NFL Nation: Tod Leiweke
As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:
Best alumni assimilation: This one isn't close. Keena Turner is the 49ers' vice president of football affairs. Guy McIntyre serves as director of alumni. Jesse Sapolu, Steve Bono and Eric Wright are alumni coordinators. Dwight Clark is a business consultant. Team president Jed York grew up around the team during its 1980s glory days. He was a fan first and it shows in how eagerly the 49ers embrace their past. The other NFC West teams also employ former players, but not to the same degree. Retired Rams great Jack Youngblood has even accused that organization of failing to adequately embrace its alumni.
Best team facility: Few team headquarters in any sport can compete with the $75 million facility Seahawks owner Paul Allen constructed on Lake Washington south of Seattle. The practice fields overlook the water, with swank homes staring back from the opposite shore. Giant doors slide up for an open-air experience in the players' weight room, offering views of the practice field and, nearby, the water. The team has flown in free agents via seaplane, docking right at the facility. Square footage is right around 200,000 -- second-highest in the NFL, according to the team -- and includes an indoor practice facility adjacent to the locker room. No other facility in the division comes close.
Best billionaire owner: Allen has the clear edge for now based on the Seahawks' success over the past decade, but Stan Kroenke's prospects deserve our attention. Kroenke has proven himself as a capable owner in other sports. He has also engaged his fellow NFL owners in ways Allen simply refuses to do. That gives Kroenke the ability to make the Rams more relevant at the league level. Seattle's profile has suffered with Mike Holmgren and Tod Leiweke leaving the organization in recent years.
Best training camp venue: The Seahawks have it nice on Lake Washington, but there's something special about going away to camp if the venue is right. Northern Arizona University fits the profile for the Cardinals. It's far enough from Phoenix to escape the blistering heat, but close enough for fans to turn out in large numbers. The high-desert scenery and nearly 7,000-foot elevation combine to set apart NAU from other camp venues in the division and the league overall.
It's that lack of football background that could, in theory, make McLoughlin a good fit now that CEO Tod Leiweke is leaving the organization. Leiweke also was not an NFL guy. He spent his time focusing on reconnecting with fans and the business community, with impressive results. He did not pressure any of the football people on football-related matters.
The Seahawks have a new coach and general manager. The last thing they need is a team president with strong opinions on football matters. McLoughlin should therefore fit into the organization without making many waves, particularly in the short term. He'll influence the longer-term direction of the franchise, the tone the franchise takes publicly and those types of things.
Leiweke oversaw the Seahawks, Seattle Sounders MLS team and Allen's Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, which included the Portland Trail Blazers. McLoughlin will oversee only the Seahawks and Sounders.
McLoughlin's experience in brokering major sports business deals means he's already familiar with NFL power players, including Goodell. That should help Seattle at the league level.
One concern could be navigating and managing the gap between team owner Paul Allen and the football operation. Allen is not directly involved in day-to-day operations or league matters. The team's previous football leadership sometimes felt as though Allen's inner circle at Vulcan, Inc., had too much influence. How might those dynamics come into play now that someone without Leiweke's profile and feel for the team has taken control?
The Lighting made the ownership offer and Leiweke could not resist, taking a CEO job with equity in the team in a move announced Monday.
Leiweke leaves a strong legacy despite the Seahawks' recent on-field struggles and their front-office implosion earlier this offseason. Former coach Mike Holmgren has called Leiweke the best thing to happen to the organization. And while I suspected Holmgren sometimes intended the statement as a dig toward former team president Tim Ruskell, Leiweke was indeed a person the organization could trust. He always had the Seahawks' best interests in mind and he knew how to build a brand.
The Seahawks already had their new stadium when Leiweke arrived in June 2003, but their season-ticket base was around 30,000 and the organization had not reconnected with its fan base following Ken Behring's tumultuous ownership run. Allen, despite good intentions, didn't enjoy success as Seahawks owner until Leiweke came aboard. That was not a coincidence. Leiweke's people skills and business sense made an immediate impact.
