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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Hawks' Haskell won't let his final dream die

Seattle Times staff columnist

KIRKLAND — Gil Haskell has lived his life inside the National Football League. It is the life he knows best and the only life he's ever wanted.

He has been as much a part of the league as John Facenda's voice and Pete Rozelle's vision. He has transcended eras. He was there in the days of the black and white video of Bob Waterfield and Crazy Legs Hirsch.

And he is in the NFL today as offensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, one game away from the Super Bowl.

Haskell, 62, has been in the league for 45 years and has been an assistant coach for 24 years. He started as a ballboy for the San Francisco 49ers and even got a tryout as a cornerback with the Niners when Jack Christiansen was the coach.

But Haskell was a coach, not a corner.

He has coached special teams and running backs with the Los Angels Rams. Running backs and wide receivers with the Green Bay Packers. In 1998 and '99 he was offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. And since 2000, he has had the same position with Mike Holmgren with the Seahawks.

Haskell has done everything he has ever wanted to do in the league except ...

"I'd be very interested in being a head coach," he said this week. "If I could get into a situation where I could be interviewed, then I believe I'd be able to get the job. But I've got to get an interview. Am I going to get the chance? I always say yes, because I want the chance.

"I'm 62 and I know that's tough, but it doesn't make a bit of difference to me. Age has nothing to do with it in my mind. Now for an owner, maybe it does, but still if I get an interview with him and talk to him, then the guy would go, 'This guy knows what he's talking about. He can make us better.' "

In Seattle, Haskell is both blessed and cursed to be Holmgren's offensive coordinator. It is, after all, Holmgren's offense, and the misperception is that the coordinator's job in Holmgren's offense is the nod your head and say, "Good call, Coach," and "That play is pure genius, Coach."

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Or it's like writing jokes for Jay Leno and just hoping they appear in the nightly monologue.

But Haskell isn't a yes man. And he isn't Holmgren's shadow. Holmgren still oversees the offense and his footprint is large. But Haskell is the game plan's writer. Holmgren is the editor.

"Someone should hire Gil Haskell to be their head coach, for sure," Holmgren recently said. "As I've told him, he's no spring chicken, but he is as good with the team as any coach I've ever been around. And he's a very meticulous, high-work-ethic guy."

As he prepares the offensive game plan for Sunday's NFC Championship Game against Carolina, Haskell sees jobs opening and closing.

The New York Jets chose a 34-year-old defensive coordinator, Eric Mangini, to become their new head coach. And Green Bay made the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me choice of San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy.

For Haskell, however, opportunity never knocks. He is the longshot who doesn't get a shot.

"He's not a self-promoter. That's one of the things," Holmgren said. "But if a team wanted to hire somebody to build something and get them where they need to go, he would be one I would recommend to anyone who asked."

Haskell is ready to campaign. He understands this Seahawks run could be his last best chance to do what he knows he can do.

His resume is thick with success. His Rams' special teams were the best in football in 1984 and '85. He won a Super Bowl with Holmgren in Green Bay. His Panthers offense was the league's fourth-best. And in the past four seasons his offenses in Seattle have climbed from seventh to second.

"If someone was to say to me, 'What is your biggest asset?' I'd say that I know talent," Haskell said. "And I've been with many good head coaches, specifically Mike Holmgren and John Robinson. The best quality of both of those guys is their ability to get along with people and get people to do it right. They're positive guys. And I've learned from them."

The opportunities are going quickly.

Oakland and Detroit still are looking. St. Louis has narrowed its list to three, topped by Miami's offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan. Detroit's interim coach, Dick Jauron, is interviewing in Buffalo. And New Orleans is expected to offer its job to Dallas offensive coordinator Sean Payton.

"I would hope someone would talk to Gil," Holmgren said. "As much as I'd hate to lose him — now, I'm not pushing him out of the door. But he should be up there."

The league is his life, his passion and every job he's taken, Gil Haskell has done it right. And he, more than no-name McCarthy, more than boy wonder Mangini, deserves a chance.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/stevekelley

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