The making of THE MAN

Mike Sando; The News Tribune

 

The old man simply wanted his salad. The young waiter, an ex-jock named Mike, wasn't sure

what he wanted. But Mike Holmgren knew this: He wasn't going to wait tables and tend bar at

the Nightwatch all his life.

"This was back when the steakhouse with a salad bar was being introduced, and Mike would

perpetually have to explain the whole deal about going up to get your salad," Holmgren's college

buddy, Skip Farina, recalls. "People just didn't understand that concept. They would sit at their

table and wait for the salad to come and then start yelling at him."

The old man never did figure it out. Finally, Holmgren took matters into his own tongs. He made

the salad himself. Delivered it, too.

It was the spring of 1971 and Holmgren, having been released by the St. Louis Cardinals and

New York Jets, was finishing his degree at the University of Southern California. The

Nightwatch, a restaurant and bar in Pasadena, paid him $1 an hour, plus tips.

Even then, at age 22, Holmgren demonstrated the ability to evaluate a problem, solve it quickly

and move forward - traits that have served him well during a remarkable rise to the pinnacle of his

profession.

Holmgren, hired Jan. 8 as coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, now is well past

his salad days.

And at age 51, he commands more money and wields more power than any of his NFL

counterparts.

By now, even casual fans know Holmgren came to Seattle after helping to deliver a Super Bowl

championship to the Green Bay Packers.

Most also know Holmgren served NFL apprenticeships under Bill Walsh and George Seifert

during the San Francisco 49ers' most successful seasons.

More discerning observers are even familiar with Holmgren's hard line on discipline, and his

nearly obsessive attention to detail. And it has been generally accepted that such traits were

acquired from acclaimed mentors such as Walsh and Brigham Young University coach LaVell

Edwards.

But there is more to the Seahawks' new leader than power, prestige and a world-class coaching

pedigree - much more.

This is the story of Michael George Holmgren's formative years, of the people, places and

experiences - many of them unforgettable - that shaped him most definitively. It is also the story

of a man whose life has been nourished by family, faith, friends and an abundance of strong role

models - none more enduring than his father.

*

"Mike's dad was an unbelievable guy - a disciplinarian, stern, big, nicknamed the Bruiser - but

such a nice man," says Billy Jamison, Holmgren's boyhood friend from San Francisco. "I

remember one time, Michael, my brother and myself were smoking Camel cigarettes, if you can

imagine this.

"We were about 12 years old and we're coming out of some bushes in the neighborhood and

Mike's got them in his pocket. And boy, it's like 5:30 in the evening - we should have been

home.

"And over the rise and down the street comes Mike's dad. He always had a big Cadillac; he was a

big man. And like, there he is. Mike says, 'Don't worry, I'll take care of it.' So he turns to talk to his dad. The cigarettes are sticking out of his pocket. He leans in. The father sees them and goes, 'Michael, get in the car.' He gets in the car and they start to go. Mike's dad looks back and says, 'I think the Jamison boys should go home as well.' We were scared stiff. But he never called my mother to turn us in. Enough discipline from him; just the chilling look was amazing. My mother

never knew. That was the end of our smoking careers."

*

The most easygoing and gentlest giant in the world stood 6-foot-3, weighed as much as 350

pounds and had hands so thick, he could pass a 50-cent piece through his wedding band.

Lincoln George Holmgren played football for the University of San Francisco in the 1940s, then

earned $100 a game as a tackle for the San Francisco Clippers, a professional team that predated

the 49ers.

Born Feb. 12, 1926, in San Francisco to Swedish immigrants, Lincoln Holmgren was named for

the U.S. president whose birthday he shared. Teammates at USF and the Clippers called him

"Tiny," but most everyone else knew Mike Holmgren's father simply as, "Link."

It was in his parents' bakery on Upper Market Street where young Link kneaded dough, building

the muscles in his hands and forearms to massive proportions. He weighed 250 pounds by the

time he left Mission High School, where he played football and helped Mission win a city

championship in crew.

Link died far too young - he was felled by a heart attack at age 48 - but he lived long enough to

leave his undisputed mark as the first and most significant role model Mike Holmgren ever knew.

Jovial by nature, Link enjoyed pulling pranks and telling stories almost as much as he savored the

hamburgers he was known for grilling during church retreats in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"Did you hear the story about how Link played for the San Francisco Clippers?" asks longtime

friend Gordon Bostrom. "He was in the Coast Guard and you're not supposed to play football

when you're in the Coast Guard.

