Monday, May 4, 2009

The Buzz on Ruskell

by: William P. Tomisser

After listening to many of the KJR interviews as well as ESPN 710 programs with John Clayton, Kevin Calabro, and Brock & Salk, I've noticed that there's been quite a lot of talk about trust lately, particularly with respect to Tim Ruskell and Todd Leiweke.

There have been allegations over the last couple of years of Ruskell not dealing with players in good faith or that players have shied away from Seattle because of the front office and their prior dealings with players. Also, a lot of discussion was centered on how well Ruskell was able to operate this season and how well Seattle's offseason has progressed.

This season, it is apparent to many observers that Ruskell seems to be in a zone. It's also a pretty good bet that in the past there was dissension between him and Holmgren that kept Ruskell from operating as freely as he has been able to do this offseason. Much of the discussion focused on the fact that when a GM and head coach are on the same page and have the same vision for the franchise, things flow along with few obstacles and decisions are made easily and without friction. To continue reading, click

That appears to be the case now in Seattle, and lots of football-savvy analysts are noticing and predicting that it will be a large plus on Seattle's side to have that kind of harmony in the ranks. It's obvious that Mora's enthusiasm is trickling down to the players at mini camps, where the practices have been much more energetic than they were under Holmgren and everyone is hustling to and from the different stations at a run. Every player I've heard interviewed this season is jacked sky-high about the team and the upcoming season. They all praise Mora as being tough but inspiring. I believe that this will be a new look that shows up on the field of play in September with everyone bonded together as a tight-knit family and full of enthusiasm and energy. It all comes from the top down, starting with Ruskell and Leiweke with Mora as the hotlinked conduit to the team.

Quite a bit of discussion was also given to the Hill situation and how it was handled. Hill was interviewed by Brock and Salk and was asked point blank if he was in any way angry at what Seattle did, and the two gave him every opportunity to show the least bit of rancor over the possible loss of money or the fact that Seattle painted him into a corner by dropping the tag at just the right time where there would be few other serious suitors. Hill was repeatedly pushed to say something negative about Ruskell and the Seattle front office, but he had nothing but complimentary things to say. He was completely at peace with how it came down and more than once stated that he wants to retire a Seahawk. He said that the Seahawks made good faith representations to him and followed through with no deceptions whatsoever. Both sides praised the integrity of the other side in getting together and getting the deal done with honesty and in standing behind their respective words as the deal matured to the signing point.

Hill said that Ruskell did call him before they dropped the tag and told him they were going to do it and that they still very much wanted him to be a Seahawk. They told him why they were dropping the tag and why it was so important to get him signed and participating in the mini camps so that he could acclimate quickly to the Mora's new defense schemes. Hill really didn't even pursue any other offers, instead concentrating exclusively on getting the Seattle deal done. Seattle could have played hardball at that point and would have probably succeeded in forcing him to take a lower offer than they had previously offered, but in a classy move they actually upped the original offer by a couple of million dollars, giving Leroy the chance to save face and sign a good contract that made him feel wanted and important and showing the rest of the league he was a valuable asset to the organization.

That's why Hill wants to be a lifelong Seahawk. He feels that the Seahawks treated him with dignity and respect, especially considering how he had let the team down this summer. That's why Ruskell is getting the reputation as a tough but fair negotiator who shows concern for both the players' side of the deal and how each contract decision appears to his front office peers. He often gets criticized for a lot of things that come from fans' perceptions of how a deal or a trimming of the roster comes about. However, you don't hear that criticism coming from players -- in fact, players voice just the opposite opinion, aside for those players unhappy that they were let go who disagree with his assessment of their skills and/or worth to the team. That's pretty much the norm in any employer/employee relationship that gets terminated.

Ruskell says that he doesn't care about any of the criticism and that every move he makes has the team's welfare at the heart of the action. Show me a GM who endears himself to the players he cuts due to a lack or deterioration of skills or being a disruption to the team, and I'll show you a potential backstabber who smiles to your face and blames the action on someone else while he slips the knife in himself. Ruskell tells it like it is and does what he has to do, but takes the responsibility for the decision himself. Upon reflection, players usually come to appreciate his forthrightness in the end.

