Assistant Mora reaches deal to be Hawks' coach once Holmgren retires

Updated: February 6, 2008, 11:13 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Jim Mora reached a five-year agreement that will allow him to transition into the head coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks once Mike Holmgren retires after the 2008 season.

Seahawks president Tim Ruskell and chief executive officer Tod Leiweke both emphasized during a news conference Wednesday that the move gives the team stability and unity.

"What [Holmgren's] done here, by announcing his retirement a year ahead of time, has afforded this organization to make a smooth transition, to be seamless, to be non-chaotic," Ruskell said. "Which is kind of rare in the sports world -- certainly in the NFL.

"We all know about the elongated processes and the back-stabbing, some of the ugly things that can go on. Well, we're not going to have that."

Mora will serve the 2008 season as the assistant head coach in charge of the secondary. Once the season is over, Mora, former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, will become the head coach for the next four seasons, according to the contract that was agreed to in principle Tuesday evening.

It's a deal one person with knowledge of the contract told The Associated Press will put Mora "in the upper echelon of coaches in the National Football League."

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Seahawks do not divulge financial terms of contracts.

That means Mora will be getting at least $5 million per season, about double what Atlanta is paying him this year. Mora was fired as Falcons' head coach on New Year's Day 2007 with a year left on his contract. In his three seasons in Atlanta, the Falcons were 26-22 and played in the 2004 NFC Championship Game.

"It's a very, very good contract," the source said.

Holmgren is believed to be making $8 million annually. Washington's Joe Gibbs had a five-year, $27.5 million contract until he retired again from the Redskins last month. New England's Bill Belichick was widely reported to have received a contract extension last year that is believed to be worth more than $5 million annually. Mike Shanahan reportedly received a raise from his $5 million-per-year deal with Denver when he got a three-year extension from the Broncos last year.

According to The Associated Press, Holmgren pushed for the announcement now, so players who are poised to enter free agency next month can judge Seattle while knowing who its coach will be beyond next season.

"This makes a lot of sense for the organization," Holmgren said in a team statement. "Jim is a talented coach who already had a measure of success in this league and has all the tools here needed to succeed."

The move wasn't a surprise. Ruskell was looking for a defensive coach to lead the franchise after Holmgren decided he would no longer coach the team. Mora, who played at the University of Washington, wanted to return to the Seattle area to coach. He first suggested the University of Washington, his alma mater. Then the Seahawks came calling with a chance for him to coach the secondary.

Mora's influence in improving the secondary along with improving each of the cornerbacks and safeties was one of the big reasons the Seahawks defense made a dramatic improvement in 2007. He interviewed for the head coaching job with the Washington Redskins but pulled his name out, hoping the Seahawks would make him a "head coach in waiting."

Both Holmgren and Mora chose not to attend Wednesday's news conference because Ruskell said they didn't want to "make a big splash" and overlook the team's mission for 2008: sending Holmgren out with the franchise's first Super Bowl title, after five consecutive playoff appearances.

"I am extremely excited about the future, but completely focused on the opportunity we have in front of us this season," Mora said in the team statement.

"I would like to thank Mike Holmgren, who has helped me immensely this past season, and from whom I have learned a great deal."

Jim Caldwell worked out a similar deal with the Indianapolis Colts once Tony Dungy decides to retire. Even though the NFL strictly enforces the Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview minority candidates, teams are allowed to promote coaches currently on staff for the future without fear of penalty for not interviewing others.

The 59-year-old Holmgren announced two weeks ago that he would leave the team after 10 seasons. He is the team's all-time leader in coaching victories with 86. He has 170 in wins 16 seasons with Green Bay and Seattle, one behind Gibbs for 10th in NFL history.

Now, the Seahawks have a plan in place. Holmgren will coach in 2008. Mora will get the next four years.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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