Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't Fret About Tampa

By far the biggest disappointment of my Sunday was getting to the Seahawks game way too early. I dilly-dallied at Uwajimaya, walked slowly to the stadium, and up the stairs to my seats, but I still had almost an hour to kill by the time I sat down. By the time my friend arrived and the game started, it was a major relief.

Perhaps, that played a role in my total lack of concern or frustration about our loss to lowly Tampa. After all, it was far better to watch the Hawks going through the motions on the field than watching them practice the motions before the game. My emotional distance from the team and the game helped me discover what may have been the root cause of what we saw. While Jim Mora asking for "dirt bags" was getting a lot of talk this week, I think the players thought he was asking them to play like douche bags. He really *IS* getting through to them! Next week he should ask them to play like Super Bowl Chumps, and hope they hear Champs instead.

Anyone out there that believes Jim Mora and his staff can lead this team to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl simply is not paying attention. The team has given up in a way I've rarely seen a Seahawks team give up. We are not lacking in crappy Seahawks teams to compare to either. Mora hangs his hat on being an emotional leader. When he is not even getting the team to play hard, you are left to examine his coaching, and let me just say, "blech."

The good news is we lost a game I never thought we'd lose. This loss gives us a real shot at the #6 pick. A costly win would have put us as low as #12, depending on other team results. Make no mistake about it, we need a franchise player, and possibly two, to start any climb back toward respectability. If we lose out, we may even get the chance to pick a new coach, which also puts us on a better path. This season has been over since the Week Three loss to the Bears. Don't waste a minute of your precious time worrying about the Tampa game. Save your anger and frustration for something that actually matters.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Future Of Franchise At Risk

There hasn't been much worthy of writing about lately in regards to our Hawks. In fact, my last post has held true all the way up through last night when the Seahawks effectively sabotaged bringing Holmgren back to the front office by offering him a position he didn't want. Here was the exact passage from that post:

Holmgren is also harder to predict than some may think. He will be genuinely interested in the Browns job, and maybe the Bills job. He likes to build from the ground up where there are little-to-no expectations of winning early. Total control and low expectations is a nice way to work. His ego is also a proven part of the equation. Any attempts to confine his power that appear artificial, or indicate less than total confidence in his ability will drive him away. That may be Leiweke's best chance to sabotage the process. If he lets Mike in the door, but insults him with constraints, Holmgren will bolt.

Unless you are of the opinion that Holmgren was lying all this time about his interest in the Hawks, the only logical conclusion is that the Seahawks (and we can't be sure exactly who) restricted his power. Some may say that was a prudent move. After all, the team has not had a chance to do a thorough review of other possible candidates. I believe it is far more likely that we will look back at this move with regret than appreciation. The team has now tied its future hopes to the idea that they will find someone better than Mike Holmgren to lead the franchise. How many "better than Mike Holmgren" guys are just sitting out there waiting to be discovered? How many great franchise-building GMs are their in the NFL?

People love to throw out Jack Z as proof that getting a talented unknown can be a huge success. Football is not baseball, folks. There is a new wunder-GM every season or so in baseball. There is no salary cap. There is a minor league system to work with, mine and upgrade. There are international markets to pull from. Trades are commonplace. None of that is true in the NFL. Change is hard. Sure, a team can go from worst-to-first, but building a championship team is another thing entirely. There are select few people in this league that know how to win a Super Bowl. Holmgren is one of those. This rumors I hear about some guy from the Arizona front-office that is a great talent evaluator makes me want to puke. Arizona? That's a model franchise for talent evaluation? Really? Talk about buying the hype. Ken Whisenhunt has had far more to do with that team's recent success than great talent evaluation. And even if a guy is a great scout, who is simple enough to believe a great franchise builder is so tied to talent evaluation?

We need someone who is a great evaluator of people, including coaches and agents. We need someone who will not blink when their star player decides to hold-out. I seem to remember one GM we had who let his best player hold out for eight weeks before the player finally relented and joined the team. Oh, and then he traded him to Dallas for TWO first-round draft picks.

People greatly underestimate what it takes to build a champion in the great NW. Holmgren came into a franchise that was in a similar state to the Detroit Lions and created a winning atmosphere and a Super Bowl contending foundation. If you need any more proof of how hard it will be to do better than him, just look at his replacement who won executive of the year in his first season, and will likely be hired again. How sure are we this "non-Holmgren" pick will be any better than Ruskell?

