Searching For The Black Box: Paul Allen

"With an estimated net worth of over $30 billion dollars, Paul Allen ranks not only amongst the top 5 richest men in the world, but is also a man whose hands are in a lot of pots. People who've followed Allen's career as a professional sports owner know that his ownership style is much like the "Divine Watchmaker" of 17th century Deism – wind ‘er up ... and let ‘er go."

Photo caption: Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen joins in with the band and plays electric guitar at an election night victory party in the early morning hours of June 18, 1997 in Seattle. Washington voters narrowly approved the funding plan for a new Seattle Seahawks football stadium after Allen spent record millions in lobbying, public relations, campaign ads and the cost of the special election. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Examining the Wreckage of the 2004 Hawks …

The flight that was the 2004 Seahawks started off the season smoothly looking as though it was bound for Jacksonville. Officials continue to sift through the rubble of a season that held such promise in search of the Black Box (the flight recorder) … that might just shed some light as to some of the causes of the crash of Flight 2004.

The following article is a continuation of a series of investigations this examiner is conducting as he looks intently at the data gathered thus far …

Speak Softly … But Carry a Big Stick …

With an estimated net worth of over $30 billion dollars, Paul Allen ranks not only amongst the top 5 richest men in the world, but is also a man whose hands are in a lot of pots. People who’ve followed Allen’s career as a professional sports owner know that his ownership style is much like the “Divine Watchmaker” of 17th century Deism – wind ‘er up ... and let ‘er go. Unlike those impassioned leaders that can whip their followers into a frenzy … Allen’s fairly awkward in the PR spotlight, which is why he usually keeps a fairly low profile. It takes Armageddon-level disaster for the “Divine Watchmaker” to actually intervene. It’s why when Paul Allen actually chooses to intercede … things are probably teetering on the edge of the cliff.

Allen’s announcement to can Team President Bob Whitsitt was nothing short of a bombshell on the sports scene. Like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston, Whitsitt and Allen’s marriage had the look of a “till death do us part” commitment. Whitsitt has been Allen’s right hand man first with the Blazers (a post which he “stepped down from” in 2003) … and until January 14th with the Hawks. Allen gave the typical speech that the club needed to move in a “new direction” and that it would move quickly to bring in a guy who had a “deep background in football.” Though there had been rumblings of extreme tensions between Whitsitt and Holmgren as early as 2000, it took the shattered hopes of 2004 to break Allen’s long incantation and for him to deftly toss Grima Wormtongue out of the Hawks palace.

After a fairly sparkling performance as GM of the Sonics, Trader Bob’s career with the Portland Trailblazers was nothing short of Chinese Water Torture for Blazers fans. Under his watch (1994-2003) the Blazers image went from NBA good guys (ie Drexler, Kersey, and Duckworth) to the aptly named “Jail-Blazers” (as well as frequent blazers of other illegal substances.) That said … it’s interesting to note that the former Sonics GM put up with a heck of a lot of nonsense from characters like Xavier McDaniel (attitude problems) and Dale Ellis (DUI’s) as well. With the Berlin Wall now removed … the stories of exploitation and history revisionism have come flooding forth from those whose tongues have been long held fast.

Though Whitsitt was instrumental in the construction of Qwest field and in bringing in Mike Holmgren, firing him was a major step forward towards righting this ship. I’ve sprained many a neuron trying to figure out just how a club can allow itself to tolerate the kind of chaos it has nearly 5 years … and get itself into the position where it has 16 unrestricted free agents. As Randy Mueller put it in an interview with KJR’s Softy Softerson... this type of mess is “unprecedented.”

