Up until 2010, the best coach the Seattle Seahawks ever hired was Mike Holmgren. All due respect to Chuck Knox, it was Holmgren who took the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl. Holmgren who led them to five straight division titles and helped Seattle change their culture and attitude about football. The Seahawks went to the playoffs six times under Holmgren, which was two more times than they had gone to the playoffs previously in their first 23 years of existence.
So it was fitting then that it was Holmgren who’d be allowed to pick his successor when he was no longer capable or interested in coaching. Holmgren may be an Xs and Os genius, but personnel guru he is not.
The person who Holmgren tabbed as the next head of state was Jim Mora Jr, his assistant head coach from 2007-2008 after he was fired by the Atlanta Falcons. To Holmgren’s credit, Mora’s resume was pretty good:
Grew up in an NFL head coaching family, so it’s something he’s known for his entire life. At age 24, he was an assistant for the San Diego Chargers under the legendary Don Coryell. By 38, he was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, improving them from 30th in points allowed in his first year to 9th by his third year. Then becoming head coach of the Falcons at 43 and leading them to an 11-5 record and a playoffs trip in his first season. And while the next two seasons fell below expectations, Mora still went 15-17, which is not terrible. Michael Vick was a primo weapon (he and Warrick Dunn both rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2006, while Roddy White was just getting started), but ironically the pass defense (Mora was a secondary coach for 13 years) was terrible.
He was hired by Holmgren and then had two years to learn everything he needed to know about the Seahawks. About Paul Allen. About Tim Ruskell. About Matt Hasselbeck. And Marcus Trufant. And anything else that Holmgren had built. The problem though was that Holmgren had built a team that could win its awful division, but he had not built a championship team. By 2008, when Seattle went 4-12 and Holmgren was basically forced into not being interested in coaching anymore, he hadn’t even built a team that could win its own crappy division.
The Seahawks were transitioning to Mora for Holmgren, but by then the Holmgren ideology was no longer relevant to NFL success. How long would Seattle be willing to hold out hope that a Holmgren-style team could become a winner again? And how bad would Mora have to do in order for a team to do what teams rarely do, which is cut bait from a head coach after only one season?
The answers were one year and 5-11, apparently. And it’s all thanks to former CFO Tod Leiweke.
The Seahawks weren’t doing so hot after a 5-7 start, but a couple more wins down the stretch and they’d finish with a respectable 7-9 record after having lost 12 games in the final year of our lord Holmgren. Instead, Mora tanked the final quarter of the season, losing all four games, three of which came by 17 or more points. That gave Leiweke just enough defensible leverage to fire Mora just weeks after Ruskell had “resigned.” It also gave him the job opening to woo Pete Carroll, then potentially on the outs with USC and looking for a chance to re-prove himself at the NFL level, but only if he was given much more control than he had in his previous stints with the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
That day in which Leiweke fired Mora so he could hire Carroll could indeed by the most monumental day in franchise history, aside from when Allen bought the team to keep them in Seattle.
If re-imagined, only negative thoughts creep into my head. What if the Seahawks hadn’t fired Ruskell or Mora? What if they did push out Ruskell but then let Mora tab his own GM or become GM himself? Imagine the direction of the 2009 Seattle Seahawks continuing on for 3-4 more years ... It would be a total disaster for the franchise.
The previous iteration of the Seahawks was completely open to signing and acquiring veterans who were way past their prime. Edgerrin James, Julius Jones, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, Deon Grant, Patrick Kerney, Lawyer Milloy ... It seems so foreign to most fans now that the team could be looking to acquire any free agents or make any trades for high profile players who were over 28. With Carroll and John Schneider — the GM that Carroll handpicked and who’d not be here if not for him and Leiweke — the focus is much more on the long-term, while also not hurting the short-term.
In their first year at the helm, Carroll and Schneider turned over what feels like 90% of the roster, if not more. By the time they were successful in 2012, barely anyone remained from 2009. I’m not even sure that Mora and Ruskell could have admitted their mistake with Aaron Curry and cut bait with him if they’d been given the opportunity to see him for another year or two.
Carroll brought a youthfulness and a reinvigoration to the franchise — and the league — unlike anything any other head coach/executive that’s been hired in the last decade. He did things his own way (though it’s always some amalgamation or reinvention of something he learned over the course of his life from other football/sports/life geniuses) and for the most part, they’ve been the right way. There were a ton of Seahawks fans who were not on board for the move to acquire Carroll in 2010, and even some who weren’t on board with the firing of Mora. It took a couple of years for most every fan to get on the same page once the team started winning, but eventually I think we all got there — despite some of the ridiculous calls for a “change” after a playoffs loss in the divisional round or an offensive flop against the Rams.
Tod Leiweke made the best change in franchise history. And I’m ready for another three or four more years of it, at least.