Leiweke overhauled the business side of the Seahawks' organization and changed the team's marketing focus. The team became friendlier, for sure, and the results are easily quantified. The Seahawks expect to have 62,000 season-ticket holders for the 2010 season after making available additional tickets beginning last week. Leiweke has similarly remade the Blazers' image after taking control of that organization in 2007. Separately, the Sounders quickly became profitable under his watch.
Those three Leiweke-operated franchises -- the Seahawks, Blazers and Sounders -- have enjoyed a combined 201 consecutive sellouts under his watch, according to a news release.
It's not yet clear who Leiweke might suggest as a replacement. Chief operating officer John Rizzardini could be a logical choice if the team makes a hire from within. Senior vice president and general counsel Lance Lopes helped coordinate the hiring of Pete Carroll from USC, so his name might be worth keeping in mind.
Making the wrong hire could undermine the legacy Leiweke has built. In the short term, it could undermine Carroll and new general manager John Schneider. The Seahawks and their fans can feel better about Leiweke's successor if Leiweke himself signs off on the hiring.
Deuce Lutui, Cardinals guard. Lutui played well enough in 2009 to earn consideration for a long-term contract, but like most players, he's not valuable enough to leverage his team into action. Staying away from the offseason program would have been enough to lower Lutui's stock on its own. Recent moves by the Cardinals have only dropped that stock further. Line coach Russ Grimm has a long list of starting-caliber guards to consider after Arizona signed Rex Hadnot and nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca in free agency. Arizona has enough depth for Grimm to consider using longtime left guard Reggie Wells at right tackle. The only realistic option for Lutui is the same one he's had all along: report in shape, compete hard and show the Cardinals he deserves a long-term deal.
Pete Carroll, Seahawks coach. Carroll cleared an important first hurdle as the Seahawks' coach and highest-ranking personnel authority when he oversaw an ambitious and productive first draft in Seattle. No team knows whether the players it drafts will become stars, but the Seahawks earned rave reviews from their handling of the draft, and those reviews appeared warranted. Seattle landed highly regarded players at positions of great need while also maneuvering to land running backs Leon Washington and LenDale White. Carroll and general manager John Schneider also validated the collaborative spirit CEO Tod Leiweke stressed in hiring them following a tumultuous period in the team's front office. It's still early. Carroll has much to prove. So far, however, so good for Seattle.
The video is shot from a distance. It appears to show Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke and head coach Pete Carroll greeting Marshall, a restricted free agent, after the plane docks.
I found the video more compelling when imagining what former general manager Tim Ruskell might have said if asked to provide running commentary. Ruskell built his Seahawks philosophy around the idea that the team would seek high-character players while avoiding those who had demonstrated patterns of off-field issues.
It's striking that Marshall, a player with numerous arrests on his record, would be the first high-profile free agent the Seahawks courted after Ruskell's resignation.
Times do change.
- This is all about fit. Specifically, it's about Schneider fitting with coach Pete Carroll and helping to find players that fit precisely what Carroll wants. The Seahawks didn't do this as well in recent seasons when former GM Tim Ruskell was identifying players to fit his long-range plans while the team tried to win with Mike Holmgren's offense. Seattle should get more from its personnel this way.
- Carroll holds the authority over personnel, CEO Tod Leiweke said, noting that Carroll would win any coin tosses. Schneider then said he would never try to cram a certain player into his head coach's roster, regardless of who had ultimate control of personnel. The structure arguably makes Schneider a better candidate than GM finalist Floyd Reese, who is older and more established in his ways. I got the sense Schneider and Carroll would work well together. It's in Schneider's nature to make this work. I sense he's a pure personnel guy, not someone who cares about getting the credit.
