Tim Ruskell was announced as Seattle's new general manager of football operations February 23, 2005. He inherited a good team, a team that had made the playoffs in each of the prior two seasons, and a team with a winning record in four of Mike Holmgren's six seasons as head coach. He inherited a franchise quarterback turning 30, Matt Hasselbeck, two hall of fame talents on the offensive line, Steven Hutchinson and Walter Jones, a great running back in his prime, a good young cornerback, a three-tech, an oft-injured one-tech, a pair of system correct wide receivers and two controversial young safeties. A year later, the team Ruskell inherited represented the National Football Conference in Super Bowl XL.
Rumors notwithstanding, Ruskell's contract is up after the season. Seattle was 4-12 in 2008 and is 4-7 so far in 2009. His job is in the balance.
Seattle ranked 16th in DVOA in 2004. It ranked 9th in 2003 and 18th in 2002. It had a below average defense in all three seasons. Ruskell was brought in to fix Seattle's defense. He built his reputation under Rich McKay and the Bucaneers dominant Tampa 2 defense was his living resume. The 2004 team finished 21st in total defensive DVOA, 17th in passing DVOA and 30th in rushing DVOA. Pro Football Reference provides the starting defense in 2004 and the starting defense in 2005.
Seattle finished 15th in defensive DVOA in 2005. It was worse against the pass, fading to 24th, but better against the run, 5th overall. The team did not make a sudden leap as is often described. It did improve significantly and through a significantly remade roster. The front seven was gutted. Rookies Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and free agent acquisitions Chuck Darby, Bryce Fisher and Jamie Sharper all started eight or more games.
All but Sharper started for Seattle in its two playoffs wins preceding the Super Bowl. Seattle allowed under 300 yards to the 10th ranked, Washington, and 14th ranked, Carolina, team offenses. It smothered the Redskins. Shaun Alexander missed most of the game, and Seattle lacked the rushing attack that defined it. The Seahawks dropped five fumbles and lost three, forced no interceptions and lost the turnover battle three to one. But it held the ninth ranked Redskins rushing attack to 59 yards on 25 attempts. The Redskins had only three rushing first downs, and were 0-2 in red zone efficiency.
Seattle hired Tim Ruskell to remake the defense and he did. The Seahawks won their first playoff game in 20 years because of that defense. It then blew out the Carolina Panthers, powered by three interceptions, a forced fumble, its trademark rushing attack and sound execution in every phase, by every unit.
Seattle lost Super Bowl XL, but was not outplayed. Ruskell was the toast of the NFL. He was hired to remake the defense and did, and his remade defense was critical for the greatest run in Seahawks history. Ruskell also scored on offense. He signed Joe Jurevicius and Jurevicius was Seattle's most valuable target, keeping the pass game afloat after Darrell Jackson missed ten games.
Ruskell was unimpeachable. He was the pulse of the organization and the face of its future. The Seahawks success lifted all boats. Mike Holmgren was venerated after a controversial start to his career. John Marshall stepped in for Ray Rhodes, who had suffered a stroke in September of 2005, and his defense looked young and promising. Fringe players like Jordan Babineaux had earned a following among a resurgent fanbase. Matt Hasselbeck was in the discussion of best quarterbacks in football. Shaun Alexander was the league's MVP. Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson formed the best left side in football. The spectre that haunted Seattle, the Seahawks could not win in the playoffs, was exorcised. It had won and decisively.
It finished the season Super Bowl losers. It was a team in decline.