"Well, he was going with two girls - one's last name was Oliver and the other's last name was

Pifler. So he played for a hundred bucks a game for the San Francisco Clippers under the name

Oliver Pifler. I think they just stuck him up in the line and nobody could get around him."

No one knows for sure, but Link was thought to have suited up as a professional wrestler once or

twice, a legend enhanced by his close friendship with Tom Rice, who earned a healthy living as

pro wrestling's original Masked Marvel.

When the two giants gathered to trade stories - of their days together at USF, or perhaps a

remembrance from Shanty Malone's venerable saloon - Mike and his cousin, Tony Bugge,

devoured every last syllable.

But if Lincoln Holmgren was a character of sorts, he was a character with character, those who

knew him say. Backed by a system of values that never wavered, Link also knew the value of

humor.

"He was this guy that was very similar to Mike in that you kind of had a little bit of fear, but he

would always soften it with a little bit of a sense of humor or a little smile at the end," Farina

says. "Just like Mike when he gets mad at somebody on the practice field."

People were to be shown respect, Link insisted, and rules were not to be broken. The four

Holmgren children - Bobbi, Mike, Calla and Jens - were taught these and other lasting lessons at

an early age.

"One of the biggest lessons I learned has carried on with my wife and how I treat women," Mike

says. "I was in junior high and I had been at the playground all day. I came home late and I was

tired and hungry and had lost a game."

It was the one time Holmgren can remember sassing to his mother. What happened next will

never be forgotten.

"My father never smacked me - he didn't do that - but I was out of my seat before I could even

blink," Holmgren recalls. "We went out the hallway and right out the front door. Right during

dinner.

"And he said, 'Now listen,' and he didn't raise his voice, and he gave me his speech about how I

was to respond at all times to my mother, what she had done for the family and what she had

done for me growing up."

Lincoln Holmgren was making a point about respect.

"He really helped form some of my own coaching philosophy," Holmgren says. "I really

understand the need for separation between what I do and what the players do and I have to make

tough decisions, but I really do think about those guys in another way, other than just what they

can do for me on Sundays.

"I suppose cynics would say, you know, come on. But that's how I have to live my life."

*

"When you first looked at him, you wanted to step back from him out of fear, but Link was one

of the kindest and gentlest people that I ever met," says Dick Loughlin, part-owner of the

Carolina Panthers and one of Link's former business partners. "He was not necessarily

emotional, but very caring.

"His thing was respect. He treated everybody with respect, regardless of their position, whether it

was a waitress or somebody shining his shoes."

Criminals weren't so fortunate.

"I remember one time Link caught a shoplifter at the Safeway," Bostrom says. "He just put the

guy to the ground quickly and had his knee on his throat until the police came."

*

Life at the Swedish-American Bakery was a family affair. When Link married Barbara Bugge, a

former philosophy student at California and the daughter of a late U.S. Army colonel, the bakery

gained another employee.

"We all took part," Barbara says. "I was at the cash register. Grandpa (Link's father) made the

bread and Lincoln took the bread out."

The bakery featured a popular lunch counter. The manager's special would invariably include

healthy portions of compassion and goodwill.

Link's parents, George and Estrid Holmgren, never forgot their roots in the Salvation Army, and

so their doors were always open to those in need. By the time Mike was born in the summer of

1948, the Holmgrens were running what amounted to a boarding home.

The family lived upstairs, above the bakery.

"We all lived there," Mike recalls. "People would come over from Sweden and live there until

they found jobs. At Christmas time, we'd have 100 people there, easy, and we'd sing songs."

When the family wasn't at the bakery, they could often be found at the First Covenant Church on

nearby Dolores Street. Their spiritual investment was total. In fact, when Link's parents retired

from the bakery, they became stewards of the church grounds and lived on the premises.

Link was chairman of the church for more than a decade, while he and Barbara served as deacon

and deaconess. Link also anchored the back row of the choir, in addition to his duties coaching

the church basketball team.

Everyone knew the Holmgrens.

"They were a real class act, a very solid family," says Eric Newberg, who went to Sunday school

with Mike and now is a pastor on Mercer Island. "Link coached our church basketball team and

so I got a little taste of his discipline. You didn't want to mess with Link.

