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DMN: Will Seahawks turn to Holmgren?

Ruskell’s ‘character’ philosophy didn’t work in Seattle. Michael Lombardi

Print This December 03, 2009, 10:30 AM EST

QUOTE: “Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow.” -- Dorothy Thompson

The change happening today in Seattle shouldn’t surprise anyone. Tim Ruskell’s resignation as team president and general manager is something that many in the NFL thought would happen when he wasn’t offered a contract extension at the beginning of the season. We are now on the Mike Holmgren watched, as I reported in October. Ruskell entered the 2009 draft as a “lame duck” with his focus solely on improving the team right now. His vision was impaired because of his lame-duck status, which forced him to pick a linebacker in the first round instead of protecting the future of the franchise.

Linebacker Aaron Curry is a fine player, but with continued questions about the health of Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks should have prepared for his eventual replacement. They have a ton of money invested in linebacker and wide receiver, two positions in my mind that never determined the outcome of games. Yes, I know you need good linebackers, and yes, I know you need great receivers, but both positions can be found as the draft progresses. Had the Seahawks not liked Mark Sanchez as the eventual replacement for Hasselbeck, they surely could have used an offensive lineman because their line is a mess. This team had many areas of concern, but because Ruskell was all about “now,” he focused on the one player who could make an immediate impact — or so he thought.

Before coming to Seattle, Ruskell spent one year in Atlanta as assistant GM and 17 in Tampa, where he won a Super Bowl around a defense that was dominating and had linebackers who could fly to the ball. His philosophy centered on finding quality character players who would embrace the team concept. But the problem with centering your philosophy on “character players” often lies in the definition of character. It’s too broad, so there are times when a good player with good football character is passed over. After all, the players being evaluated for the draft are young men, and young men make mistakes. One youthful mistake shouldn’t label someone a character problem — depending on the degree of the mistake. The other problem when considering character comes when scouts, who might not like a player, label him a problem to enhance their case against picking him. Don’t think this doesn’t happen — it does, all the time.

As a team builder from the Tony Dungy system, Ruskell wanted a team that could resemble the Bucs on and off the field with fast players who loved to play the game. However, much like the case with Bill Belichick disciples, there needs to be a modification of the Dungy system in order to adapt to the current standards of the NFL. No team is running the Tampa 2 scheme with success. In fact, even the Colts have changed as the league has caught up with the nuances of the defense. Yes, teams run Tampa 2, but it’s not a bread-and-butter defense right now — especially if teams do not have a dominating defensive line, which is a requirement to make the system successful.

Having the Dungy principles is a great starting point, but creating your own brand based on how the league has changed is what everyone must do. Former Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli wanted to create the same culture in Detroit and brought the “character-first mantra” with him, but just having great kids is not a guarantee to winning — it takes talent. The Lions had a locker room full of nice kids, but they were bad players. So, as is the case with most everything, there has to be balance.

Upon his arrival in Seattle, Ruskell had a very difficult job in terms of the politics of the building. He was replacing a man (Holmgren) who had his general manager duties removed but was still the head coach. So any attack of the team’s personnel by Ruskell could draw the ire of Holmgren. Any change of protocol was an indirect slap at the Holmgren regime — not intentionally, although clearly implied. The first year was blissful as the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl, and everything on the outside looked great. But winning can often create more problems than losing.

Their relationship became further damaged by the Steve Hutchinson incident in 2006. When Holmgren left for the NFL combine in Indy that year, he thought the organization had agreed to place the highest franchise tag on Hutchinson. But when he landed, he learned it had placed the lowest franchise tender on the All-Pro guard, allowing teams to bid but also giving the Seahawks the right to match. We all know how this story ends – the Seahawks let the seven-day deadline pass after the Vikings offered a seven-year, $49-million offer sheet. The result of the incident damaged the relationship of these two men beyond repair.

Jim Mora was later hired by Ruskell to be Holmgren’s eventually successor, but Ruskell was not rewarded with a new contract. So he had to know then that he was on borrowed time, and the only thing that could save him was the Seahawks getting off to a very fast start.

Now Ruskell is leaving, and there’s a very good possibility that Holmgren could be headed back to Seattle to take over as the “football” man in the building and help Mora rebuild the team. The Seahawks will change their procurement philosophy based on the new hire.

It’s going to be a crazy offseason in the NFL.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

To read about the NFL stars not suffering through a sophomore slump, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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