebacker Scott Fujita (concussion) all missed practice time this week. Haden sat out last week’s game, and the Raiders took advantage of his absence by picking on backup Dimitri Patterson.

The Seahawks have their own injury issues, most prominently at quarterback.

Charlie Whitehurst took the majority of snaps in practice this week as Tarvaris Jackson continues to recover from a strained pectoral muscle.

Whitehurst has experience in a relief role. Twice last year he wasn’t tabbed as the starter until late in the week as Matt Hasselbeck dealt with injuries. Both times, Whitehurst had to fill in and he led the Seahawks to a season-ending win over St. Louis that clinched the division title.

Two weeks ago, Whitehurst came off the bench for an injured Jackson and rallied Seattle to a 36-25 upset of the New York Giants. He went 11 of 19 for 149 yards and a touchdown in about 1 1/2 quarters.

The Seahawks have been running a no-huddle offense, and Carroll said his club doesn’t miss a beat if Whitehurst is at the controls of the uptempo attack.

“He’s very comfortable with it,” Carroll said. “He got a lot of work during camp and preseason when we first installed the stuff, so he kind of picked it up, as we would hope. He’s had a nice week of preparation. Most of it is the communication stuff and the verbal part of the thing. The physical stuff that we’re asking him to do he’s run 100 times.”

One of Cleveland’s biggest problems during the early stages of this season has been atrociously slow starts.

The Browns have been outscored 34-3 in the first quarter. By the time they gain their footing, they’re already slipped into a big hole.

“We’ll just start every game in the second quarter,” joked coach Pat Shurmur.

Colt McCoy’s play hasn’t been so funny.

Cleveland’s second-year quarterback has struggled to get a handle on the club’s West Coast offense, which remains directionless and without an identity. McCoy completed only 21 of 45 passes last week, and his inaccuracy has some Browns fans concerned the team’s search for a QB hasn’t ended.

Holmgren, though, is confident McCoy, who has only made 13 starts, will find his mark.

“He’s missed a couple throws and every quarterback in the league misses a couple throws,” he said. “From a technical standpoint, Colt’s no different. That is not a worry for me. His strength and accuracy, I think, are just fine.”

On Sunday, Holmgren is certain to relive memories — some good, some not so good — of his time in the Pacific Northwest.

He made the Seahawks relevant, much as he did with the Packers during his previous stop in Green Bay. But his days in Seattle ended when he lost a power struggle for control of the franchise. If not for Browns owner Randy Lerner luring him with complete authority in Cleveland, Holmgren may have left football for good.

Holmgren and his wife, Kathy, raised their four daughters in Seattle, a place he still considers home and where he plans to return once he’s completed his job in Cleveland — whenever that is.

Holmgren is committed to getting the Browns back on top, however long it takes.

“In Green Bay, we came in in 1992 and we were in the Super Bowl five years later,” he said. “In Seattle, we were in the Super Bowl seven years later. We’ve got a lot of young people playing getting valuable experience who appear to be pretty good players, and that’s how you build it.

“I’m optimistic, but it takes some time.”

The future is unknown. For now, he’ll settle for a win over the Seahawks.

Make no mistake, the Browns are now Holmgren’s team.

“I’m encouraging Pat to do his very best in this game,” he said.