"He was very strict in terms of behavior. Mike was taught to be polite. He's always been that

way. Never arrogant in the least."

Summers were spent at Mission Springs in the Santa Cruz Mountains - where the region's

Covenant churches still maintain a conference center with cabins and dormitories.

The Holmgrens owned one of the cabins, a modest structure in every way except for its

sprawling porch, which was large enough to accommodate more than a dozen beds. The

challenge was always the same for Mike, cousin Tony and the rest of the family: To fall asleep

before Tony's father, whose cacophonous snoring might have stirred Rip Van Winkle himself.

"My wife and I used to sleep in the basement of that place," says Bostrom, whose father was a

First Covenant pastor in the 1950s. "I remember Link making these incredible hamburgers and

the family would all be there. And Mike just fit in. Who would have ever known where Mike was

going to land?"

More than four decades later, the Holmgrens remain a fixture at Mission Springs. A new

generation knows Holmgren not necessarily as the championship coach. Of more relevance to

them is his role as one of the men who scoops ice cream on the Fourth of July.

*

"Mike was always very devout about the church, certainly," Farina says. "That's how he met

Kathy."

It was the summer of 1961 when Holmgren, then 13, met and fell in love with Kathy, whose

family belonged to a Covenant church in San Jose. Both families were at Mission Springs when

Holmgren mustered the courage to ask Kathy to take a walk around the grounds - a ritual known

among campers as "taking a walk around the mound."

Holmgren remembers it well.

"Aug. 22, 1961," he says without pause. "We walked around the mound for the first time. I

probably held a girl's hand for the first time."

Adds Newberg, "There's a water tower there that's famous for people who are going steady

writing theirnames up there. And for years, Mike and Kathy's name was up there."

A decade after their first walk around the mound, Mike and Kathy were married - at Mission

Springs, of course.

*

Holmgren stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 205 pounds when he enrolled at Lincoln High School as a

14-year-old freshman in the fall of 1962. The family had grown as well, having added a sixth

member with the birth of Mike's only brother, Jens, in 1954.

Ultimately, the bakery could no longer sustain the lifestyle Link and Barbara sought.

Link found he could earn more money selling real estate, and in 1955 the family left the bakery

and moved into a two-story, Mediterranean-style home in the West Portal neighborhood, a

middle-class area south of Golden Gate Park.

The Holmgrens' new address was 551 Dewey Boulevard, but Mike might as well have taken up

residence at the West Portal Playground, a few blocks down the street. Other playground junkies

included John Jamison, Barry Cooper, Jeff Liss and Pete Capilos - close friends who would

eventually call themselves the "Crackerjacks."

"We had leagues in softball, football and basketball," Jamison says. "By the time we got into

high school, we knew many of the guys we played against because we had played against them

on the playgrounds."

The list of opponents included Bob Portman, who set records at St. Ignatius High School and

Creighton University before the Golden State Warriors made him their first-round draft choice in

1969. Portman and St. Ignatius lost just one game during the 1964-65 season - a game in which

Holmgren scored 14 points while holding Portman to 12.

"Mike held him to maybe 10 points below his average and outrebounded him and Lincoln won by

about 15," Jamison says. "It really made news. And Portman was very good."

Holmgren, Jamison and Cooper were best friends and three-on-three teammates as far back as

they can remember. Their softball team, the West Portal Pelicans, featured Holmgren at first base.

"Our lives were all sports," Cooper says. "And you know, the thing was, we were always

successful."

*

"My mom's family is all from Renton," says Holmgren's cousin, Tony Bugge. "I was up there

until I was 16. In fact, Mike came up for the World's Fair in 1962. Stayed with us. We lived

down in Burien.

"I left Seattle for San Francisco in late '64. I got recruited, if you can imagine. Uncle Link came

up. I was playing baseball and there was a team up there called the Cheney Studs that was a big

semipro team. They wanted me to catch for them. I was having a good junior year at Evergreen

High.

"All of a sudden, Uncle Link showed up one weekend and was scouting me and wanted me to

come down. They needed a guard and a linebacker and a catcher on the baseball team. So Dad

comes home from work one day and sticks a for-sale sign on the front yard. And he said we're

going to San Francisco."

Bugge wound up playing linebacker at Lincoln High School, but it was his placekicking that

secured a scholarship to Colorado State. These days, beating his famous cousin on the golf

course ranks among Bugge's favorite pastimes.