There is really no angle to this where I think the Seahawks can be commended for making the right choice here. I certainly hope with all my soul that we find the next great franchise builder out there, but history has proven it's far more likely we'll get someone who will tell the front office what they want to hear and lead us to oblivion while Holmgren turns the Browns into contenders within five years.

All this takes on even more meaning when you realize it's doubtful that Jim Mora Jr. can succeed as our coach. The guy talks and talks and talks, but rarely says anything. If *I* feel that way, what does his team think? His motivational ploys have to wear thin pretty quickly. I had coaches like that growing up that knew what to say, but there was no credibility or substance to their words. Players tune that out. With a Holmgren hire, we would have had a Hall of Fame coach built-in, waiting to step in. Now, we'll have to potentially get the GM role right AND get the coaching decision right when we could have gotten both right with one decision. Knowing that Mora will probably be here for another season essentially equals another wasted season from my perspective.

I sit here now, surveying the current landscape and potential directions of the franchise to come, and see very few paths that lead to glory. As I've said before, nobody would be happier than me if I am wrong. My hopes are now pinned to the slim possibility that we are not going to hire some no-name GM that could prove himself. We need to hire a proven champion that has built franchises in the past. The more you hear comparisons to Jack Z, the less any of us should be confident in the future. Gambling is a game for losers. The Seahawks are rolling the dice.

Friday, December 4, 2009

GM Search Won't Be Straight-Forward

The last few weeks we have read story after story saying it was time for Holmgren to come in and replace Ruskell. Now that we have reached the point of Ruskell resigning, the vogue story is that Holmgren is not a lock and that the Seahawks should engage in a thorough search before making the decision. I'm not exactly sure that these are really mutually exclusive things, but I will tell you what I have learned.

Leiweke was invested in Ruskell. I'm not convinced he was ready to let Ruskell walk now, or after the season. Check out this quote:

"I work for a man, Mr. Paul Allen, who has exacting standards on that. It’s also his opinion that this is a unique and special franchise, and with it comes expectations. So, bottom line, we didn’t win enough games.”

Pass the buck much? What remains to be seen is if Leiweke is bitter about being forced into this move. Signs to watch out for would include making the search more exhaustive than would seem appropriate, recoiling when asked about Mike Holmgren, and saying things that would help sway public opinion away from Holmgren (i.e., "This franchise needs a fresh direction"). Check, check, and we'll see on those. If there was a guy out there who had been mildly lobbying for your pal's job and constantly thrown in your face by fans as a super hero, it would not be hard to imagine a little distaste developing.

I believe Holmgren is the right guy on a number of levels, most importantly, he has already rebuilt this franchise once before from an even worse state than it is now. Beyond that, we've had a GM with a defensive bent for years and have stockpiled a fair amount of talent on that side of the ball. It still seems like we are a disruptive lineman and good scheme away from being good enough on that unit. The offense needs rebuilding, and that's Holmgren's specialty. We need to build a viable offensive line, find a special running back and figure out who Matt's successor will be. Despite picking Shaun Alexander, I question Holmgren's RB evaluations, but he's developed two offensive lines and two QBs that reached the Super Bowl.

Holmgren's qualifications aside, this will be a delicate dance. Paul Allen will be the wild card. I believe he's a Holmgren guy, and will need to be convinced that someone else should step in. I think Leiweke will be skewed against Holmgren, so there will be an interesting check and balance there. Holmgren is also harder to predict than some may think. He will be genuinely interested in the Browns job, and maybe the Bills job. He likes to build from the ground up where there are little-to-no expectations of winning early. Total control and low expectations is a nice way to work. His ego is also a proven part of the equation. Any attempts to confine his power that appear artificial, or indicate less than total confidence in his ability will drive him away. That may be Leiweke's best chance to sabotage the process. If he lets Mike in the door, but insults him with constraints, Holmgren will bolt.

Public opinion will be Leiweke's greatest adversary if he really does want to distance himself from Holmgren. His job would be on the line if he picked someone else who again did not pan out. Picking Holmgren, and having it fail would be criticized as unimaginative, but that's not usually a firing offense. Being pig-headed by going against the grain to pick anyone but the obvious choice is putting your ass on the line. Hmm, who else seemed to do that in the Seahawks front office the past five years?? How did that work out for him?

