BY Art Thiel 01:31PM 09/01/2010

Leiweke’s departure no help to churning Seahawks

Moving on to NHL, Leiweke’s business legacy has Seahawks. Sounders in good shape

Tod Leiweke

Tod Leiweke

Here’s one way to look at it, Seahawks fans: Mike Garrett is available.

Just kidding.

Um . . . am I?

Even I don’t know.

Just like the Seahawks don’t know.

What goes on with the local NFL outpost is slathered in mystery. The team’s primary pass route should be in the shape of a question mark. The mascot should be renamed Shrug. The knitted brows in Renton are stouter than either line.

Mike Holmgren, Tim Ruskell, Jim Mora, and most of their key staffers, are gone.

Now CEO Tod Leiweke, perhaps the least dispensable of all the club’s personnel, decides the week that training camp starts to leave America’s No. 1 pro sport for No. 4 or 5 (depending on your view of the NBA’s rate of descent) and the game’s noisiest supporters for America’s sleepiest fan base.

The new Seahawks general manager? Seems a bright, energetic fellow. So, at first, did Ruskell, and he had a longer track record as an NFL player personnel man than John Schneider.

The coach? Catch him on Twitter or his book tour.

Together they have zero games together as an NFL tandem.

Mysteries, multiplied.

So who will be the new CEO and perhaps captain of Paul Allen’s sports empire?

Garrett, the fired USC athletic director who, with Pete Carroll, took the Trojans to collegiate pinnacles and peat bogs, is not only available but has won championships running a big-time pro football organization. And the NFL job REQUIRES he pay his players.

Jokes aside, there may be one or two better candidates. One thing does seem likely: Leiweke’s seven-year run in Seattle, which is among the most accomplished in our burg’s history of sports executives (I know, I know: short list), will look a lot better if his successor doesn’t go the full Homer Simpson.

“My tenure is not going to be judged by what happened these past seven years,” he said at a press conference Monday at Seahawks headquarters in Renton. “It’s going to be judged by what happens in the next seven years. So, it is really important to me we get this right.”

Leiweke has agreed to an unusual lingering, “for months” if need be, to help find the new guy. Such an agreement between Allen and Jeff Vinik of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning is rare, and a measure of Leiweke’s value that both franchises would tolerate something other than immediacy.

As to the reasons Leiweke would add to the massive Seahawks churn, I’m sure it’s all true that as a lifelong, passionate fan of hockey, as well as someone not averse to wealth, the chance to be a hockey-franchise CEO and a minority owner, even for one as beleaguered as the Lightning, is a “dream come true,” as he put it Monday.

It also seems reasonable to speculate that if the Seahawks’ decision-making were similar to the way it was when Leiweke helped get the team to the Super Bowl, he probably would have stayed.

As well, if the franchise were as relevant locally and nationally as it was in 2005, the Seahawks wouldn’t let him go.

The dubious events of the past Seahawks season bore exactly no trademarks of the way Leiweke preferred to operate in a 28-year career as a sports executive in football, basketball, hockey and golf. Controversies, missteps and clumsiness happen with any organization, but rarely all at once.

The weepy, in-season dismissal of GM Ruskell, a good friend; the awkward handling of the potential return of Holmgren as GM; the firing after one season of the new head coach and local hero, Mora, who was allowed to talk publicly of his Seahawks future without knowing he had none; the hiring of Carroll that appeared to subvert the NFL’s Rooney Rule on racial opportunity, and the unrelated NCAA sanctions at USC that its former coach hasn’t come close to explaining well or apologizing for, have added up to hapless embarrassment for a franchise that had been so savvy in rekindling public respect affection.

Lately comes word that season-ticket renewals, after seasons of 4-12 and 5-11, not to mention a gruesome economy, were down sufficiently to exhaust the waiting list and fire up the ticket sales staff.

For all of this, Leiweke was the CEO. But he wasn’t the boss. Allen was the boss. Along with his sister, Jody Allen, and longtime friend, Bert Kolde, Allen’s ownership crew initiated the changes — while Allen was undergoing treatments, apparently successful, for cancer.

Allen was also changing leadership with the Trail Blazers in Portland, in a fashion no less bewildering to fans than what was happening with the Seahawks. For all of Allen’s cutting-edge contributions to technology and science, the old-fashioned virtue of transparency seems an exotic formula to him.

It may come to pass that every Seahawks move was justifiable, and that Carroll and Schneider will be exactly the right hires to grow a future and compost the past. But the travails of 2009-10, for which Leiweke, by dint of personality and job description, took all the bullets, helped cost the franchise a good man.

Leiweke was resolute Monday that in his time here and elsewhere, he had seen worse.

“Seven years ago, the challenges I faced when I walked in here were far greater than most obstacles I’ve faced in the last year,” he said. “When I came we were an organization needing a brand and a connection with the community. Half the stadium was (sold) with season tickets. (Allen said) “I want this team to be involved in the community. I want this to be an organization of, by, and for the fans.

“It was a tall order, because we had a long way to go. My first game here didn’t sell out. It was heartbreaking to see so many visiting fans in the stadium . . . It was a place where women and children didn’t always feel good about going. And I think we’ve really turned that around.”

Leiweke said, justifiably, he was proud of his time here, which includes the most successful launch of a franchise in the history of Major League Soccer. If he wants to say now that he’s running to something rather than away from something, he’s entitled. He’s probably right, but only he knows where the needle resides on that meter. And he possesses sentiment and pragmatism in sufficient amounts to never tell.

“If we do it right in the transition, we just simply won’t miss a beat,” he said of the Seahawks future. Transition, however, is not something the Seahawks have come close to doing well.

Perhaps this time, if Leiweke is left alone to protect his legacy, it may get done right.


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