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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.