As much as I'm in the bag for Holmgren on this, I actually am eager to hear about the other candidates. What happens if Paul Allen's big bag'o'money can get Scott Pioli and Bill Belechick? I realize that's crazy, but you never really know. I want the Seahawks to be champions. Whoever can take us there is fine by me. If it's not Mike Holmgren, though, you better be damn sure you get it right.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Losing Ruskell Is A Win For Seattle

It's been no secret that I have been less than enamored with Tim Ruskell for some time. It wasn't always that way.

I loved that he came into the organization with a major focus on talent evaluation and scouting. I remember reading a story during his first training camp where we found out he was dedicating scouting to our own practices to grade out our players from session to session. It was a welcome change from what seemed like an endless string of second chances that players got under Holmgren. Accountability and pressure to perform was exactly what the team needed. We also needed help on defense. Remember, this guy inherited a defense that included players like Cedric Woodard, Grant Wistrom, Chike Okeafor, Antonio Cochran, Anthony Simmons, and Rashad Moore from 2004. His impact in turning that defense around in one season was undeniable. Draft picks like Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill, along with free agent additions like Chuck Darby and Andre Dyson played pivotal roles in a drastically improved defense.

Then we got our first sign of the ego that would eventually be his undoing. He decides to be cute and transition tag Hutch. We all know the rest of the story, and the detail that Holmgren left town knowing they would franchise him. What's key here is that Ruskell always seemed to have this need to prove he could do things his own way, differently than the rest of the NFL. Somehow, he just knew better than everyone else. Or, at least, he thought. His bravado was not reserved to this single, unforgivable, mistake. His drafts are filled with players who were not valued at the same level as other teams. Of all the times he went against conventional wisdom in the draft, it worked out exactly twice (Lofa, John Carlson).

I can support and understand wanting to find the diamond in the rough, but it shouldn't be done with every pick. Regardless of my philosophy, the proof is in the results. Ruskell's drafts lack franchise players. There may be a number of solid role players, but championships are won with great players. You need to reach for greatness, and Ruskell seemed reluctant to do so. He preferred guys that were easier to project, but generally had lower ceilings.

His free agent moves were not much better. If there is one thing I've learned about franchise development in the NFL, it's that you spend money on lineman and CBs in free agency and you should never spend on RBs. Ruskell attempted to spend money on lineman like Dielman from SD, and did land Colin Cole and Patrick Kearney. But he also spent an insane amount of cash on running backs. Buying a running back in free agency is like buying a used care for new car money. There are examples all over the NFL of filling the RB position with cheap, young talent. We all know Forsett has been our best running back for two seasons, and the kid was a 7th round pick. As much as I like Forsett, his ceiling is as an NFL starter. He will never make the Pro Bowl. Ruskell's total bungling of the RB position was in some ways worse than the Hutch gaffe since he kept making the same mistakes over and over.

Even with all that, I think Ruskell would have survived if he knew how to pick lineman. Chris Spencer, Daryll Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, Colin Cole, Rob Sims, Baraka Atkins and others just never became above average players. That's a lot of resources spent on average or below average players. If he had even found one cornerstone on that line (and no, Brandon Mebane has not proven to be a cornerstone), things may have been different. I think it's hard to argue that either our offensive or defensive lines have improved since he arrived in 2005. What's worse is that I think both are getting worse year over year.

I'll try to find some time to explore who might replace him and what we need sometime soon. Don't assume, though, that Mike Holmgren will want to be back. It seems likely, but he will get some pretty enticing offers from places like Cleveland where he can have total control, with rock-bottom expectations and be a coach right away. He liked those chances in Green Bay and Seattle. Regardless of who replaces Ruskell, I am confident that our opportunity to turn things around as a franchise got a nice uplift today. Let's see what happens next.

Ruskell About To Make His Best Move?

All the reports are that Timmay! is about to walk out the door on the rest of season after hearing his contract won't be renewed. If it's true, and I don't want to jinx it, it will make the last two seasons worth it. Our long-term prospects are significantly better with other folks in that spot. More to come if we do get the good news today...

Hawk Blogger 2009 Power Rankings Week 12

In what appears to be a three-team race, NO, Minnesota and Indy are dominating the rankings. Check out the scatter chart for how clearly they have separated from the other teams.