One of the more interesting comments from Tim Ruskell during the half-hour long press conference was his comment on the Steve Hutchinson situation that happened in 2006, when the talented offensive guard got away in free agency to Minnesota.
Ruskell understands it’s something he’ll be tagged with for the rest of his life.
“Obviously on the negative side everybody wants to point to Hutch,” he said. “And I talked to my wife the other day, and said, let’s look at that will again. And you know it says burial. But lets go for cremation so they won’t be able to write, ‘Here lies the man that lost Hutch’ on my tombstone.
“It’s constantly brought up, but given that situation again you would want a different result. We went into with the purest of intentions. Everybody know what we wanted to have happen there, and that’s what we thought would happen and it didn’t, and for an unusual set of circumstances. And I’ll forever be remember for that unfortunately, but it wasn’t for the lack of wanting the right thing to happen in getting a deal done.”
Ruskell also addressed the question of his relationship with Mike Holmgren.
“I know a lot was written and a lot was said, but Mike’s one of the great coaches of all time, and it was an honor to work with him,” he said. “And with he and Tony Dungy I have been blessed in my career to be able to work with people like that.”
Ruskell went on to say that Holmgren never asked to reconsider staying on as head coach after it was announced Jim Mora would take over this season.
Here’s the full transcript.
Leiweke opening remarks: “Good morning. My name is Tod Leiweke. I’m the CEO of the Seattle Seahawks. We’re here today for an announcement. I’m going to make a few comments, Tim will make a few comments, and then we’ll open this up to any questions you might have.
“Mr. Ruskell is going to be leaving the Seahawks. Tim and I have been in discussions the last few days. He felt it was the right time for him to pursue other opportunities. We also felt it was the right time for the Seahawks to begin the process of finding a new leader. I will comment on the search process only in a very limited way today, but one thing I will say is that Ruston Webster has agreed to become our interim general manager.
“The biggest thing for me today is to thank Tim. I have a valued possession in my home that I keep in a special place, and that’s the NFC Championship ring. I truly believe that without this guy to my left, I wouldn’t have that ring, and the Seahawks wouldn’t have achieved perhaps their greatest moment.
“We sit in this glorious headquarters, which most people think is perhaps the finest in the NFL. Tim’s vision was fundamental to it. When he came, he felt we were substantially handicapped by our Kirkland facility, and I’ll never forget the day we drove down the lake and we pointed to this site.
“The last accomplishment I’ll point to is that Tim recruited Jim Mora here. I believe Jim Mora is a very fine coach. I think he’s put together a great young staff. And I think at a moment like this, you get to look back and reflect on…certainly there were challenges, but there was an amazing amount of things achieved.
“I believe the Seahawks are a proud franchise. I think we’re a special franchise in the NFL, in part because of what I’ve just mentioned. Tim’s done a lot, and it’s not 9-5. This is the hardest working man I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Above and beyond his achievements in the office, I’ve come to know Tim as a truly great man who served honorably every day, gave it everything he had, and I think his greatness is reflected in his family, his lovely wife Linda, his kids Jack and Sam, and his sister Judy, who is here today.
“I will conclude my prepared remarks by saying that this guy to my left will be a lifelong friend and I simply wish him the very best going forward.” Ruskell opening remarks: “Thank you, Tod. I appreciate that. Obviously, there’s sadness today. But I will leave here with great memories of this place, and the people. It’s been the people for me. I’m proud of what we’ve done and what we did, and I wish the new phase had gone quicker but it didn’t. That’s the way that the NFL works. To me, the memories of this place, for me, will be the people like Tod and everybody that I worked with. It’s such a fantastic organization. That’s what gets my emotions, obviously. It has been a wonderful five years. The Super Bowl, the wins, the losses, it’s all together. We did it all together. I’ll never forget that, and the opportunity that Paul Allen gave me to do this, and Tod, and the board. But like I said, I’m proud of what we did.
