Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire – Part 1

I was asked by several posters to give my views on Ruskell’s tenure in light of the way it ended. I knew I would have to write this piece from the day he resigned but I decided it would be better to wait until everyone got a little Zen in their lives and had calmed down considerably. I imagine this article will stir things up again. Remember, I was asked to do this one and I’m not going to be backpedaling. This piece is divided into two parts so if you don’t see what you want here, check out the follow on article which continues my wrap-up of the Ruskell era.

I seem to have been the poster boy here at Seahawk Addicts for support of Tim Ruskell and although there were others who felt as I did, most of them were smart enough to lay low as the team deteriorated over the last two years. I’m a blabbermouth at heart so I’ve got the target painted on my back. However, if you’re waiting for me to do a one-eighty like others have done going from support and acknowledgement of the things he did well to damnation of anything he touched and renouncing everything he did, I’m afraid you’ll go away disappointed. Although I do have some new feelings on some things which I will articulate later in the piece, I still think he did a lot of good for Seattle and a lot of what was dumped on his doorstep was unfairly placed there. Press Read More to continue.

Ruskell officially resigned after being told the Seahawks weren’t planning on signing a new contract for his services. Angry fans say he was fired. Although he was let go in the sense a new contract wasn’t offered, being fired usually means you are prematurely removed from working under your current contract or you are removed from a permanent job. If he hadn’t resigned, his contract would have played out to it’s natural conclusion. Ruskell wasn’t retained after fulfilling his contract.

I don’t see any reason to disrespect Ruskell after he himself pointed out at his resignation press conference the reasons for his removal and agreed with the Seahawks assessment of his performance and the subsequent decision to not renew his contract. He acknowledged it was his responsibility to build a winner as the executive in charge. Listening to him, he sounded sincere in saying he was disappointed that he couldn’t attain the goals he had set for himself and the team when he started out. I believe all of that to be true including the conclusion that he wasn’t successful at the bottom line mission which was to win football games. I also believe there were setbacks and not all of Ruskell’s making that he could have used as an excuse but he concurred with Tod Leiweke that he was responsible as GM and the club would be better served going in a new direction. I thought he left as a class act and for the right reasons without blaming anyone else for what he felt was his failure. There’s a certain head coach who could have used some lessons on owning up to his responsibilities and taking the blame for what he was in charge of. More on that one later as well.

I think Tim Ruskell showed some good traits in his first GM position as well as areas he needs to work on. I also think that evaluation would fit many other football men throughout the history of the league and how they fared in their first job as the man in charge of all. He was a strong evaluator of talent and acquired players who gave 100% on the field and were proven team players of high moral character. He gave a lot of weight to proven football skills over prototypical measurables. He didn’t suffer character flaws and insisted character was as important as other components when making a total evaluation of a player.

The Seahawks under his leadership had some of the best locker room chemistry in the history of the franchise. He tended to miss on his first rounders except for perhaps Aaron Curry but he was also always picking in the bottom third of the first round (except for Curry) where there are few no brainers to be found. He also didn’t seem to give the offense the same attention he gave the defense when drafting players which was the polar opposite of Holmgren who paid less attention to the defense. I’m not sure it was so much that he ignored the offense but more that he just didn’t get the bang out of those picks he got out of some of his defensive picks. If Spencer had become a pro bowl center, Sims hadn’t taken so long to develop (in which injury played a significant part), and Wrotto had developed into a viable option at guard for us, he might have been looked on as an equally good offensive evaluator when you added Carlson, Unger, Butler, and Forsett to the mix. After just 5 years on his first job as GM, I don’t think there’s enough empirical evidence to really say he couldn’t hit on first rounders or evaluate offensive players when two or three players could have changed that perception either way.

His tenure with the Seahawks started on a high note. The one year the offense Holmgren built was at it’s peak and Ruskell came in and quickly re-built the defense with shrewd free agent acquisitions and draft choices was the year they went to the Super Bowl. He also added a key cog on offense in Joe Jurevicius. It’s becoming apparent as the fallout is examined that beyond that year, friction and power struggles developed between Ruskell and Holmgren and got worse year by year until the team became dysfunctional and Holmgren was either driven out or bailed depending on who you talk to and what you believe. You could make a case that Seahawk upper management and ownership torpedoed the franchise by creating a situation that was bound to fail (at least in retrospect) when they removed Holmgren as GM and forced the marriage of Ruskell and his principals and the strong willed Holmgren who doesn’t seem to work well with anyone except himself. In 10 years of Holmgren, he really only had an outstanding team with a correspondingly good record once, in 2005, the year Ruskell arrived.

Although the team had it’s best season ever season in 2005, the next two years brought two NFC West championships, however, by then the team was a pale reflection of the Super Bowl team. In those two years they lost the entire interrior of their vaunted offensive line, their season MVP running back, and other important core players like Mack Strong, Joe Jurevicius, Jerramy Stevens, Darrell Jackson, Josh Brown, and Marcus Tubbs. I believe that the timing of the majority of that core group of players from the 2005 team Holmgren and Ruskell assembled departing the team within a two year window is an unusual and rarely occurring situation in the NFL.