"I have to give him a couple of strokes when we play," Bugge says. "He's always negotiating.

He's got a bad elbow, or his back's sore."

*

Lincoln High School might have struggled to publish its 1965-66 yearbook without him.

Mike Holmgren was student body president, all-world quarterback and starting center on the

basketball team. He also found time to participate in a service organization called "40 Links."

"Mike was our good buddy, but he was also a guy we looked up to so much," says John

Jamison, Lincoln High's treasurer and Holmgren's favorite target on the football field. "Without

sounding corny, he's the kind of guy where you'll never get in trouble when you're with him."

Their revelry peaked in high school with a few beers among friends while spinning the records of

the Beatles, Beach Boys or Johnny Cash.

Of course, getting into trouble would have meant answering to Lincoln Holmgren - a losing

prospect all the way. And if such a notion wasn't deterrent enough, there was always the prospect

of sparring with Lincoln High football coach Bill Holland - quite literally.

"Bill Holland was a guy that went fishing all the time and he was a real man's man," says Dick

Valois, Holmgren's position coach at Lincoln. "I was a student teacher and one day Bill says,

'OK, I want you to go up to the wrestling room right now and wait for me.'

"So I go upstairs to the wrestling room and I wait for him and this student walks in and he's

about 6-foot-1, about 185. And Bill walks in about a minute later and he says, 'OK, put the

gloves on. I'm gonna straighten this guy out.'"

Valois protested meekly, to no avail.

"And they start swinging and the kid goes down to his knees and it was all over," Valois says.

"Nobody got upset about anything."

It was a vastly different era, to be sure.

"He was an old-school guy, but I think a pretty moral guy," Holmgren says. "My high school

coaches were probably responsible for why I became a high school teacher and coach.

"They took an interest in me. They went the extra step for me and I really tried to emulate that."

Holland believed in Holmgren enough to make him the starting quarterback just three games into

his sophomore season.

After a disappointing junior year in which Holmgren suffered a freak shoulder separation during

practice before a playoff game, Lincoln rebounded in 1966 to win its first city championship in 23

years.

It was Lincoln 13, Lowell 0, before 13,250 wet and chilly fans at Kezar Stadium. And Holmgren

managed to be the hero, despite completing just eight of 21 passes for 179 rain-slickened yards.

"Mike Holmgren, Lincoln's big record-shattering quarterback, finally untracked," the San

Francisco Chronicle reported. "Stopped for most of the day by a wet ball that his receivers

couldn't hold and a Lowell defensive backfield that stuck closer than the mud, he suddenly got

hot."

Holmgren sustained the pivotal drive by completing four consecutive passes - his only

completions of the second half - including a 7-yarder to Jamison on fourth-and-5 from the Lowell

28.

As sweet as the championship tasted, the season's most memorable moment might have come one

week earlier, when Holmgren and Jamison helped Lincoln knock off St. Ignatius.

"The week of the game, the headline had the St. Ignatius coach talking about praying for rain - the

only way to stop Holmgren and company," Jamison says. "Well, the day of the game, it poured.

Rained like you've never seen it.

"So we go out and Mike throws for almost 350 yards and I catch 11 passes and set the city record

and we beat them like 30-0."

Holmgren completed nine of his first 10 passes - one pass was dropped in the open field - and

finished with 342 yards and three touchdowns.

"I'll never forget that day," Jamison says. "Mike was like a coach on the field."

The performance foreshadowed the offensive approach Holmgren would us so successfully as a

coach.

"Holmgren disdained the long bomb," the Chronicle reported, "instead calling an assortment of

short pitches to the sidelines and quick look-in passes over the middle.

"And he unloaded in a hurry each time, rarely asking more than two seconds to throw and thus

killing any chances the Wildcats had to pressure him into bad throws."

*

Jim Plunkett, Dan Fouts, Steve Bartkowski and Vince Ferragamo rank among the greatest

quarterbacks in Bay Area high school history.

And Mike Holmgren? Some say he was the best of the bunch.

"Mike was better than Dan Fouts because Fouts was in an offense at St. Ignatius High School

that was more run-oriented," says former San Francisco State coach Vic Rowen, whose career

spanned most of the area's outstanding high school passers. "I think the two best quarterbacks

were Holmgren and Plunkett, and I felt that Holmgren was better."