“I know what we contributed to the Super Bowl. When I came here, the team…was a little bit disarrayed. Things just weren’t quite right. Obviously, that’s why a search was put on. We were able to quickly move out the people that weren’t interested in doing it right and bring in people that had energy and had talent. We all worked together. That was a great moment: the fact that those three years—’05, ’06 and ’07—were the winningest three years in Seahawks history; the fact that from ’84 to ’04, there were no playoff victories, and since then we’ve had seven playoffs and four victories; and obviously the Super Bowl. And still, you wish you could’ve done more. But that’s the way it works.
"It wasn’t for lack of effort, and it wasn’t for lack of passion, because that’s what you see throughout this building, and that will continue. That was a big draw for Jim Mora: his passion. And the coaching staff: their passion. And the people upstairs on the third floor: their passion. Our personnel people. It will come together. It didn’t happen quickly enough, and I understand that in terms of the fans and the ownership. It didn’t happen quickly enough, but it wasn’t because we didn’t do it right.
"We’re building it brick by brick, and that will continue. Often, when you’re rebuilding a pro franchise, the last thing to come is the wins…if you’re going to do it right, if you’re not going to cut corners. I believe that’s going to be the case here. This has been great for me. This area has been fantastic, my family has loved it, the people around here…you guys have treated us fairly. So will leave this with nothing but positives. The good outweighs the bad, bigtime. I appreciate it.”
On why the organization wasn’t willing to extend Ruskell’s contract, Leiweke: “Well, that was the issue: Tim’s contract was coming up. I think in our discussions, we both felt it made a lot of sense to sort of get about respectively what needed to be done. I believe Tim’s going to have other opportunities, but conversely, we needed to begin the search for a new leader. I think that we’re both benefitted by doing that now versus later. Quite simply, we didn’t win enough games. I think that when you’re 4-12, there’s obviously expectations that follow that in the next season, and we simply didn’t win enough games. 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.”
On why they chose to part ways now, when theoretically the Seahawks could win the next five games and contend to win the division, Leiweke: “That was part of what Tim and I talked about. No, this isn’t about necessarily giving up on the season. This was a decision that was made on whether or not Tim’s contract gets extended, and collectively we decided that, no, it wouldn’t be, and this was the right time to make the change.”
Ruskell: “That was something that I had pushed for. Tod probably got tired of me… Because we were getting into a period where we were starting to talk about free agency, what were going to do with our own players, the draft. It wasn’t fair to Jim and the people here that, okay, if you’re going to be the guy that spearheads that, then you need to know that there’s a future, because the planning starts during the season. So I kind of pushed for an answer. In that way, I pushed it to come to this point.” On why it was better to make this decision now as opposed to the end of the season, Leiweke: “Well, I think that in some ways, I think the conventional thinking is that you typically make these decisions at the end of the year. But I think Tim was anxious about what the future would bring. He also recognized that there was a point of inflection that probably made sense before the season ended. He called the question, and it really forced us to say, ‘Okay, there’s an important question on the table,’ and the answer was that we weren’t going to extend Tim’s contract.”
On how this decision will affect Mora’s future with the Seahawks, Leiweke: “I believe that all the reasons that Tim brought Jim Mora here are still applied today. Something that some people have said is, ‘Is it entirely fair to judge a program that has so many pieces coming together—players, coaches?’ Some could say this isn’t entirely fair to Tim. But this is a hard business. Back to Jim Mora, I have confidence in Jim Mora as a coach, and I believe his young staff is coming together.” On why the wins haven’t been coming, Ruskell: “It’s a great question. A team has to find an identity, you know? We kind of downplayed the fact of how much change was made, but when you change the head coach, both coordinators, both schemes, almost all the assistant coaches, and then almost 20 players—11, 12 new starters—that’s just not always going to come together that quickly. We haven’t come together yet. We haven’t found our identity. It’s come out in spurts. We’ve had moments of brilliance and moments of bad, but the consistency that you have to have to be a consistent winner has not hit yet. We kept saying during the season, ‘It’s going to take one of those games, you got to beat a team that everybody says you’ve got no chance,’ and we had those opportunities and we didn’t get it done. That moment may still come, or it may not happen until next year, but I think we underestimated that factor.
