Seattle Seahawks  

 

Seahawks' Mora humbled, better prepared in second stint as head coach

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RENTON, Wash. -- From the moment you step into the Seattle Seahawks majestic, waterside, state-of-the-art training facility -- it's more like art-of-the state -- you sense a pulse, which for a franchise that flat-lined at 4-12 last season after years of being a member of the playoff establishment, is more than welcomed.

A re-awakening is being pushed inside this five-star, hyperbaric chamber of healing. The calling is being channeled directly from the top, where the head coach leads the charge for redemption, using his previous missteps as a head coach as his compass.

Jim Mora admits, flat out that, "I have been humbled," yet his claim doesn't just stem from the fact that he was fired from his first head-coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons after the 2006 season unraveled on and off the field.

Marc Serota / Getty Images
Jim Mora led the Falcons to the NFC Championship Gamein 2004 -- his first season as a head coach -- but was ultimately fired after posting a 26-22 record in three seasons in Atlanta.
Season
Record
Result
2006
7-9
Missed playoffs
2005
8-8
Missed playoffs
2004
11-5
Loss, Conference Championship Game

Mora blew what he had built -- an NFC Championship Game appearance and one losing season in three years -- by acting out and speaking out too often, with the cherry on top being his infamous radio interview with a Seattle radio station in which he said coaching at his alma mater, the University of Washington, was his dream job. Ironically, the school and its supporters made multiple overtures to hire him after the interview but Mora refused, opting instead to re-make himself in the NFL.

That is actually where the process of Mora's humility began to take hold. There was introspection, but there also was observation and education. Spending two seasons as Seattle's secondary coach -- and last season as the official head-coach-in-waiting -- Mora learned from veteran coach Mike Holmgren, one of the better coaches in the modern era.

Strategies and preparation weren't what struck Mora the most. It was how Holmgren handled situations and people and the media that's prompted Mora to now wear a mental "W.W.M.D?" (What Would Mike Do?) wristband.

"It's been different because I'd been a head coach and then here I was, stepping back and watching another man do the job," Mora, 47, said. "I would watch how he handled things and compare them to how I handled them and really gained an appreciation, not just for how Mike handled things, but for the position (of head coach)."

The experiences have changed Mora and he hopes that the mistakes he's made won't be repeated and that he'll join the host of coaches who've recently hoisted the Lombardi Trophy their second time around. Mora would love to join Jon Gruden, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy and Tom Coughlin as those who've recently taken advantage of second opportunities by winning at least one Super Bowl each.

"Every guy will sell out for him," running back Julius Jones said. "He's one of those types of coaches."

Most of the players he coached with the Falcons felt the same way, yet Mora has changed. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is one of Mora's best friends, having worked with him in San Francisco and Atlanta. Yet, for the first time, he feels more like a coach on Mora's staff than a guy who routinely vacationed with him or joined him for runs between double-session practices.

"There is a definite and distinct difference than when he was the head coach in Atlanta," said Knapp, who re-joins Mora after spending the past two seasons as Oakland's offensive coordinator. "It's more business and less putting up with the little stuff. He's not allowing certain things to take hold and he's not worrying about players' feelings and coaches' feelings."

Mora doesn't categorize himself as guarded, but says, "I'm a different guy. I'm not brash. I'm less reactive. I used to react right away without thinking about how things might unfold sometimes. I guess I'm trying to be a little more measured. That's something I learned watching Mike. He taught me to be measured in how I react and what I say and how to take time making decisions. He was great at it."

In firing Mora, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Mora's mistakes -- such as violating league rules by using a team employee's cell phone during a game against Tampa Bay to check on playoff scenarios, riding to a team event in cornerback DeAngelo Hall's sports car, and that fateful radio interview -- were reparable. Just not in Atlanta. If only Blank knew then that Mora's firing was just the first push of the snowball that only grew worse with the hiring of Bobby Petrino, the downfall of Michael Vick and the implosion of his team that prompted Petrino to quit during the season.

Mora could look back and say Atlanta got what it deserved by dumping him but he said his reflection to that time shows how maybe he just wasn't as equipped then as he is now for the overall job of being a head coach.

"We all know about the radio interview. I don't think (Mora will) be doing that kind of thing again, especially because of what he has with (this) team."

-- Seahawks FB Justin Griffith

Mora admits, although he still insists he was joking, that his radio interview with a Seattle station about the Washington job wasn't wise, but instead of banging the drum of being misinterpreted, he said he won't do something like that again. Mora is more deliberate and clearly spends a few seconds processing anything he says publicly -- and even privately -- to those not wearing Seahawks gear.

On the field, he's still the same high-energy, high-tempo guy who's just as likely to blast Tupac or Guns N' Roses over the speaker system during practice as he is to crank up simulated crowd noise. He will remain as highly protective of players as he was in Atlanta, where his guarding of players like Vick and Hall were seen as enabling by some people but righteous by others.

To caution, this is the offseason, where coaches tend to be more well-mannered, distinguished and at ease. Once the season starts, patience tends to grow shorter as does the ability to filter out emotions and spontaneity. Mora, the son of a fiery head coach with the same name, will be put to the test in a few months, especially if things with the Seahawks don't go as well as planned.

"My mom told me that sometimes life will be your best teacher because of trial and error," said Seahawks' fullback Justin Griffith, who played for Mora with the Falcons. "Atlanta was Jim's first head-coaching job and he did a great job. There were just some things he could have done better. We all know about the radio interview. I don't think he'll be doing that kind of thing again, especially because of what he has with (this) team. The guys love playing for him and I don't think he'll mess up the opportunity that he has right now by saying stuff or doing those things."

As far as Mora's coaching style and philosophy: "Not a lot has changed, really," said Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney, who played for Mora in Atlanta, as well. "The formula he had in Atlanta was a successful -- especially in our first year when we were healthy and we went to the NFC Championship Game. He is very similar, especially in his defensive approach. He wants guys accountable on every play and to be aggressive on every play. His energy and tempo is the same."

What will help Mora is that he is taking over a veteran roster that's added standout wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and rookie linebacker Aaron Curry, who was considered the most NFL-ready prospect in the draft. Players also are healthy. Last season, it could be argued that no team was hurt more by injuries than Seattle. The ingredients are there for the Seahawks to compete for the NFC West title this year, although Arizona and San Francisco could have something to say about that.

Mora, who has spent the past two years deconstructing himself, knows he couldn't be in a more prime locale to re-build his reputation, with a team whose window of opportunity is now.

"I've had opportunities to coach elsewhere the past two years, even head-coaching opportunities, but had I stepped right back into a head-coaching spot, I wouldn't be as humbled as I am and I don't think I'd be as prepared as I feel now," Mora said. "When I say humbled, it's not in a way where I lack confidence. I just don't think I'd be as aware of the pitfalls of the things that could happen, still, if I hadn't gone through what I have in the past."

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