- The Seahawks will not be making sweeping changes to their front office or scouting staff. Schneider knows quite a few of the people already in place. Ruston Webster, John Idzik and Will Lewis will remain with the organization, Leiweke indicated. Lewis and Schneider worked together in Seattle previously. The team's salary cap and contract negotiating arm -- headed by Idzik -- will report to Schneider. Carroll wants to pick players, but he doesn't want to be a GM or cap guy.
- The Seahawks will become younger not by design but through an effort to encourage competition. The Packers have been one of the NFL's two youngest teams (along with the Colts) in recent seasons. Carroll was opposed to playing rookies during his past incarnation as a head coach. His outlook changed after coaching in college (Carroll compared that experience to being coach and GM, with the GM part changing his view). Personnel guys love to play young players. Seattle was the NFL's eighth-oldest team this week, not counting players signed to future contracts. That ranking will fall, no doubt.
- The Seahawks are better off now than they were a few weeks ago. I do think the front office has a better chance to function without the infighting and competing agendas that marked previous regimes in recent seasons. That can help the Seahawks regain credibility lost over the last couple seasons.
- Carroll addressed a few hires relating to his coaching staff. Jeremy Bates (offensive coordinator), Alex Gibbs (offensive line), Jedd Fisch (quarterbacks), Pat McPherson (tight ends), Gus Bradley (defensive coordinator), Dan Quinn (defensive line), Jerry Gray (secondary), Ken Norton Jr. (linebackers) and Brian Schneider (special teams) are in place.
- The Seahawks are weighing the possibility of trying a 3-4 defensive alignment, but it's early.
Those were a few highlights. Heading home now.
It was new coach Pete Carroll, waiting for his turn at the podium on the day Seattle introduced its newest head coach.
Carroll, highly successful at USC, paced along the auditorium's perimeter like a prize fighter waiting to approach the ring. The excitement he felt was palpable and presumably genuine. I say "presumably" because what fans have seen hasn't matched what they've gotten from the organization in recent years.
1. How much power will Carroll wield?
Lots. Everyone associated with Carroll knew he would likely never take an NFL job without being the No. 1 decision maker within the organization.
Carroll referred to the organization having one door and one voice, both belonging to him.
Leiweke referred to "collaboration" as his top priority. It's clear that collaboration will be done on Carroll's terms. Carroll will sit in on interviews with general manager candidates. That means the team will hire a GM on Carroll's terms. That will define the relationship in a way that assures Carroll's power ultimately.
The Seahawks will have a strong leader and it will be Carroll.
Keep an eye on Seahawks general counsel Lance Lopes. He helped broker the deal for Carroll through his brother, who works at USC. Lopes' profile could rise as a result.
Former president Tim Ruskell and former coach Jim Mora were Leiweke guys. Leiweke spoke fondly of both and said he apologized to Mora for the way the organization handled the coach's final days.
2. What type of staff will Carroll put together?
It could be a good one. Carroll expressed hope that he would hire veteran offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, one of the few people in the NFL who might qualify as an upgrade over Mike Solari. Gibbs will presumably have another title such as assistant head coach.
If Carroll can make it happen, good for him and good for the Seahawks.
The defensive philosophy will remain somewhat the same, Carroll said. His system shares a similar coaching lineage as the one Jim Mora and staff installed last season. That should help.
Expect a new system on offense with an emphasis on running the football.
3. What does Carroll's arrival mean for key players?
Carroll endorsed quarterback Matt Hasselbeck as the starting quarterback.
That was about as far as he was willing to go without spending more time analyzing the roster.
4. Does the organization have a clear vision of its preferred structure?
Not really. The front-office structure could vary depending on which GM candidate the team hires, Leiweke said.
This favors Carroll, obviously. He's the one already on the job.
Again, Carroll is the top dog.
5. What about Leslie Frazier and the Rooney Rule?
The Seahawks' interview with Vikings assistant Leslie Frazier took place after reports said a deal with Carroll all but done. This raised questions about the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates.
