In this edition of the Seahawks mailbag I tackle just one question — hey, it’s June and training camp is still more than a month off — but it’s a good one. This great summertime question comes from @blykmyk44 on Twitter: “What’s your ranking of Seahawks and Huskies coach (one list) in your lifetime?” Here’s my answer:
First off, to set the parameters, I’m old enough to have seen every season of Seahawks football and, well, have been alive for most of the post-Darrell Royal era of UW football (the Hall of Fame coach who is best known for his long run at Texas but spent one year on Montlake in 1956 before becoming a Longhorn and replaced by Jim Owens).
So, that means I’ve been around for all eight Seahawks coaches (which is three fewer than the second edition of the Cleveland Browns have had since returning in 1999) as well the exact same number of UW head football coaches in that time — a Sweet 16 of Coaches, if you will.
Here, then, a seeding from 1-16.
1. Don James (UW, 1975-93)
He won big in the ‘70s, he won big in the ‘80s and he won big in the ‘90s. He won a Rose Bowl in a season when his quarterbacks attempted barely 20 passes a game, and he won a national title a decade or so later after installing the spread passing attack that was becoming all the rage. And he made and then kept UW football relevant during a time when pro sports exploded in the city, which might have been his greatest contribution of all. The ending got messy but that didn’t dim all that had come before it.
2. Pete Carroll (Seahawks, 2010-present)
James beats Carroll in longevity, and one might also argue that winning while continually turning over personnel is a more difficult task than having an extended run with one QB, though the salary cap has drastically increased the challenge of winning year after year in the NFL. If Carroll were to get to and win another Super Bowl, though. …
3. Chuck Knox (Seahawks, 1983-91)
Knox has the second-best winning percentage in Seahawks history at 55.9 (80-63), and put Seattle football on the national radar for the first time. And during an era when the team also had to battle in an AFC West that was as good as any division in the NFL he never won fewer than seven games in any season.
4. Mike Holmgren (Seahawks, 1999-2008)
Overall consistency gave the slight nod to Knox for the third spot. But Holmgren will forever be in the pantheon of great Seattle coaches for taking the Seahawks to the Super Bowl for the first time, and winning four straight division titles along the way.
5. Jim Owens (UW, 1957-74)
The 1960 and 1961 Rose Bowls that got UW back on the football map — and also helped reverse an overall slump in West Coast football — is enough to secure Owens’ legacy. He also got to another Rose Bowl a few years later with pretty much a completely different team, and then — after making his initial mark in the waning days of one-platoon football — showed some adaptability with the throw-like-crazy Sonny Sixkiller years of the early ‘70s that helped revive things after the really bleak late ‘60s (which, admittedly, were his fault).
6. Chris Petersen (UW, 2014-present)
In a few more years he might be a lot higher on this list. He’s also still waiting for that one really big bowl game win of the type that James and Owens had early on. But he is undoubtedly on his way.
7. Jack Patera (Seahawks, 1976-82)
The overall record (35-59) obviously pales quite a bit compared to others on this list. But the team was starting from zero at a time when the rules weren’t as favorable to expansion teams as they became later, and it may be hard to describe how fun and exciting the 9-7 teams of 1978 and 1979 were to people who weren’t there. He also had the good sense to go along with an assistant coach (Jerry Rhome) who suggested they pick up that Steve Largent guy who had just been waived.
8. Jim Lambright (UW, 1993-98)
He had the unenviable task of taking over for James and then heading straight into two years of probation at a time when the conference landscape was beginning to shift. There were a few really disappointing losses (and one unfathomable tie) to blow chances at getting into the Rose Bowl a time or two, and things were obviously trending downward when he was fired. Still, he went 44-25-1 and left behind much of the roster that won a Rose Bowl two years later.
9. Rick Neuheisel (UW, 1999-2003)
Despite all that happened later he’s the last UW coach to win a Rose Bowl — and he deserves his share of kudos for reconfiguring the offense around Marques Tuiasosopo and reviving in-state recruiting. And his winning percentage of 67.3 is third-best in the post-World War II era behind only James and Petersen. The great unknown is if he would have prevented the on-field slide that followed his departure — as he has contented — or if it was already firmly in motion and he would have been gone in a year or two anyway, regardless of what was going on off the field.
10. Steve Sarkisian UW, 2009-13)
UW football could hardly have been at a lower point when he took over in 2008, and it may be hard to believe even just nine short years later the excitement there was over going 7-6 and beating Nebraska in a bowl game in 2010. But it also sort of felt like the program was going to need a firmer hand to get to the next level.
11. Dennis Erickson (Seahawks, 1995-98)
His tenure may be a little better than is remembered, and at 31-33 following the disastrous Flores years, it was hardly terrible. Especially when considering how chaotic things were at the time with Ken Behring actually moving the team at one point and then a change in owners, as well Erickson having to make the hard call early on that hoped-for franchise savior Rick Mirer wasn’t any good (and then somehow getting a first-round pick for him that helped land Walter Jones). But the Seahawks also just seemed to lose a few too many games you felt they could have won during those four years.
12. Mike McCormack (Seahawks, 1982)
Well, as the successor to the fired Patera early in the strike season of 1982 he is one of just four coaches in team history with a winning record, 4-3.
13. Jim Mora (Seahawks, 2009)
That was an ugly one season in 2009, but at least along the way Seattle made the trade that yielded the draft pick that became Earl Thomas a year later.
14. Tom Flores (Seahawks, 1992-94)
His 14-34 record and 29.2 winning percentage is the worst in team history, and it’s worth remembering he also was the team president and GM the previous three years, so he doesn’t get a pass for the bad roster he took over in 1992.
15. Keith Gilbertson (UW, 2003-04)
He was in charge for barely 16 months and as such probably gets a lot more blame for some things than he deserves. He also had one great moment, the 2003 Apple Cup upset over a 10-win WSU team a week after the still-hard-to-believe 54-7 giveup at Cal.
16. Tyrone Willingham (UW, 2005-2008)
He recruited Jake Locker and for a brief period appeared to have restored some stability and respectability to things. But ultimately the record shows he took over a 1-10 team and left behind an 0-12 team four years later.