Former NFL top boss speaks in Angels

Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat /

When Mike Holmgren was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth round of the 1970 NFL draft out of USC, he thought he was going to have a long and storied career.

But that dream was unfortunately cut short.

Holmgren was let go by the Cardinals and then picked up by the New York Jets.

A knee injury ended his time with the Jets, and it was at that moment that the then 22-year-old rookie quarterback was at a cross road.

"I hurt my knee and that was it," said Holmgren, who was the guest speakerSaturdayat a men's breakfast sponsored by Grace Hills Covenant Church at Bret Harte High School's multiple-purpose room in Angels Camp. "Here I was at 22-years-old, what I thought I was going to be able to be doing was over. I thought I was going to be a professional football player, play 10 years, make a lot of money and it ended. What do I do now?"

Holmgren, who was raised in a devout Christian family, then turned to his religious beliefs and one specific verse in The Bible: Proverbs 3: 5-6.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart," Holmgren read from his engraved Green Bay Packers Bible. "And lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.

"I relied on that for the rest of my career."

With his playing days over, Holmgren turned to coaching.

The former NFL quarterback got his first coaching gig with Lincoln High School in San Francisco before moving on to Sacred Heart and Oak Grove high schools.

Holmgren climbed up the coaching ranks and landed at San Francisco State University and BYU.

In 1986, Holmgren returned to the NFL as quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers under Bill Walsh. He helped mentor Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Holmgren won two Super Bowls during his six-year stay with the 49ers.

He got his first head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers in 1992 and went on to coach for 17 years with the Packers and Seattle Seahawks. During that span, Holmgren recorded a 174-122 overall record and had just one losing season.

Holmgren shared his keys to success: commitment, work ethic, preparation, honesty and a sense of humor.

"As a head coach - I was head coach for 17 years - I had certain words that were important to me and to my players and staff," Holmgren said. "I think they can relate to any walk in life."

Holmgren explained how important commitment and patience is to the development of a young quarterback, and through tough times, as a coach, you have to stick with it.

In Brett Favre's second career start, he threw four interceptions, including one where he was on his knees.

In a staff meeting later in the week after that game, questions came up whether Favre was a capable NFL starter. Half the coaches in the room wanted Favre's backup Mark Brunell, who did all the little things right and was described by Holmgren as "Mr. Clean Cut."

"He was perfect," Holmgren said of Brunell. "But not as talented as Brett."

The other half wanted Favre.

Soon, Holmgren had to make one of the franchise's biggest decisions.

"Who's our QB?" Holmgren said.

Holmgren selected Favre and reassured the young gunslinger that he was committed to him: "You're my guy. Either we go get to the top of the mountain together, or we're going to wind up in the dumpster. Now, I need that type of commitment from you. So he said, 'OK'."

Favre committed to Holmgren, and later, the duo would help lead the Packers to a 35-21 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

"To be really great, I think commitment to each other is important," Holmgren said. "It's important that you commit. It's all-in."

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The Union Democrat
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