A Phoenix From the Ashes …

With a season that held such promise, Seahawk fans are naturally feeling a bit like kiddies waking up Christmas morning to find coal in their stockings. Lest we spoiled children forget where we were just a few short years ago … here is a ghastly reminder of the Grinch that nearly stole this franchise away …

Ken Behring (a land developer from Southern California) bought the Seahawks from long time owner John Nordstrom in 1988 (consequently, the last year the team made the playoffs under Behring.) Under the Nordstrom’s steady hand … the Seahawks were bar-none kings of the Pacific Northwest with roaring crowds and a 10-year waiting list for season tickets. It took just a few short years for one of the worst owners in pro sports history to prune this franchise’s wings. Deliberate nickel-and-diming (ala Mrs. Phelps in Major League) turned what had been ranked as the loudest crowd in the NFL … into the Sound of Silence … frequent TV blackouts … and general apathethic yawns.

Seattle PI writer Clare Farnsworth talked about Behring in a radio interview a few years ago and told how Behring once landed in a helicopter on the Hawks practice field DURING practice. Farnsworth also talked about a conversation that he had with Chuck Knox during the Behring years. Farnsworth had asked Knox what the Hawks were going to do about improving their defense. Farnsworth said Knox reached into his desk and presented to him a pad of paper with Knox’ “wish list” on it. Farnsworth expressed surprise, saying: “WOW! These guys are franchise level players! Why aren’t we going after them?” Farnsworth said that Knox answered: “Because I’ve been told no.”

On February 2, 1996 Emperor Behring announced that he was moving the decimated Empire south to LA … and by Feb 5th the trucks rolled out with the first load of equipment.

Had it not been for:

A) The chilly reception Behring received from civic leaders in LA (and many in the NFL who resented him bullying his way into the LA market)

B) Counterattacks by the local Rebel Alliance (local leaders and citizens who banded together and eventually brought a lawsuit against Behring)

AND especially C) Paul Allen coming to the rescue like Gandalf leading the charge over the hill ...

… the keep would have fallen and the Seattle Seahawks would have been no more than a memory. Never underestimate the importance of local ownership -- an ownership that has seen this club experience its greatest success …

Playoff App

Hard About Mr. Sulu …

Admiral Allen had this to say shortly after the firing of Bob Whitsitt …

"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," Paul Allen said Friday. "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.

"That 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.

Allen said he was very mindful of Seahawks fans in making his decision. "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.

With 16 free agents at hand, Seahawks GM Bob Ferguson will work with Mike Holmgren and the football staff in talking with the agents of the players involved. "We're going to have to address these issues quickly and forcefully," said Allen. "But obviously a big component of that is finding the right person, so we're going to have to do both those things simultaneously, so everyone's going to have to crank it up and address these issues as fast as we can.

"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."

Though it’s easy to point the bony finger for this team’s woes solely at its former president, one must also strongly consider the question: “how has a situation like this been allowed to exist for so long?” People like Allen tend to avoid conflict like the plague, look the other way, and stuff their feelings until the gunnysack’s seams burst. John Wayne said: “Sometimes a man’s gotta do … what a man’s gotta do.” There comes a point when the car’s racing for the cliff … that one either takes Wayne’s advice to stomp on the brakes or begins to tune up the harp.

Allen’s shown a history of deferring authority in day-to-day operations to those he places in power. Since opposite personalities tend to attract, I’d look for Allen to bring in a passionate leader with vision -- one who can effectively mesh different personalities, KNOWS football, has a great track record, and is able to grab the reigns occasionally and say: “This way mules!!!”

Allen finally had all he could stands … and couldn’t stands no more of the divisiveness that’s been shown on this team for the past several years. At long last, Allen’s put his foot down and said it’s high time this team changes its approach towards how it treats its players … its personnel … and its loyal fans. It’s nice to know that unlike a just a few short years ago, Seahawk fans actually have an owner that’s committed to winning in Seattle. Hawks fans will now hope that its owner will bring in someone who can get this Wagon Train moving forward again towards the green pastures of the future homestead rather than getting it stuck on Donner’s Pass.

Todd Webb writes for Seahawks.NET whenever he can be torn away from his beloved Seattle Mariners. Feel free to send any comments, questions or humorous PECOTA projections that have Ichiro batting .250 in 2005 to Top Stories