Seahawks' Holmgren, Ruskell made most of relationship
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren and team president Tim Ruskell didn't always agree, but each says they had a strong working relationship.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tim Ruskell and Mike Holmgren never chose each other.
It was an arranged marriage from the very beginning.
Holmgren had been on the job six years with three playoff appearances when Ruskell arrived in 2005 as the poobah of all things football, an office Holmgren once held in Seattle.
For the first year, the match was perfect. Super, in fact. Holmgren's offense peaked with a franchise scoring record, and Ruskell's knack for finding undersized overachievers resuscitated the defense that had once dragged behind the franchise like an anchor.
And for the past three years, the two men have made the relationship work. They talk. Quite frequently in fact. After practice, after games and on Monday afternoons to discuss personnel.
"From my end it has been really good," Ruskell said.
When Holmgren was asked what this decade in Seattle has taught him, he said it was cooperation.
"I learned how important it is to have everyone going in the same direction in our business," Holmgren said.
Has that been the case here in Seattle since that Super Bowl season in 2005?
"I believe so," Holmgren said. "You're going to have some discussions about strategy and different ways to go. That happens in every organization."
But as the end of an icon approaches here in Seattle, the relationship between the coach and president has become an elephant sitting in the Seahawks' living room. Everyone sees it, but people wait until Holmgren and Ruskell leave the room to start talking about it.
This season, Holmgren has told reporters it wasn't his decision to let Ken Hamlin leave. Or Jerramy Stevens. Or to cut Shaun Alexander. Some take each mention as a point in the direction of Ruskell, the man who did make those choices. Others have pointed to Holmgren's exit and wondered just how much Ruskell wanted him to stay.
The relationship is not nearly so sour. Of course, it's not that simple, either. Pinning down the specifics of their relationship requires some reading between the lines.
Holmgren still wants to pick the players
He didn't want to lose the general manager's responsibilities in Seattle when he was demoted in 2002, and he hasn't lost his urge to shop for the groceries in addition to cooking up the game plans.
"That little itch I can't scratch," Holmgren said Wednesday. "It's still there. Maybe someday."
It's now Ruskell who holds that position in Seattle, and they don't always see eye to eye, and that's not just because Holmgren is 6 feet 5.
"We agree to disagree sometimes," Holmgren conceded last January.
Ruskell said he had heard that it might be difficult to work with Holmgren. Turns out that was a bad scouting report.
"I did not find it to be that way," he said. "It has been hard because we have strong opinions and everybody gets to voice their opinions, but when we've made a decision, we've gone forward to make it work."
Holmgren didn't have an open-ended option of staying
After each of the past four seasons, Holmgren has taken time to decide whether he wanted to come back for the next season. Before he left back in January, he was asked whether it was an either-or proposition between walking away or coaching one final season.
"I'm open, maybe, to a third option," Holmgren said on Jan. 15.
He called it a "longer, larger" option, but then cautioned not to get too specific.
One week later, that option no longer existed. He announced he would coach one final season with the franchise and said his comments regarding a potential extension were misinterpreted. There was no indication the franchise was interested in rolling over the contract and having Holmgren evaluate if he wanted to keep coaching after each season.
Holmgren didn't mind a successor
When Holmgren said he would return for a final season, he was asked about the possibility that assistant coach Jim Mora would take over the team once he left.
"That's for another press conference, and I won't be there," Holmgren said on Jan. 21.
He wasn't. Neither was Mora on Feb. 7 when the Seahawks announced Mora would be Seattle's next coach, beginning in 2009. Ruskell and CEO Tod Leiweke were the two who spoke.
But Holmgren knew of the plan and endorsed it in a statement handed out by the team. Not only that, but Mora and Holmgren are both represented by the same agent, Bob Lamonte, a close friend of Holmgren's since they were high-school teachers together in the Bay Area. Holmgren has said he supported the idea of naming the next coach if the organization had already made its decision, though, just the same, he would have preferred it had been kept quiet.
"I wanted people in the building to know what the situation was, particularly the coaching staff," Holmgren said in a telephone interview with Boston reporters on Dec. 3. "I didn't want it to be that public. And when it went public, of course the cat's out of the bag."
But keeping the arrangement silent would have been difficult, especially since the Seahawks and Mora needed to have a formal, signed contract in order to comply with the league's guidelines for naming a coach without interviewing a minority candidate.
They didn't always agree. Then again, football minds seldom do, especially when their expertise lies on different sides of the ball.
Holmgren preferred to hold onto both Darrell Jackson and Alexander, but the decision to let them go turned out best in both instances, as neither excelled after leaving. The failure to use the transition tag on Steve Hutchinson let him slip out the back door, but Ruskell isn't unyielding, either. In April, he traded away a third-round pick so the Seahawks could move up and choose John Carlson, the rookie who has set franchise receiving records for a Seahawks tight end. In September, Seattle re-signed Koren Robinson at the coach's behest.
For four years, Holmgren and Ruskell, the men who didn't choose each other for this arrangement, have made it work.
"I've enjoyed it," Ruskell said. "I wish we could have done the final piece of the puzzle and gotten the Super Bowl victory."
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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