“And when we set out with Jim, we sat down and we said, everything that he would like to initiate and change—in terms of going from Mike Holmgren’s philosophy to Jim’s philosophy and how he wants to do things—could not be done in one year. It could not be done in one year. So what you do is you set a priority, ‘Okay, here’s what we can do.’ And we felt we did an excellent job in terms of free agency with the guys that we brought in, and then how the draft fell. So, we knew we were on the right track. That all fell well. Those guys have performed well, but it wasn’t going to be done in one year. Some of those weaknesses have showed up this season. But we felt like, with another offseason and going forward, that those things would all come together. And then you still had to have that moment, where it all came together. We just have to establish the identity of who you are. Those teams that are playing so darn well right now—the Minnesotas, the New Orleans—they’ve gone through this period, and now they’ve got an identity. They know who they are. And the team runs out on the field with that, and we’re not there yet. We’re just not there. It didn’t happen.”
On whether Mora will definitely be retained, or whether the new GM will have the right to find or bring in his own head coach, Leiweke: “I fully expect Jim Mora will be retained. First things first, today’s announcement. There’ll be future announcements on how this will all work, the process, but I’ll save that for another day.” On whether they have a list of potential replacements in mind, Leiweke: “You know, we’ve just started thinking about it. The reality is, this is a pretty fluid situation. I actually stayed in St. Louis to see my father, who is ailing, and it was when I came back and met with Tim a couple of days ago that we really landed on the idea that this was the right time. I give Tim credit, because in calling the question, he not only perhaps serves himself, but it does substantially aid this organization to get about it, and to answer that very question. So we will be working seven days a week now, focused on new leadership and finding the right person to fit this organization.” On whether this decision would have happened now if Ruskell hadn’t pushed the issue, Leiweke: “Oh, I think conventional thinking is that you typically wait. But I think that Tim was anxious for an answer. I think the fact is, the decision is now made, and we move on.”
On whether there will be any other major changes, Leiweke: “You know, I’ve never professed to be a football expert. I’ve been here seven years, but one of the things we’re going to do is we’re going to do a pretty thorough analysis, because we have time to look at this football team…to audit both its strength and its weaknesses. We’re going to ask people in this building. We’re going to ask some of the players. We’re also going to ask people outside of the building. You know, I give Tim credit, because in doing this now, we’re liberated to have those kinds of discussions, which otherwise, simply, we wouldn’t have done, because it’s how we do things here. So we’ll spend the next couple weeks anyway, doing a pretty thorough evaluation of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and out of that, we’ll come away with an assessment of this football team, and then be in a much better position to identify what the characteristics are we’re looking for in a new leader.”
On whether Ruskell feels some relief that this decision has been made, Ruskell: “You know, it’s not a bad thought that I’ve been in pro ball 28 years in a row, and going into the holiday season, [my family says,] ‘He’ll be here later, he’ll come back tomorrow.’ To think that I’m going to spend a holiday with my family, there’s a little relief in being able to do that, in fairness. But no, I love this organization. I love the opportunity and the people, so I will miss them dearly. I’ll miss this. But I move on. I’m not going to dwell on it. There’ll be no bitterness whatsoever, and I will have learned from the experience, as great as it was. That’s how I’ve always conducted myself, and that’s how this will go as well.”
On how Ruskell views the team now as opposed to when he first got to Seattle, Ruskell: “You know, they were doing a search, so obviously they felt something was wrong. I was a little surprised. There was a little bit of dysfunction in terms of how the employees felt. I don’t say that just because I had a sense of it, I say that because I talked to the staff, and I talked to the players, and I talked to the coaches. That was really the impetus for writing the letter that I wrote when I first got here about what we need to do to get better, and Tod and I felt like the culture needed to change. We worked very hard at that, very hard at that, because we both had like-minded philosophies in terms of that. I’m as proud of that as anything that we did. We did turn this culture around, and we got people to believe in themselves. We realized the value of everybody. So that was a great thing. I think that had a profound effect on how the team performed, because of the atmosphere. On the players’ side, we identified those players that we felt weren’t here for that reason, that didn’t have the passion to win and be great. We made tough changes. The coaches weren’t all on board on those. But I had just come from a situation in Atlanta where we did something similar, and that kind of flipped that organization to go to a championship game, so I knew that that worked. We felt like that was key. So, those players were gotten rid of, new players were brought in with a different attitude. I know you guys said it in your writings: the attitudes of minicamps and training camps seemed to be so different, and it culminated in the season that we had.”