Former Stanford coach John Ralston won a Rose Bowl with Plunkett under center. And while

Plunkett was the more productive high school player, Ralston says, Holmgren was clearly

superior in head-to-head battles before the 1966 North-South Shrine Game, which attracted more

than 50,000 fans to the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"Jim and Mike were the quarterbacks for the North team and I was at all the practices," Ralston

recalls. "The coaches went out on the field and it didn't take them long to figure out who was the

best of the two, and the best player was Mike Holmgren.

"So Mike played in the all-star game as the quarterback 58 minutes, and Jim Plunkett played as a

defensive end."

*

Holmgren graduated from high school at mid-year and promptly went to work with Billy Jamison

at a sporting-goods warehouse. Weekends were consumed by college recruiting trips, and

Jamison recalls driving his old friend to the airport each Friday in Holmgren's familiar

powder-blue 1962 Dodge Lancer.

"He went to UCLA one weekend and Tommy Prothro was the coach and he had Mike up to his

house on Sunday to play chess with him," Jamison says. "And Mike said, 'This is it. I'm going

to go to UCLA.' Well, two weeks later, he goes to SC, comes back and says, 'That's where I'm

going.'"

California provided another option - coach Ray Willsey was eager to line up a successor to Craig

Morton - but Holmgren was smitten by the tradition of Troy.

"I knew I didn't have a chance to recruit Mike, but I told him he would be making a mistake if he

went to SC because SC wasn't running the kind of offense for him," says Rowen. "Of course, it

proved that I was right - they took a great throwing quarterback who was better than Jim

Plunkett, and he never even got a chance."

Fresh off an MVP performance in the Shrine game, Holmgren was optimistic. He would go to

Southern California, win a couple Rose Bowls and perhaps even a national championship.

The media seemed to agree.

"Let me just set the scene for you," offers Fred Khasigian, Holmgren's freshman roommate and a

three-year starter at guard. "I'm from an extremely small town in the Central Valley of California

and Mike is a big-city kid through and through.

"And I'm rooming with the guy who was more sought after and had more publicity than anybody

on the starting varsity lineup. He's on the front page of the sports section, being interviewed by

all the writers before he is even registered in school.

"It was unbelievable.''

What happened over the next four years hurt Holmgren deeply and made his father furious: USC

kept its offense on the ground, as Rowen and others had predicted, and Holmgren's passing

fancy never mattered.

Coach John McKay stayed with Steve Sogge and then Jimmy Jones at quarterback because they

had the mobility his offense demanded. And who could blame him? McKay's USC teams were

35-6-3 with Mike Holmgren imitating opposing quarterbacks during practice.

At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Holmgren simply didn't fit.

"But Mike was incredible," says former USC backup Butch Nungesser, who was one year ahead

of Holmgren. "He would just have everybody in awe of the long spirals he could throw in those

days."

Receiver Earl McCullouch was a member of USC's world-record 440-yard relay team, but he

couldn't outrun Holmgren.

"Earl was a tough guy to drop back and hit on a bomb because he ran like a 4.3-second 40, which

was just unheard of," Nungesser says. "We'd drop back and nobody could hit McCullouch -

nobody except for Mike."

Of course, being the best quarterback in practice only brought more anguish. It didn't help that

McKay, the so-called Little General, always seemed to bark out 'Holgrum' instead of

'Holmgren.'

"It was very difficult for him because guys of lesser ability were playing," Khasigian says. "He

was obviously more talented than all of them. But it was the O.J. Simpson offense. What could

he do?

"He was bitter inside, but he never showed that externally. He was always very proper and

supportive to the team."

*

The year was 1968 and the first weekend of October was a big one. USC was playing Miami on

Saturday, followed the next day by the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers - both games

at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Road trip!

"Those were some interesting times when the guys from San Francisco would come down and

visit," says Skip Farina, a Bay Area native who didn't come to know Holmgren until he walked

on as a redshirt offensive lineman at USC. "We'd had a few beers, I think, and we were kind of

chanting for Mike to get in the game.

"Ultimately, SC got far enough ahead that it was time to let Mike play, and a couple of rows

down in front of us, people stood up and started booing, or saying, 'Who is this guy? He stinks.'

So of course we had to defend his honor."