It’s much more usual for a team to lose it’s core players one, two, maybe even three at a time in a bad year but 10 plus over a two year period is as freakish as your whole starting offensive line ending up on IR by the end of the season. Heh. In some cases career ending injuries happened. Age happened. Wanting to end your career in your home town happened. Hutch happened.

All I want to say about Hutch is that we’ve debated that situation several times already over the last 4 years and it’s been fairly even between those believing Ruskell got blindsided by the loophole discovered in the CBA (the poison pill) being used for the first time ever in the NFL when using the transition tag to facilitate a fair contract and those that say he made a huge mistake because he got greedy over a couple hundred thousand dollars he saved by using the transition tag instead of the franchise tag. Either version yields the same result. You have an all-pro left guard to replace. Even if Ruskell could be definitively shown as culpable for losing Hutch, that was something that happened in the first year of his tenure and never happened again. Ruskell learned from everything that happened and wasn’t prone to repeating mistakes. He was a rookie GM though and therefore was presumably operating under a learning curve like anyone else doing a job for the first time.

This made the job of restocking the team a formidable one in which a GM would have to be close to a hundred percent accurate in selecting players to replace the mostly starters the Seahawks had lost by the end of 2007. No GM hits on every player he signs and although almost all the players he drafted made the team or practice squad, enough didn’t play at anywhere near the level of the player they replaced had performed at. You just can’t replace six or seven veteran starters including a substantial number of pro bowl players with six or seven draft choices and free agents two years in a row and not expect a negative change. The Seahawks progressively started playing worse and worse.

In 2008, everyone pretty much knows the story. It was Holmgren’s last year and the freakish injury situation including the entire receiver corp and aforementioned offensive line who missed all or part of the year. The team and Holmgren were given a mulligan by sports writers and fans alike. Ruskell had probably the second or third best draft of his tenure and most fans were happy with the results. He also made argueably the biggest mistake of his career with the Seahawks. Knowing that Holmgren was leaving, he hired Jim Mora Jr. to be the head coach of the Seahawks at the end of the 2008 season when Holmgren’s resignation became effective. 

After that, most analysts agree that coaching was the main factor in the failure of the team to do more than one game better in 2009. The team got worse as the season progressed and players who had played at even elite levels previously were playing poorly. It was obvious players weren’t being put in position to succeed. The new schemes weren’t effective and the players never looked comfortable or proficient running them. Tim Ruskell didn’t have anything to do with the coaching failure itself or the development and implementation of the new schemes. He really wasn’t responsible for much that happened in 2009 except he hired Mora and Mora and the coaches he hired were directly responsible. We’ll have to debate whether Mora’s hiring ended up being as big a mistake as it looks like now in hindsight but there’s a good chance that if Ruskell had waited for the season to end and conducted a proper head coach search, they might have made a much better choice for a head coach who would have rallied the team and made a decent showing this season. The reality was that after suffering his second disastrous season in a row, Ruskell hadn’t gotten what he wanted and expected to get out of the team and without tendering excuses, Ruskell accepted his responsibility and tendered his resignation upon learning the the team didn’t want to give him a new contract.

Tim Ruskell did some good things for the Seahawks, got blamed for more than his share of problems that dogged the franchise, and made some bad decisions. Many of his worst decisions weren’t known to be bad at the time the decision was made but were only found to be bad in retrospect like the Branch trade. He made good decisions too like rescinding the franchise tag on Hill and forcing the negotiations to proceed at a much more rapid pace.

I believe that some of Ruskell’s worst perceived decisions or results were the result of simple bad luck. He was the first (and only) GM for which a poison pill was inserted into a transition tag contract. Wrong place, wrong time. Bad luck but one of the cornerstones in the case against his tenure being called successful. Many GM’s have admitted they never saw that one coming. Having so many core players lost to the team in a short period of time. Career ending injuries happen to Tobeck, Strong, and Grey while Alexander is finished within a two year period following the Super Bowl. Too many important player’s careers cut short. It was bad luck for Ruskell to have to replace so many pro-bowl core players, all of them starters, in a short period of time just when he should have been building the team and adding to it. Needing a good receiver with which to replace Djack, he makes what appears to be a good decision to acquire Deion Branch. Branch battles injuries even though he doesn’t have a history of being injury prone and although he plays well when able to get on the field, he woefully underperforms his contract. More bad luck. In 2008, his entire receivers corps and offensive line ends up on IR among other injuries that has reporters talking about the worst case of injuries they’ve ever seen. Tim appears to be born under a bad sign with bad luck and trouble being his only friend. How many GM’s have had to deal with that much turmoil, pro-bowl level talent turnover, massive numbers of injuries, and first time a poison pill was ever seen in the league during a 4 year span? In fact, I doubt you could come up with any GM who had things go more wrong than Ruskell did. Couple that with the fact that he was forced to work with a head coach not of his own choosing which caused friction for most of his tenure and it’s not hard to see why he couldn’t get the wins and get the team on the winning track.

Later, Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire – Part 2