Rebuilding a Rebuild

The Tim Ruskell era has failed.

Bet you never thought you’d read that on this blog. I never thought I’d type it. Now, unlike most of you, I don’t hold any vitriol for Ruskell, in fact, I think he’s done a great job scouting talent and getting great value with his picks in the draft. I admire his “good guys finish first” attitude. I appreciate my home team being free from any questionable characters. I like many of Ruskell’s players, I like his scouts, I like that we are one of the few teams in the league who can hit in both the second and seventh rounds of the draft. 

So all of that is great. But unfortunately, the team is not. In fact, the team is not even good, not even close to good. The Seahawks are a legitimate, bottom-5 team. How quickly a tide is turned when a bridge is burned. Ruskell’s handling of Holmgren was poor. Jumping to name his successor was, in retrospect, a mistake. Now, I still believe that Holmgren should not have returned as our coach in 2009, and I do not believe he should come on as GM/President in 2010. Still, he deserved much better than he was handed in his last two years with the franchise. People love to point at Ruskell for every mistake, and hate his every move (or ignore the ones they like), and I’ve never been that guy. If anything, I’ve given him more credit than he deserves for the good and not enough for the bad. The fact of the matter is, though, that this project has not succeeded. Ruskell is not Wally Walker, but neither is he “Tim Ruskell,” the vaunted genius of early 2006, the man who assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the South Alaska Seachickens and turned them into the NFC Champion Seahawks. Was he ever that guy? Fans will never agree.

And now, we’re at a crossroads. The fans are pissed off and we’re not going to take it anymore. The time for a rebuild — however dramatic — is clearly upon us. The problem is, this team has been in the midst of a rebuild for two years already and the wins column has been it’s biggest casualty. The team has shifted focus from a strong man blocking system to zone blocking; from a hodgepodge finesse-esque defense to a poor man’s Tampa 2; from a running west coast team to a can’t-run-don’t-run-but-trust-us-the-run-game-will-be-super-duper-eventually team. The implications?

Disaster.

Nearly the entire starting roster has been turned over since Ruskell came in, with 18 of our 22 starters coming from him. Of our O-Line picks in the last four years, almost all of them have been chosen to fit the zone blocking system. I guess the plus with our defense is that they are incredibly talented and not too tilted one way or another. They could fit just about any defense that we might want them to fit, save for maybe the 3-4. Still, the offense is in utter shambles. The offensive line is amongst the worst in the league. The running game is in the bottom five and has broken the team record for futility twice in 10 games. The quarterback is good, but cannot again be great without an offensive line or running game, and the backup is a very good athlete who can’t quite figure out to throw the ball away rather than sprint out of bounds jovially.

The coaching staff is hard to read. Greg Knapp has been uninspiring and infuriating, but then, it’s very hard to see how many would do better with this offensive line. Knapp’s claim to fame is his run game, but with virtually no progress being made there, he has turned to the short pass game. That’s great when it’s working, but as we saw yesterday and the week prior, it’s not really all that hard to stop if it’s the only threat.

Everyone loves Gus Bradley — what’s not to love? Unfortunately, the performance of our defense. While it’s hard to argue that they have been terrible, the defense plays uninspired. They can’t play four quarters of football, and they can’t stop a good team when it matters. There has been very little pressure put on the quarterback in key situations — yes, we have some sacks, but how many have come in close games, on third down, in the middle of a key drive, etc? Virtually none. How many drive killing plays has this defense had? How has Bradley + Co worked the very expensive Aaron Curry into the system? They haven’t, at least, not well. More hype surrounds 2008 undrafted free agent David Hawthorne than the 4th overall pick.

Jim Mora is loyal. He proved that in Atlanta when he favored some players over others. He proved that this year when he hired one of his best friends, Greg Knapp. Loyalty is a good thing, but it’s not always what you look for in a coach. Why was Knapp brought in? No one else was even considered for the gig — they were, after all, already building the zone blocking system pieces a year earlier in anticipation of Knapp’s system. Mora shoots straight and tells us what’s on his mind, which is kind of fun, but where are the wins? Why haven’t the troops rallied when it’s mattered?

What is wrong with this team that is built of LEADERS from top to bottom, that not a single one has stepped up and said “let’s win”? Aaron Rodgers did it three weeks ago. This is out of the coaching staff’s hands at this point. Tim Ruskell built this team to be filled with leadership, and it is, but not a single one of them appears to be stepping up and taking this team to the next level. Is everyone waiting for the next guy to step up? And if so, what kind of “character” team have we built?

Tim Ruskell may be back. In fact, it is more likely than not that he will be back. Mora is in his first year as a coach and it is unusual to ride a guy out of town after only 16 games. It is unlikely for the GM to go in the midst of a “transformation.” He will, as Steve Kelley said last week, get a one or two year extension and ride this pony to it’s inevitable end: four years of wasted football and talent filled with unfulfilled promises and a lot of squandered talent.

And after that period, when all may seem utterly lost, Paul Allen will bring in another savior–another Mike Holmgren or Bill Parcels or Tony Dungy. He’ll hire a huge name with a huge track record of success as he has done twice before. That person will rebuild this team filled with skill and promise, abandoning dead weight and fan favorites in favor of new blood and “scheme fits.” We’ll watch our favorites go and new favorites come in. We’ll see the culture change. And, who knows, we might even start winning football games again. Because whether Ruskell is the best, the worst, or just the least fortunate GM in sports, Paul Allen is one of the best owners with some of the deepest pockets. So, how do you rebuild a rebuild?

We’re about to find out.

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