My question for Leiweke was this: "Everyone knew from Pete's background that he wasn't going to take an NFL job unless he had enough control for himself. So, all the reports when he was hired were that he is going to be that man. Then we hear from the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that, 'Hey, this is the same job that Leslie Frazier would be going to.' Then we see Pete today say there is one door to knock on. So, where are we at?"
Leiweke: "Well, the fact is, it wouldn't have been the same job that we talked to Leslie about. I don't think so. Leslie was a heckuva candidate. At the end of the day, we are going to build a highly collaborative model and I learned lessons from how this was working over the last two or three years, and it was hard. I'm highly confident. There could be three doors. There could be a cap/contract door, a general manager door and Pete will have his own unique door. But one of the things that attracted Pete here is that we said, 'Look, you are going to sit in on these GM interviews. You are going to help us select a guy. We are going to make sure you are 100 percent comfortable with where we ultimately end up.
"Leslie Frazier is going to be a head coach in this league. He is a super impressive guy. I went to Minnesota not knowing if we would get it done with Pete. There were some significant issues and I spent the better part of the day and an evening watching football with a guy who I just came away hugely impressed with. As I flew to L.A., I knew if it didn't work out with Pete, there were some excellent candidates out there, specifically Leslie."
Carroll was the guy Seattle wanted all along. The "significant issues" Seattle had to overcome with Carroll had to do with putting together a staff and which people Carroll would bring from USC.
6. Has Carroll changed since his previous NFL coaching jobs?
Yes and no. Carroll said his approach to players will remain the same. He wants to maximize communication with players so coaches can find the best way to use their talents.
The difference between the 2010 Carroll and the one who coached the Jets and Patriots in the 1990s?
The new Carroll has a much better idea how to articulate his philosophy.
Carroll said he was "embarrassed to say" that he didn't really find himself as a coach until leaving the Patriots. The vision he has now is much clearer and more defined. Expect the Seahawks to adopt Carroll's vision, not the other way around.
That was the word from CEO Tod Leiweke in a news release Monday.
"Our intended structure is for Pete and the new GM to work in a collaborative capacity on football matters," Leiweke said.
This makes sense to me. The Seahawks have tried various structures in recent years. This one stands a better chance at working if the GM Seattle hires understands the situation and gets along well with Carroll.
John Wooten, chair of the Fritz Pollard Alliance promoting diversity in NFL hiring, sheds light on the Seahawks' attempts to interview Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a move that would satisfy the Rooney Rule requiring teams to consider minority candidates.
It's a tough sell when everyone knows -- or at least thinks -- Carroll is the man Seattle wants for the job.
According to Wooten, Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke told him the Seahawks would not be willing to give Carroll as much control as Mike Holmgren wielded as coach and general manager from 1999 to 2002. That assurance was apparently a signal to Frazier that the Seahawks were not willing to hire Carroll unconditionally.
Compliance with the Rooney Rule in this case seems tricky. The Seahawks might not have been willing to fire Mora until they were reasonably sure they could get the coach they wanted, presumably Carroll. They couldn't know whether they could get Carroll without approaching him and exploring possibilities.
The team could not have fulfilled the Rooney Rule while Mora was still the head coach.
Frazier shouldn't be expected to play along just to help Seattle get through the process. As Trotter noted in a followup tweet, "Leslie Frazier will back out of interview with Seahawks on [Saturday] unless he 1st receives assurances that Pete Carroll WON'T have total control."
The Seahawks cannot allow another candidate to dictate terms of any future agreements, but they also cannot comply with the Rooney Rule without interviewing Frazier or another minority candidate.
Fun times for Leiweke.
ESPN's John Clayton says the Seahawks have shown interest in Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Chris Mortensen has identified USC coach Pete Carroll as the top candidate.
- Update: Mortensen reports that Frazier has declined the Seahawks' request. This item has been updated to condense the section dealing with Frazier's possible candidacy.
The Seahawks could use a bold move right about now. It's been a couple rough seasons for the organization.
Frazier's name has come up in previous head coaching searches around the NFL. His connection to former Colts coach Tony Dungy interested me because another former Dungy associate, Ruston Webster, happens to be the Seahawks' interim general manager.