Todd Leiweke praised Ruskell for having the guts to pull the tag in the first place and reading the situation correctly. Ruskell believed that Hill wanted to be a Seahawk and that the franchise tag was an impediment to that process because it set the bar too high for Hill's worth to the team. By eliminating the tag and the $8.3 million a season starting point to the negotiations he felt the tag introduced, Ruskell got the two sides talking again and in the right price range for a fair contract more in keeping with Hill's abilities and his worth to the team.

According to Clayton, Ruskell is getting a reputation as one of the top GMs in the league today and that the word coming out of camp is that players trust him and Mora to be fair and feel good about the way Seattle regards their players as family. Other players considering Seattle as a place to play don't consider it to be in Southern Alaska so much anymore because they have the best training facility in the NFL and they are earning a reputation for treating their players fairly and with respect. It would seem strange to me that the team would be viewed any other way, considering the high emphasis Seattle places on character both on and off the field. For them as an organization, to be anything other than high character themselves just wouldn't fit the profile.

Ruskell and Leiweke are very close and say they have each other's back in whatever needs to be done to make the team better. Even though they have had to make some tough decisions that haven't been very popular with the fan base, such as letting Weaver walk rather than upping their contract offer, it was done with no disrespect shown to any player or any negative press releases that would keep a player from readily finding a position with another club. Weaver said some disparaging things about the Seattle organization, mainly concerning how they valued his contributions to the team, but never accused the Seattle front office of being disrespectful in any way. The two sides just disagreed on Weaver's value to the team. That's what they pay Ruskell for by the way: to make precisely that sort of evaluation.

The front office is making decisions that Holmgren found hard to make and in some cases couldn't pull the trigger on, preferring to keep a favorite player even to the detriment of the team (for example, Koren Robinson was kept quite a bit past when he should have been shown the door, and Jerramy Stevens was another classic case). Holmgren didn't like the D-Jack trade either, but Ruskell seems able to separate his emotions from the analytical decisions that need to be made. Even though some have taken the view that Ruskell's approach in some negotiations has disrespected the player somehow because of the player's popularity, Ruskell has proved to be right in most cases such as D-Jack, Hackett, and now most likely Weaver when you objectively look at him as a pure lead blocker, which is all the team's new offense wants out of a fullback and is willing to pay for.

If we want our football club to have the absolute best 53 players on the active roster to play as a team and win football games, you have to leave sentiment out of it and make decisions based purely on football savvy and character. Ruskell is proving to be one of the absolute best at doing just that, and although he's entering the 5th year of his first job as the head man in an organization this is probably the first one where he's truly been able to make decisions with the full support of people surrounding him. Tim Ruskell is showing that he could be our most valuable player.

How long has it been since we had multiple players (Tatupu, Trufant, Hill, Jones, and Strong for example) who expressed a desire to follow Cortez Kennedy as lifelong Seahawks who start and end their careers in the Pacific Northwest? Seattle has become a desirable place to play, and even though some players (notably those from the East Coast) still shun the idea of coming out West, more and more marquee players such as Houshmandzadeh are not only happy to come out here but make it a priority. Seattle's on the map, whether the East Coast cartel wants to acknowledge it or not. Once we start beating their butts in a majority of the games, they'll have to believe -- or maybe they won't, but at that point who cares?

Tim Ruskell really stepped into the limelight this offseason; Seattle hasn't seen draft and offseason grades like this in some time now. Players are gravitating to Ruskell and the Seattle front office is gaining a reputation as a class act to deal with. Mora has players running up mountains for him. What's not to like about the future of our beloved team at this juncture?

There are numerous podcasts and downloadable MP3s at both the ESPN 710 site here and the KJR site here if you're interested in listening through the hours of discussion that most of the observations in this article came from. The discussions span a week from the draft until now and include many player interviews as well as interviews with Mora, Leiweke, Ruskell, and key observations from Hugh Millen and Brock Huard, both of whom offer superb insight into Seattle's inner workings. I listened to well over six hours of discussion before writing up the salient points regarding Ruskell and the Seahawks that came out of these discussions.



Bill T