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Saturday, January 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Hawks' awkward dance duo finally separated

Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist

Since the optimistic January day six years ago when Mike Holmgren arrived in Seattle with hopes of Super Bowls on the horizon, nothing has been as it appeared.

Promises made to Holmgren frequently were broken. Freedoms he thought he would have, he never had.

Seahawks president Bob Whitsitt, who was fired yesterday, always was in the way to stop Holmgren with an ultimatum or an ill-advised opinion.

Make no mistake about it, Whitsitt, this basketball guy who had the ear of owner Paul Allen, was making all the calls for the football team. Whitsitt was telling a former Super Bowl winner how to run a football team.

It never made sense.

From the get-go, Whitsitt and Holmgren were oil and water, Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken.

Opposites who distract.

And over six contentious years, their relationship grew worse.

Last year, Whitsitt angered Holmgren by low-balling Mike Reinfeldt, Holmgren's friend and the team's chief capologist, making a contract offer that practically cut Reinfeldt's salary in half and forced him out of the organization.

Reinfeldt was good. Holmgren trusted him. They acted as each other's alter ego. Every good coach has an advisor as solid as Reinfeldt. But last year, Whitsitt made Reinfeldt an offer he knew Reinfeldt would refuse, cutting his salary from $500,000 to $250,000.

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Reinfeldt walked.

"He (Reinfeldt) is a good man. And a good football man," Holmgren said before Whitsitt's firing. "Mike's talented. Mike's good. And when you start losing good men, something's wrong."

Whitsitt mucked up the salary cap. He paid too much for defensive free agents Grant Wistrom and Bobby Taylor. And this offseason, he has left Holmgren with too many high-profile free agents, including Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, Ken Lucas and Chike Okeafor.

Holmgren rightfully believed Whitsitt was hamstringing him. Backstabbing him. Tampering with a reputation Holmgren had built, first as an assistant in San Francisco and then as a head coach in Green Bay.

Two years ago, Whitsitt took half of Holmgren's title away, leaving only the head-coaching position. More and more frequently he refused Holmgren's counsel on player moves. Holmgren sometimes was told his attendance wasn't necessary at meetings where he believed he belonged.

"I was told some things when I got here," said Holmgren, referring to his relationship with Whitsitt. "And that hasn't been the way it was. It just hasn't. I view myself as an honest person, and there's just been too much dishonesty. Just out and out flat lying. I think that's absurd, and I just don't get it."

Making matters more uncomfortable, Whitsitt was Holmgren's conduit to owner Paul Allen. How could Holmgren trust what Whitsitt was telling the boss?

Earlier this week, as Holmgren spoke in his office, it almost seemed as if the two had reached the point of no return. One of them had to go. Holmgren would have been facing another difficult, distrustful offseason with Whitsitt.

But yesterday, the Seahawks announced that, after eight years, Whitsitt's ineffective reign was over. The man who had fired so many people in his years with the Sonics, Portland Trail Blazers and Seahawks, was himself fired.

This is good news for Seahawks fans. And great news for Seahawks employees.

Whitsitt, who has had the final word on almost every football decision, created a malignant us-against-them mentality within the organization. Longtime employees, who loved their jobs before Whitsitt arrived, always were afraid of losing their jobs under Whitsitt.

"It must feel like Liberation Day over there," one former Seahawks employee said. "It's a great day for the Seahawks."

This is a chance for the Seahawks to get it right. To end the front-office civil war that Whitsitt declared and has affected the inner workings of the organization since 1997.

Less than a week after the last heartbreak of the season, firing Whitsitt was the perfect way to let the healing begin.

This is a chance to get Holmgren, who has two years left on his contract, re-energized and more involved in personnel matters. And a chance for him to work again with someone he likes and respects.

CEO Tod Leiweke, who has had a positive impact on the franchise in his two years here, has an opportunity to pick a successor to Whitsitt who can rework the salary cap, re-do the defense and improve a team that is beginning a do-or-die offseason.

His choice will say a lot about the direction of this team for the rest of this decade.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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