How good would the Seahawks look if they could somehow land Dungy in an advisory role, lending immediate credibility, with Webster as GM and Frazier as head coach? It's an idea that requires some connecting of the dots. I've had no indication from anyone that such an arrangement has been considered, would be considered or would even be practical.
Do you fire Mora to hire Frazier? Is that an obvious upgrade?
Carroll is a much bigger name. He's energetic and he's dynamic. He would fit with Leiweke, for sure.
Would he be the right choice? I recently watched an NFL Network show featuring former NFL head coaches who should have stayed at the college level. Former Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson was one of the men featured. Carroll was another.
The program showed locker room footage of Carroll giving sappy rah-rah speeches, with former players saying the NFL was no place for him.
Much time has passed since Carroll left the Patriots after the 1999 season. He would go into his next NFL job a wiser man for the experience.
Should be an interesting next week or so in the NFC West.
CEO Tod Leiweke: "We’ve made a tough decision today, It became apparent after conducting an extensive internal audit, that a new direction was needed to provide an opportunity for the organization to be successful. Today’s decision, while difficult, is part of the process in building a franchise with a new vision in 2010. ... Jim is truly a stand-up man, who gave his full effort to our franchise. We thank Jim and his family for their commitment to our community and for their contribution to the Seahawks."
Mora: "This team, more importantly this community, means so much to me that it hurts not being able to see this through. I am disappointed I did not get the chance to complete my contract. This is a tough business that sometimes demands immediate gratification."Sometimes? Most of the time.
Ray Rhodes found out when he tried to replace Mike Holmgren with the Packers. Rhodes lasted one season. The team managed to finish 8-8, but quarterback Brett Favre was floundering and Rhodes' leadership style came into question.
Jim Mora became the next Rhodes when the Seattle Seahawks, fresh off a 10-year run with Holmgren, fired him Friday after one season.
The organization is making a statement that the Seahawks need a complete makeover after putting together 4-12 and 5-11 seasons, the latter under Mora. A franchise that valued continuity in naming Mora to the job ahead of time has now decided a complete makeover is in order. There's no use in sticking with the wrong plan, the organization seems to be saying.
The Seahawks are a little tough to figure right now. That is understandable to a degree. Owner Paul Allen has been undergoing cancer treatments recently. He certainly has more important things on his mind. His top Seahawks executive, CEO Tod Leiweke, had advocated Mora's continued employment during the early December news conference to announce Tim Ruskell's resignation as general manager. What was Leiweke supposed to say in that situation? Exactly.
Ruskell was the one primarily responsible for landing Mora and installing him as coach-in-waiting. Ruskell's resignation foreshadowed potential trouble for Mora, although the general feeling was that every head coach should have more than one year to establish his program.
Allen, famous for co-founding Microsoft, is basically hitting control-alt-delete to trigger a forced system restart. The move makes Mora the first coach in Seahawks history to last only one season. Tom Flores lasted three. Dennis Erickson lasted four. Jack Patera lasted six and change. Chuck Knox led the team for nine seasons.
Did Mora deserve to be fired? We could make that case after a 5-11 season that saw the team getting worse in some areas. Was firing him fair? Not really. Most head coaches should get more than one season.
Those are not necessarily the most important questions here.
The key question is whether the Seahawks can hire someone demonstrably better, and whether the next coach can field a superior staff.
Finding the next GM should become easier now that it's clear the next GM will have input in hiring the head coach. The Seahawks can now move forward with their front office and coaching staff in chronological alignment for the first time in the better part of a decade. That is important as long as the Seahawks hire the right people.
Their current struggles on the field and perceived mishandling of the Mike Holmgren situation are changing perceptions. I think the Seahawks might be well served if Leiweke made himself available for a state-of-the-Seahawks media session.
