Mike Holmgren made an instant impact at the start of his outstanding coaching career, which appears to be ending in disappointment.
Tony Sparano’s early success suggests he may also have a long run ahead of him before considering retirement.
Sparano, who has turned around the once-downtrodden Miami Dolphins, looks to lead them to their third straight win when they face Holmgren and the struggling Seahawks on Sunday.
In January, Holmgren announced this season would be his last. The 60-year-old Holmgren is 10th on the league’s all-time coaching victories list with 172 and had only two losing seasons entering 2008, but Seattle (2-6) is hobbled by injuries and isn’t likely to make a late playoff push.
Missing the postseason for the first time in six seasons would be an unfitting end for Holmgren, who began his coaching career by leading Green Bay to a 9-7 record in 1992 after it finished 4-12 the previous season. He helped end the Packers’ 10-year playoff drought the following season and led them to a Super Bowl championship two years later.
Sparano began his first year as a head coach in a similar situation, taking over a Miami team that went 1-15 last year. Sparano, though, has helped put together a team that has been surprisingly competitive, beating first-place clubs in each of its last two games.
Buffalo was alone atop the AFC East when the Dolphins (4-4) beat their division rivals 25-16 on Oct. 26. Then, Miami defeated AFC West-leading Denver 26-17 last Sunday to move within a game of first place.
But the Dolphins also won two straight earlier this season, only to lose their next two. They haven’t won three in a row since a four-game run in November 2006.
“I want to see absolute attention to detail and focus right now,” Sparano said. “We’ve been down this road before. We can’t worry about everybody telling us what a good job we did right now. We need to keep our head down and really keep swinging. That’s what I expect.”
When Bill Parcells took over in the offseason as vice president of football operations and hired Sparano, the Dolphins were expected to build with solid defensive fundamentals and that’s been a large part of the team’s success.
Miami held Denver to 14 yards on 12 carries and picked off three passes, giving it 12 turnovers in its last three games.
The Dolphins defense is complemented by a strong running game and the efficient play of quarterback Chad Pennington, who has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,991 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions.
Camarillo, a walk-on receiver in college and an undrafted NFL free agent, has been the most surprising player for the Dolphins. He had 11 catches against the Broncos, and leads the team with 43 receptions for 483 yards.
“He’s a hard guy not to like,” Sparano said. “He understands his limitations. When you do that, you have a great chance to succeed.”
Injuries, particularly at wide receiver, have hurt the Seahawks.
Deion Branch has appeared in only one game this year due to offseason knee surgery and a bruised heel, but the former Super Bowl MVP was back practicing this week and could play Sunday.
Struggling backup Seneca Wallace is still in charge of the NFL’s 31st-ranked offense, which was held to 233 yards in a 26-7 loss to Philadelphia last Sunday.
Holmgren is spending his final weeks as Seattle’s coach trying to make sure his players don’t quit on him.
“I told the team, ‘I can’t come in here every Monday and give you pep talks,’” Holmgren said. “That went out when I was talking to my freshmen at Oak Grove High School (in San Jose, Calif.): ‘Did you get the box of muffins the other team sent you, because you are soft?’ You know, that only works so much.
“It’s been a heck of a deal. And I feel bad about it. I feel bad for them. I feel bad for our fans.”
This will be the first meeting between the Seahawks and Dolphins since Nov. 21, 2004, when Miami won 24-17 at Seattle.