On Ruskell’s philosophy of building a team full of ‘character players’ and whether he’ll change that philosophy since some teams are successful without emphasizing character, Ruskell: “For me, no. But there’s 32 different philosophies out there. I believe in that way of doing things. You can be a tough guy and be a good guy, you know? The goal and the trick is to find those guys, and identify those guys, because those are the guys that’ll pull you through the adversity, the tough games, the fourth quarters, the playoffs games, late in the season when everybody’s hurt. When we say ‘character,’ everybody thinks we’re talking about choir boys. We’re not. We’re talking about football character. What is football character? It’s toughness. It’s passion. It’s perseverance. It’s all those things. So some of them were later to develop than others, but that is a philosophy that I believe in, and I instilled, and I still do believe it. I saw it work in the places that I’ve been, and it worked here. It worked here. Right now, we’re going through a shift. The team is going through a shift, and it’s not happening quick enough, and that’s why this day is happening.”
On how Leiweke will handle a new GM who tries to shake things up and make changes, Leiweke: “Well, those things, we’re going to look carefully at. I said potentially, earlier, that we’re going to find somebody that, we’re not going to join them, they’re going to join us. I think that one of the difficult things is, when you audit what’s happened over the past number of seasons, we’ve really become, in many ways, a pretty good organization. Our stadium’s the loudest in the NFL. Our fans feel passion they certainly didn’t feel when I first walked in here. I don’t think this is a franchise that has to go out and beg someone to come here. I think this is a really strong and unique opportunity. So we’re going to find somebody who fits our prerequisite model of what we see as success going forward. We’re going to be thoughtful. We’ve got time. Some of those things that I think make us a really good franchise, I actually give Mr. Ruskell credit for helping achieve those things in his time here.”
On whether Mike Holmgren is a candidate for the GM position, Leiweke: “You know, I’m just not going to go there. I’m not going to talk about that today. I will tell you this: there’s going to be a process. We’re going to do a thorough audit of this football team, and we’re going to be very, very careful going forward to ensure that we find just the right person to lead the organization.”
On whether Ruskell would make the same decision again to name Mora as Holmgren’s successor rather than wait until the end of Holmgren’s last season, Ruskell: “I believe I would. I say it for this reason: Jim is a guy that I had been with, and recommended to Mike after he got out here. As I looked at our staff at that time, I did not feel we had that many candidates that would even be considered as head coaching candidates. I thought your staff should at least have some of those people because obviously that’s the smoothest of transitions, if you can do it that way. And then the other thing was, in terms of doing it ahead of time, that he was a guy that was being courted by other teams. We were getting notices, ‘We want to talk to Jim.’ Obviously, you know about the Redskins situation where he was brought out there. So Tod and I had a meeting with Mike in December of ’07.
"He clearly spelled out, ‘You know what, guys? If it doesn’t end after this year, it’s only going to be one more year. It’s a decision I’ve made with my wife that we want to step away from the game. You guys need to go look for your next head coach.’ That was very clear. There was no ambiguity to that. That’s what we did. That’s what we did. After talking about it, Jim became the most viable candidate. We could get it done early, and we could have a guy in the building that knew the players, so there wouldn’t be that period of, ‘Okay, wipe all these guys out and bring all these guys in,’ which I think slows down the process. So, I do not feel like that was what made ’08, ’08. I feel more that the bad luck with the injury situation and having our star players out for the entire season led to the record that we had that year.
"Obviously, when you’re losing, then everything’s game in terms of what went wrong here, and I realize that, when you look at it from the outside looking in. But I would, I would do it again. As I saw Jim work here and go from a head coach to a secondary coach, and how hard that was, and his attitude, I said, ‘You know what? That’s the attitude that would be great for this organization.’ Obviously, after Mike left, it came to fruition, and that was a smooth transition. We were able to hit the ground running with having the offseason that we had because of that. We weren’t going through this multiple-coach search, multiple-position coach search, and then trying to have those guys figure out who they liked and who they didn’t like. So in that vein, it was a positive.”
