How Holmgren went from cutting Warner to pushing him for HOF

Former head coach Mike Holmgren explains why he cut Kurt Warner from his first NFL job and how and why he's come to believe that the two-time league MVP should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


(Mike Holmgren photos courtesy of Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

Talk of Fame Network

Like others associated with the career of former quarterback Kurt Warner, Mike Holmgren believes the two-time league MVP should be in the Hall of Fame.

OK, so that's not exactly a surprise. Holmgren was one of Warner’s former coaches. Except he wasn't his coach for long.

He cut Warner from his first NFL job.

That’s right. Holmgren was the head coach in Green Bay in 1994 when Warner was the fourth quarterback in camp … behind Brett Favre, Mark Brunell and Ty Detmer. Warner was an undrafted rookie that year, so he was off everyone’s radar. And after a brief trial with the Packers, he was off their roster, too -- with Holmgren showing him the door during camp.

“He’ll never let me forget it, either,” Holmgren said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “One of the pleasures of the (Hall-of-Fame) weekend was I got to do a little thing with Kurt on TV, and they brought that up. And on TV they blamed (former Green Bay quarterbacks coach Steve) Mariucci, and I stuck with that. I said, ‘I didn’t want to cut him; Mariucci wanted to cut him.’

“Kurt was at our mini-camp, and we had Brunell, Detmer and Favre – three young guys – and then this fourth guy whom I didn’t know. I really didn’t know him very well. He was like the fourth arm in training camp, which you need. Good looking guy. Big, physical guy.

“And then at our first mini-camp, I told Steve, ‘Hey, put the young guy in.’ I wasn’t sure what his name was, but (I said), ‘OK, put the young guy in and let him take a few snaps.’ And then he’s doing something else, and I turned around and Detmer’s still in. And I said, ‘Steve, put Warner in.’ And he said, ‘Mike, he doesn’t want to go in.’ I said, ‘What do you mean he doesn’t want to go in? It’s a mini-camp. Just put him in.’ And he goes, ‘He’s said not ready.’

“And, boy, in those days … I’m mellow now … but I had a little temper. And I made a little note and I said, ‘OK, it’s mini-camp.’ We had these little meetings, and Kurt did fine in camp as it went along. But it was going to be tough for anybody to come in there and make the team. By his own account, he wasn’t ready, but his story and how he made it, I love him for that.

“Unfortunately, he wrote about me in his book … that Mike Holmgren made this huge mistake, and he cut me. But now I think he’s forgiven me. Because he said had he stayed in Green Bay he never would’ve played because Favre played (17 years with the Packers). So Kurt actually is over it. He said, ‘Mike, thank you. You did me a favor.’ “

Twenty two years later, Holmgren -- who was in Canton to attend Favre’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – now thinks Warner was so good he should be the next quarterback to make it to the Hall of Fame. No, he didn’t say precisely that, but he did say he believes Warner is Hall-of-Fame worthy – and the former quarterback is next in line, a favorite to make it to Canton on his third try, in 2017.

“He had a couple of tough spots,” Holmgren said. “New York was a tough thing for him. But what he did … I just remember all the times when I was in Seattle, and we played against them when he was in St. Louis. He was very special with those guys. And then when he went to Arizona it was my privilege to work that Super Bowl he played in. As a passer, and how he developed as a leader, I think he has all the qualifications to be in."