That's where Holmgren's impromptu neighborhood posse - led by Barry Cooper, a free spirit if

there ever was one - rode to the rescue.

"So Mike gets in, it's like third down and 20 to go," Cooper explains. "Geez, I wonder what he's

going to do; I guess he's going to pass. No kidding. So the big rush is on. He gets dumped. And

the next thing you know, these guys say something derogatory to my friend. Next thing you

know, guess what, we're in a fight.

"The biggest crowd ever down there at the Coliseum and Mr. Cooper, Mike's good buddy, is in a

beef. So I'm punching guys out and finally, the cops come out. And I got out of there."

The story gets better.

"We get out to the airport Sunday and Barry walks up to the counter and says, 'I'd like a ticket to

San Francisco,'" Farina recalls. "And the guy behind the counter says, 'I'm sorry, sir, I can't sell

you a ticket. You're too inebriated.' This is after the 49er-Rams game. So Barry leans across the

counter, looks him right in the eye and goes, 'Listen, I don't want to fly the damn thing. I just

want to ride in it.'

"So the guy starts laughing, sells him a ticket. As they walk out to the plane, Barry makes a hard,

right-hand turn and walks up an empty stairway leading to nowhere, waving as he's going.

"It was a fun group of guys."

*

Holmgren's talent was validated when St. Louis selected him with an eighth-round draft choice in

1970, but he didn't last long with the Cardinals and was subsequently released by the New York

Jets.

"I always thought he was going to be an All-Pro quarterback throwing a deep post," cousin Tony

Bugge says. "But sometimes fate has a different way of looking at things. Had he been a great

ballplayer, maybe he wouldn't have become a great coach."

That Holmgren became a prominent coach at all was something of an upset. It wasn't until 1982,

when Holmgren landed a job at BYU, that the possibility occurred to him.

"I didn't have a plan," he says.

He certainly didn't plan on losing 22 consecutive games during his first two seasons as an

assistant coach at Sacred Heart, a parochial high school in San Francisco.

"I think in his mind's eye he wanted to be a player," Cooper says. "He lucked out being a coach.

I don't think he ever saw this coming. He was at Sacred Heart and what were they, 0-22 or

something?"

The career prospects improved in 1975 when Holmgren moved on to San Jose, where he served

as offensive coordinator at Oak Grove High School. But Oak Grove was a long way from the

NFL. Finally, after six highly successful seasons, Holmgren started getting antsy.

Rowen had an opening at San Francisco State, but Holmgren knew the risks. With four

daughters to support, some considered him crazy to even consider leaving the security of high

school coaching and teaching for a tenuous job at an NCAA Division II program.

The dilemma took center stage at Alde's, a nearby coffee shop and greasy spoon. That's where

Holmgren asked Bob La-Monte, a teacher and former chair of the history department at Oak

Grove, for an honest assessment.

"To put this in perspective, it's virtually unprecedented for a man at age 32 or 33 to consider

leaving a high school job as an assistant, where you've never been a head coach, to go on to

become an assistant college coach," says LaMonte, who had also been a football assistant atOak

Grove. "It's very scary. So I told him, without a doubt, he was the best mind I had ever seen.

"And this is true. He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And I said, 'You've got to do it now. If

you wait, it will never come.'"

But LaMonte wasn't finished. He had a question of his own - namely, whether Holmgren

thought LaMonte might have a future as an agent.

"Mind you, I'm a high school and junior college history instructor," LaMonte says. "That's not

done. And Mike goes, 'You'd be a great sports agent.'

"All of a sudden, 10 years later, I'm introducing him on ESPN as the head coach of the Green

Bay Packers and I've done a quarter-billion dollars in sports contracts."

Four years after the summit at Alde's, Holmgren was riding the wave of a national championship

at BYU when the hometown 49ers called. He was proud to have interviewed for an opening on

Bill Walsh's staff, but Holmgren wasn't optimistic about his chances.

He was out jogging when word came that Walsh had left a message.

"Mikegoes, 'Oh yeah, right,'" recounts Phil Stearns, former head coach at Oak Grove. "And the

guy says, 'Hey, I mean it.' So Mike went in and called him and Walsh just said, 'Would you like

to work with the 49ers?'

"As the story goes, Mike kind of said, 'Just a second, coach,' and covered the phone and

screamed and then said, 'Uh, sure, I'd be interested.'

"Then the rest is kind of history."