Where are they at in the search process? How serious were they about landing Holmgren? How much of a setback was it when Holmgren declined their offer? Did they really wait until the last minute before reaching out to him? How much money did they offer him relative to what other executives earn? Why weren't they willing to offer more? How much power was the organization willing to give Holmgren? What was the deal breaker from the organization's standpoint? Is coach Jim Mora's future increasingly in question? What happens next?
Those are 10 questions off the top of my head. I'm sure you'll leave more in the comments.
Do the Seahawks have answers?
Fans have remained loyal through two horrible seasons. Some of that loyalty could erode if fans think the Seahawks' leadership is floundering.
Holmgren shared his side of the story with Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, contradicting the team's version of events. Negotiations can be complicated and it's possible, even likely, for opposing sides to have different interpretations. These issues would appear to be relatively clear cut.
The subject matter is sensitive for the Seahawks. They would probably prefer the joint statement released with Holmgren to suffice. But the silent treatment makes them less accountable while allowing perceptions to linger.
As it stands, the team's next chief football executive will be measured against what might have been.
- Ruskell's top personnel lieutenant, Ruston Webster, takes over as interim GM. Webster is a candidate for the full-time position. The team will begin a comprehensive audit of the strengths and weaknesses of the football operation. The search for a replacement begins right away.
- "We will not join them. They are going to join us." That was what CEO Tod Leiweke said about the next GM. In other words, the team would like to maintain as much continuity as possible, pending that comprehensive audit, perhaps.
- Leiweke said the team envisions retaining coach Jim Mora and staff. That is surely true right now, but the fact remains that Mora will likely work for someone less invested in him than Ruskell was, perhaps giving Mora less margin for error in the future.
- Leiweke would not comment on whether Mike Holmgren might be a candidate for the job, saying he was "not going to go there" at this time. I would expect the team to consider Holmgren in some capacity, but there's little chance, in my view, that the team would give him total control without checks and balances.
- Ruskell was emotional in the beginning, particularly after Leiweke said nice things about him and his family. Ruskell was emotional again later in the news conference when recounting some of the team's accomplishments. There was also humor. Ruskell, mindful that Steve Hutchinson's departure after the 2005 season might one day be written on his managerial tombstone, joked that he would consider cremation as an alternative.
- Ruskell said he had a "fantastic" relationship with Holmgren. He slipped up a little, I thought, when he said the relationship was excellent even though he had heard "the only general manager (Holmgren) had gotten along with was himself." On second thought, Ruskell was probably entitled to say something such as that given the way Holmgren has publicly promoted his potential candidacy for the job.
- Ruskell forced the organization's hand about whether the team would extend his contract beyond this season. Leiweke said the organization wasn't ready to do that because the team simply had not won enough games lately. Making the decision now helps the Seahawks conduct a more thorough analysis and search.
- Ruskell said he underestimated the struggles that might have resulted from changing the head coach, both coordinators, both schemes and multiple starters in one offseason. He said the process simply did not play out quickly enough.
Those were some of the key points. I'm heading home from Seahawks headquarters and will resume regular blog programming as soon as possible.
Basically, Ruskell had sought clarity from the organization regarding his role with the team beyond this season. This process had spanned the past couple of months. When it finally became clear the team would not commit to him, Ruskell decided the best course would be to step down now, particularly as his status had become a distraction.
"We were getting ready to go into those meetings about free agency and the offseason," Ruskell said. "If I am not going to spearhead those meetings and it wasn't going to happen no matter what our record was, you become a lame duck. And I did not want that."
Ruskell and CEO Tod Leiweke are scheduled to speak at a news conference at 1 p.m. ET. I do not expect the team to announce a long-term replacement. The more likely course, in my view, would be for ownership to promote someone from within on an interim basis. We'll get those details from Leiweke once the news conference begins.
I asked Ruskell whether recent reports about his potential demise played a role in the timing of his departure. He said those reports made his status a potential distraction, but that this move had been coming for some time.
"That was a false report planted by somebody trying to stir it up," Ruskell said.