On the 16th week of the NFL season, Ray Rhodes spoke. And for the first time, he revealed the pain he has been feeling underneath his grumpy exterior.
KIRKLAND — Often this season, Ray Rhodes says, he arrives home after midnight, and his wife Carmen wakes up and comes to the living room to talk to him, armed with the kind of concerned questions a loving wife asks about her husband’s day.
But too often this season, more often than ever, Rhodes hasn’t wanted to talk about it.
“How was your day?” Carmen will ask.
“My day was crummy,” Rhodes will answer — or words to that effect. “As a matter of fact, the last couple of weeks have been real crummy, so don’t ask any more questions.”
On the 16th week of the NFL season, Ray Rhodes spoke. And for the first time, he revealed the pain he has been feeling underneath his grumpy exterior. For the first time this season he put a human face on Seattle’s defensive frustrations.
“I might be one of those guys who’s bleeding and hurting inside, but I don’t share it with anybody,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Rhodes, 54, said after yesterday’s practice. “Right now, I’m a hurtin’ man, because this is foreign territory for me.”
You think this Seahawks season has been hard on you? Just imagine how hard it has been on the coordinator, who has seen his defense sink to 14th in the 16-team NFC. A coordinator who hasn’t found a way to make his blitz packages work. A coordinator who saw his team allow 37 points last week to the New York Jets.
Rhodes is used to finding solutions. He takes pride in the hours he works and the success he has had. But this season the defense hasn’t worked. And the frustration eats at him like battery acid.
“You don’t go through a season like this without it taking something away from you, taking something out of you,” he said. “I’ve been coaching a long time. Don’t know how much longer I’m going to live, but bottom line, I’m going to keep beating the bushes until we get this thing right.”
In his rare conversations with the media, Rhodes always is honest. He didn’t hide yesterday behind convenient excuses like the injuries to Anthony Simmons, Chad Brown and D.D. Lewis that have robbed him of speed at linebacker. Or the injury to Grant Wistrom that has taken away much of his pass rush.
Successful coaches always believe they can find a way to win. Tweak their schemes just enough. Put their players in better positions. Motivate them into playing above themselves.
But since the crushing fourth-week loss at home to St. Louis, when his defense couldn’t protect a 17-point lead, Rhodes has had the struggle of his life, trying to find a way to win.
“Believe me, I’m frustrated and more than disappointed,” he said. “As a defensive coordinator I feel I can put anything together and get things done. This year’s probably been the toughest year that I’ve had in coaching. We did have a few things going, but we did give up some critical plays in situations that cost us some games. Two big games. Probably more than that.
“But I’m referring to the Ram game and the Cowboy game. You have nightmares over that kind of thing. That’s something where you go back and rack your mind. You try to find out what you could do differently. You look at every call. And I’ve done all that.
“I feel bad, because, personally I feel like I’ve let this whole team down, because I haven’t been able to get it done. That’s tough to live with. It’s not something where you can go home and go to bed and feel good about anything. There’s been a lot of restless nights.”
Looking for answers, Rhodes has pitched camp at the Hawks’ headquarters. He arrives as early as 5 a.m. He stays past midnight.
“I don’t want to sound screwed up here,” Rhodes said. “But the bottom line, when you die, you get plenty of time to sleep. You don’t worry about sleep right now.”
He has begun calling in a core group of his young defensive players — Marcus Trufant, Ken Hamlin, Michael Boulware, Niko Koutouvides and others — for a 45-minute videotape session that begins at 7 a.m.
He has looked at the tapes of the league’s elite teams — Philadelphia, New England, Pittsburgh — seeking answers he can’t find on his team’s videos.
“I’m not one of those guys who’s looking for a lot of excuses,” Rhodes said. “The bottom line is getting it done. And we’ve not done that. I’m not getting things done the way I love to get them done. We don’t talk about excuses. It’s just, ‘Hey, get it done.’ You try to keep your head on straight and keep working your rear off and try to get things straight.”
Rhodes won’t talk about specific problems. He won’t mention which players have been disappointments. He also won’t tell you he’s trying to win with a defensive tackle, Rashard Moore, who is limited by a torn rotator cuff. He puts the blame on himself.
He won’t use as an excuse the fact that his defense, which is predicated on speed at linebacker, started three linebackers last week — Solomon Bates, Isaiah Kacyvenski and Orlando Huff — who couldn’t crack five seconds in the 40-yard dash.
In this week’s crucial game with Arizona, he will start the speedier Koutouvides in place of Huff at middle linebacker.
“We’ve had breakdowns, obviously; but again, I take responsibility for all that, too,” said Rhodes, who has been an NFL coach since 1981. “I can’t have breakdowns. I’ve got to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. It’s just frustrating. It’s frustrating, but hey, I’m just going to keep working. I’m not going to let this make me feel like I can’t get things done.
“I haven’t failed much before, and when you get in a situation like this, you feel like you’re failing everybody. That’s hard to live with. The thing you have to realize is what my parents used to tell me, ‘The things that won’t kill you will make you stronger.’ I promise you we’ve been working our rear ends off to come up with things that will work from a scheme standpoint.
“You keep working and doing the things you’ve been doing over the years, and the worm will turn. You have to keep pressing and pressing and putting as much pressure as you can on the players. And the accountability has to be there for everybody. I’m accountable. The players are accountable. The rest of the coaches on the defensive side, we’re all accountable.”
The buck stops Sunday against the Cardinals. Win, and the Seahawks are in the playoffs. Lose, and the nights get longer and become even more restless.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org