Needing a fresh start after two years of dysfunction, Seahawks hire Pete Carroll as coach and vice president.
RENTON — The Seahawks announced Pete Carroll’s hiring in four simple paragraphs, punctuating four days of fierce speculation and false alarms.
The moment wouldn’t have been possible without Paul Allen’s millions. Carroll is going to be paid more than $30 million the next five years, according to The Los Angeles Times and ESPN, to be Seattle’s coach and vice president of football operations.
But money isn’t what brought the Seahawks to this point.
No, Monday’s announcement was the culmination of two years of dysfunction that started when Mike Holmgren came back for one final season to work for a president who didn’t hire him, with the appointed heir on his coaching staff.
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The franchise then closed its eyes, crossed its fingers and hoped, only to have its run of five consecutive playoff appearances and four division titles go tumbling off the cliff of relevancy.
Two years later, Holmgren is in Cleveland after a failed attempt at a Seahawks reunion, former president Tim Ruskell is reduced to sending Jim Mora a blistering text message over Mora’s support of Holmgren’s return, and Mora was fired by his hometown franchise after going 5-11 with a roster full of players picked by Ruskell, who Seattle decided wasn’t up to the job.
Good times? Hardly. By hiring Carroll, Seattle effectively hit the reset button, ending two years of awkward attempts to conceal the increasing dysfunction of the franchise.
On Monday — the day Carroll bid goodbye to USC — the man who hired him made an honest consideration of the difficulties and dysfunction of the past two years.
“This could have worked in a much more harmonious way, in a unified way,” Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said. “I think that a house divided sure failed.”
So Ruskell and Holmgren? Turns out they didn’t get along so well.
“To be quite honest, there was not a harmonious relationship between Tim and Mike Holmgren,” Leiweke said. “It’s probably neither guy’s fault, but we learned a lot there.”
And designating Mora as Holmgren’s successor a year in advance? That didn’t turn out so hot, either.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Leiweke said. “Because you get to a day like today, and you look back and you say, ‘There were opportunities for this not to function.’ “
Carroll will be introduced as coach today, offering what might be the most important thing for Seahawks football: a fresh start. That’s a welcome alternative to the dirty laundry that has been flapping inside this franchise for a couple of years now:
Jan. 15, 2008: Will he stay or will he go? Mike Holmgren’s ninth season as Seahawks coach concluded with a 42-20 loss, and three days later he provided his annual state-of-the-career address while preparing to take his annual retreat to Arizona to ponder his future. He had one year remaining on his coaching contract, and was asked repeatedly about his future.
“I’m open, maybe, to a third option,” Holmgren said, referring to a potential extension.
Jan. 17, 2008: Jim Mora, then the Seahawks’ secondary coach, interviewed with Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for his team’s vacant head-coaching job, and at one point Snyder had his personal jet at Boeing Field, prepared to ferry Mora’s wife and four children back east for an introduction.
Jan. 18, 2008: Mora withdrew his name from consideration for the Washington coaching job, an announcement released by the Seahawks.
Jan. 22, 2008: Holmgren announced he would coach one final year with the Seahawks, fulfilling his contract and then leaving the franchise. As for the extension he hinted at one week earlier? Holmgren said the choice was really between coaching one final season or walking away.
“It really came down to Plan A or Plan B the whole time,” he said.
Hmmm, no more mention of an extension. And as for the possibility Mora would become his successor as head coach?
“That’s for another press conference, and I won’t be there,” Holmgren said.
Feb. 6, 2008: Mora was announced as Holmgren’s successor at a news conference at which neither Holmgren nor Mora were present, and during which CEO Tod Leiweke and president Tim Ruskell spent four minutes lauding the accomplishments of Seattle under Holmgren before Mora’s name is even mentioned.
The succession is written into Mora’s contract. Holmgren supported outlining a succession process, but he wanted it to remain private, in-house. Instead, it was announced publicly at the news conference.
Oct. 14, 2008: With the Seahawks at 1-4, Holmgren was asked whether he had thoughts of asking for a mulligan, and getting one more season as coach. “I don’t think that’s my decision anymore,” he said. “I think we’ve kind of crossed that bridge. Interesting question, though.”
Turns out the succession plan left no wiggle room to avoid a sour finale for an iconic coach.
Dec. 30, 2008: Holmgren held his final news conference as Seahawks coach, and while he still had an office and mailbox at the team’s facility in Renton, it was the last time he answered questions as a Seahawks employee.
Jan. 13, 2009: Mora held his first news conference as Seahawks coach.
Dec. 3, 2009: With the Seahawks at 4-7, Ruskell resigned as Seahawks president after being told he would not be retained after his contract expired. He was accompanied to the news conference by Leiweke, who vouched for the coaching succession Ruskell had arranged.
“The last accomplishment I’ll point to is that Tim recruited Jim Mora here and I believe that Jim Mora is a very fine coach,” Leiweke said.
Dec. 18, 2009: Mora sent an e-mail to Leiweke, which also went to team owner Paul Allen, saying he would welcome Holmgren’s return to the organization as president and would regard Holmgren as a mentor.
Dec. 19, 2009: The Seahawks announced that negotiations with Holmgren had failed to produce an agreement to return Holmgren to the franchise as president. The offer was made after the Seahawks inquired about former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy’s interest in the position.
Dec. 21, 2009: Mora said at a news conference: “It’s no secret that I’m a Mike Holmgren fan, and I was an advocate of him coming back, to the point that I made my feelings known to the people that make those decisions. I’m probably as disappointed as anybody that he’s decided to reject our offer.”
This was followed by Ruskell sending Mora a text message, according to radio analyst Hugh Millen, that stated, “Real classy … Now I know I was 100 percent wrong about you, and I paid dearly for it.”
Jan. 6, 2010: Mora held a news conference three days after Seattle’s season ended, and one day after a Seahawks contingent that included Leiweke met with Pete Carroll in Los Angeles.
Mora was asked if he had been told he would return as coach.
“I haven’t talked to Tod in a day,” Mora said. “Tod’s busy with some other things, so I’m not too worried about that. I’m going to go work until I’m told not to work.”
Leiweke was asked why, if Seattle was going to make a coaching change, Mora wasn’t fired the day after the season.
“You must realize that this has been a series of progressive revelations,” he said. “It wasn’t too long ago that we really didn’t anticipate that happening. There was a feeling that this might be the time to have a clean slate.
“I now, in retrospect, think it was absolutely the right decision. But there was a chance … that we wouldn’t have proceeded down this path.”
Jan. 8, 2010: Mora is fired by Leiweke, who told Mora the news in his office. Seattle immediately requested permission to interview Leslie Frazier, the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator, and within two hours of the announcement, Carroll is identified as a leading candidate for the vacant position.
Jan. 12, 2010: Carroll is announced as Seahawks head coach, a decision generously characterized to have generated more puzzlement than applause locally.
Did Leiweke and the Seahawks expect the hiring to be cause for hosannas here? Not with a record of 9-23 and the avalanche of front-office drama the Seahawks have seen the past two seasons.
“When you lead with your chin, when you have two years like you have,” Leiweke said, “when people see some dysfunction, when you have a legend like Mike Holmgren leave, when your coach goes after one year, it doesn’t really set the table for a ticker-tape parade for the next guy coming in.
“But what gets that right is winning, and Mr. Allen gave us the authority to go out and find the best coach we could. We think we have. And now we’re going to find the best GM, and I am confident it’s going to result in what our fans ultimately want, which is winning.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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