On why they chose to not extend Ruskell’s contract after 2008, if injuries were to blame, Leiweke: “You know, this is a tough business. Ownership has exacting standards, not just for Tim but everybody else in this organization. So clearly injuries were a significant factor in a 4-12 season, but at the end of the day, we were 4-12. There were then increased pressures and expectations put on this season, and to this point, we haven’t met those expectations, period.”
On Ruskell’s proudest accomplishments as GM, and the things he’s least proud of, Ruskell: “You know, I really would hold our record in terms of our drafts and how they’ve gone, and how many of those players are still here, up against anyone in the league. So my best moments for player acquisitions, I think, come from the draft. I’m obviously proud of what happened with Joe Jurevicious and what he accomplished that first year to help us get to the Super Bowl. Pat Kerney, what he did when we brought him in here. I feel good about most of those. As you guys know, that’s a little bit of a crap shoot, and you can’t always guarantee what those guys will do. But you know, we haven’t brought in a guy that didn’t give us everything he had, and knew what was being asked of him, and he tried to do that. Sometimes injuries would shoot that down. Obviously, on the negative side, everybody wants to point to Hutch [Steve Hutchinson] and I talked to my wife the other day and I said, ‘Let’s look at that will again. It says burial, but let’s go for cremation so they won’t be able to write, ‘Here lies the man that lost Hutch’ on my tombstone.’ [Laughs.]” On whether the Hutchinson decision is still a haunting memory, Ruskell: “Yeah. I mean, not for me, but you know, it constantly is brought up. Given that situation again, obviously you would want a different result. We went in it with the purest of intentions. Everybody knows what we wanted to have happen there. That’s what we thought would happen, and it didn’t, for an unusual set of circumstances. And I’ll forever be remembered for that, unfortunately, but it wasn’t for lack of wanting the right thing to happen and getting a deal done.”
Leiweke: “Tim’s levity is something I’ve enjoyed working with and that comment…He showed me a picture in the paper this morning saying, ‘Ruskell’s out as Hawks GM,’ and then this picture adjoining it [holds up Seattle Times; Ruskell headline is adjacent to a funny holiday photo accompanying another story].”
Ruskell: “[Laughs.] That’s just not fair. That’s not right.” Leiweke: “Danny [O’Neill], we take exception to your photo editor this morning. That was his comment walking in to me this morning. [Laughs.]”
Ruskell: “[Laughs.] That’s just not right.” On Ruskell’s relationship with Mike Holmgren: “Fantastic. It was a tough circumstance because we were thrown together. We didn’t know each other. People would say, ‘Hey, the only GM he’s gotten along with is himself,’ but that wasn’t the case. Mike understood the situation once it was done. That was professional. There was respect, and we worked together, and I am proud of what we accomplished. We had great moments. My memories of working with Mike Holmgren are fantastic, and I only regret that I won’t be here five years from now or whenever, when he goes in the Ring in Honor. I know a lot was written and a lot was said, but Mike’s one of the great coaches of all time. It was an honor to work with him. With him and Tony Dungy, I’ve been blessed in my career to work with people like that.”
On whether Holmgren ever came to him during the ’08 season and said he changed his mind and wanted to stay, Ruskell: “He did not.”
On Ruskell’s favorite memory of his tenure as GM of the Seahawks, Ruskell: “You know, it’s probably the same moment for a lot of people in this room: that Carolina championship game, the 12th Man, and that day, seeing our owner pull the flag up, that was pretty special. But you know, there’s been so many great ones. I could go a couple hours about that. But that was really something. It was just magical. To feel like I was a part of that, and we were a part of that, I’ll always remember that.”
On whether Ruston Webster is a candidate to take over as GM, Leiweke: “You know, I said I wouldn’t comment on the search, but I will say that Ruston would certainly be a good candidate. Stability is something that we’re trying to push for, so that’s true with scouts and all other parts of the organization.”