With Whitsitt Gone, What Happens Next?

Bob Whitsitt? Gone. Ted Thompson? Gone. Mike Holmgren? Still cashing checks, thank you! In the wake of a very eventful day in the Seahawks' front office, Doug Farrar wonders if a name from Holmgren's past might be the key to a brighter future.

On Friday morning, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen announced via conference call the dismissal of Team President Bob Whitsitt. Whitsitt, who had been the Seahawks’ president for eight years, was relieved of his duties immediately and has left the organization. Allen explained the move as a necessary action to get the franchise rolling in a more positive direction.

"What I like to do after the season is over is canvas everybody involved and think about what's the best way to improve our performance going forward," Allen said. "And after talking to everybody and evaluating our performance, I felt that the best approach at this point was to take a change of direction and bring in somebody with a deep background in football to run the football side of our organization."

Before working with the Seahawks, Whitsitt had no prior experience in the front office of a football team – he had previously only worked in the organizations of the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trailblazers (the latter team also owned by Allen). "(This) was a very significant decision, I didn't make it lightly at all, and I think it's the right decision for the franchise," Allen continued. "And now we're moving forward, and obviously we've got quite a bit cut out for us with a number of free agents we need to re-sign, look at re-signing, and all the cap applications of all those things, so we're getting underway very quickly to make that search happen."

The Seahawks face, in the words of ESPN analyst and former Seattle GM Randy Mueller, “an unprecedented challenge” in the offseason. Not only do they have to decide the fate of sixteen unrestricted free agents (speculation would lead to the idea that Whitsitt’s inexplicable delay in forwarding the process of signing those players was a major factor in his dismissal), but the team also faces a bit of a “chemistry problem” that head coach Mike Holmgren (who will remain with the team) and several players alluded to after the team’s season ended last Saturday. With Koren Robinson’s ongoing soap opera leading the charge, the Seahawks know that they have off-the-field issues to address as well.

Allen and Holmgren both acknowledged the challenge ahead. “The roar of our fans at Qwest field last week (during their 27-20 wild-card playoff loss to the Rams) was both a powerful reminder of what football means to this community, and a prelude to what we can achieve as a more focused and unified organization in the future”, Holmgren said in a statement. The Seahawks' coach is currently on vacation in Arizona.

Allen spoke admirably, and definitively, of his own sense of obligation to the fans. “It's my responsibility as owner to try to do the best by the franchise, the fans, and the community here in Seattle, and I just felt like this was a change I needed to make”, Allen said. "I just want to make sure our organization is cohesive and firing on all cylinders, and it's productive as possible and making the best decisions we possibly can, and I just felt there was room for improvement," continued Allen. "Getting someone with a deep football background in this position is going to be important going forward, and the key aspect of our hiring process."

The cohesion Allen spoke of implies that there was more than rumor surrounding the reports of tension between Whitsitt and Holmgren. Allen, in the end, may have simply seen the inevitability of this choice. Although Whitsitt was reportedly instrumental in convincing Allen to buy the Seahawks and helped negotiate the construction of Qwest Field, he may have been severely out of his element in a football-centric front office.

In addition to Whitsitt’s dismissal, the Seahawks must also find a replacement for Ted Thompson, the team’s former Vice President. Thompson accepted the positions of Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations of the Green Bay Packers. These positions were open after Green Bay’s head coach Mike Sherman was removed from them, and Sherman will stay on as the Packers’ coach.

Of course, Mike Holmgren experienced a similar “refocus” when he was asked to abdicate the Seahawks’ GM throne after the 2002 season to concentrate on coaching. And now, with Whitsitt out of the picture, the Seahawks must expand the nature and intent of Holmgren’s reassignment in other areas.

The man who takes Whitsitt’s place will have a lot on his plate right away. The NFL’s free agency period begins on March 2nd, and when everyone opens up shop, the Seahawks will have quite the demand. With quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, running back Shaun Alexander, tackle Walter Jones, cornerback Ken Lucas and defensive end Chike Okeafor included on their unrestricted list, the Seahawks will need a miracle to avoid losing at least one of their cornerstone players. In addition, their 9-7 record and first-round playoff exit in 2004 point to the fact that there are other holes to fill. The Seahawks’ new President will also be asked to replace Thompson.

So who could put out this fire, in Full Blaze Mode as it is?

Given the expediency with which so many matters must be handled, the name Ron Wolf comes to mind immediately.

One of the most revered executives in NFL history, Wolf, now 67, helped build the Oakland Raiders of the 1960’s and 1970’s (joining Al Davis’ staff as a talent scout in 1963), became the American Football League’s Coordinator of Talent in 1966 (assisting Davis in the talent raids that forced the AFL-NFL merger), took on the arduous talk of establishing the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers as vice president of operations in 1976 (after a 0-26 start through 1976 and 1977, the players Wolf drafted took the Bucs to the NFC Championship game in 1979), and was charged in 1991 with the rehabilitation of the Green Bay Packers. As the GM of the Packers, he was given full control of football operations and moved swiftly with sweeping change. Only 24 days after his appointment, he replaced head coach Lindy Infante with San Francisco’s offensive coordinator – a young, promising football guy by the name of Mike Holmgren.

In the months that followed, Wolf made what may have the been the most important trade in the franchise’s history when he sent a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for third-string quarterback Brett Favre. The single most crucial free-agent acquisition of Wolf’s tenure in Green Bay was unquestionably Reggie White, the all-time great defensive end, who Wolf signed in 1993.

From 1991 until 2001 (when he retired after the 2001 draft), the Packers of Ron Wolf never had a losing season, went 92-50 in eight full seasons, appeared in two Super Bowls (beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI) and re-established the championship mindset of the Lombardi Era.

Most recently, Wolf was asked to assist the Cleveland Browns’ front office as a personnel consultant in January of 2004 (a position which lasted less than three months, when Wolf and Carmen Policy found themselves as the odd men out in a dysfunctional power struggle with then-coach Butch Davis).

But Wolf and Holmgren know each other, have great respect for each other, and one would assume they both still understand that without the other, their names would not be held in quite the same regard.

And with Mike Holmgren as the “sole survivor” of these personnel purges, it would be wise for the Seahawks to pick up the phone and ask Ron Wolf to strap on the armor one more time. Wolf probably wouldn’t want to stick around for the long term, but there are few executives in sports history more able to quickly heal a wounded team.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.


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