2009: Redemption for Ruskell?

The phrase, "May you live in interesting times" can be a blessing or a curse. Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell knows this all too well, having digested a 15-month megaburger of interesting times.

From the succession plan that transitioned the team from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora, to the injury-riddled 4-12 season in 2008, to an encouragingly productive 2009 offseason, Ruskell could be forgiven for seeming a bit exhausted by the whole drama. But when he talked with ESPN Radio's Brock and Salk show on Thursday as the latest round of Seahawks OTAs came to a close, Ruskell sounded refreshed and encouraged for the new season.

"Well, we've got our team together now," he said, when asked what a general manager does this time of year. "This is the nucleus of those who are going to carry us as far as we're going to go in the season. So, we're still looking at everyone we brought in via free agency -- our own team, guys coming back from injuries, the draft. Getting a feel for how they fit. Obviously, its unique for us in that e have new coaches as well, Just putting that all together, having as many eyes as you can have on that, the better off we're all going to be. We've got another mandatory camp coming up in the middle of June, so it's a very important time for us. Chemistry and camaraderie -- if your team's going to have it, this is where it's built. We're feeling really good about that. So, that's the most important thing I'm doing right now, in addition to league business."

How that chemistry is built is as important to Ruskell as any other aspect of team construction. "Well, the key is to be together, and to be working together, and to be struggling together," he said. "Learning things together. And that's where you know -- 'I've got your back, I'm going to help you get through this.' It really helps build the trust. And the players really have to do that. You can put 50 good men together, and there's no guarantee of chemistry. That just has to happen, because of the 'want-to' and the passion and like-minded people going for the same goal.

The Seahawks' new Virginia Mason Athletic Center, a state-of-the-art facility on the shores of Lake Washington in Renton, has been an effective instrument not only in free agent encouragement, but in veteran and rookie retention. So far, so good. "We wanted a facility that the players we recruited, and the ones who were already here, could get their stuff done year-round. No matter what the weather, there was always a place to do your training, do your rehab, your running, your lifting. You didn't have to go off-site. You didn't have to go to Arizona. That was really a key component in terms of our input into the building.

"For my time here, we've set records for participation -- highest percentage ever. 100 percent in a lot of cases. That was the goal. When I first got to Kirkland, we were hitting the 40-50 percent mark, and a lot of players were not living here. That has increased dramatically, and the participation in the offseason program has increased dramatically as well."

With a new coaching staff in place, Ruskell was asked whether the 2009 Seahawks had been built to the Mora template. As he noted, team-building takes time, no matter who's in charge. "Well, obviously this is a team that was built in Mike's (Holmgren's) image. It was a heavily-laden offensive team when I came in there. And we still have a lot of those parts. Defensively, there was a void. Certainly at the linebacker position, so we said, 'Okay -- we've got to build this up.' We did some things right away that were instrumental in allowing that team to have some balance, and go to the Super Bowl right off the bat, And then, in terms of injuries, and some guys leaving, that kind of got out of whack again.

"So we're just now getting back to the point where we're getting balance and being as strong as we can be on both sides of the ball. Jim comes from a defensive background, but he's all about the balance. That's what we had in 2004 with Atlanta - where we had some stars on the offensive side of the ball, but had to improve on the defensive side. We brought (DT) Rod Coleman in on the defensive line. He had that great year along with (DE) Brady Smith and it was balance that got us to the NFC Championship game."

Huard asked Ruskell just how hard is it to stick to the plan, when the average NFL team experienced 30-35 percent roster turnover per season. "What you can stick to is your philosophy," Ruskell said. "What kind of person you're going to bring into the building. What you can be in terms of toughness, physical nature. Those types of things can be consistent no matter who the player is. Obviously, your schemes are going to stay consistent with the head coach. You try and keep your core together -- the players who are going to make plays and win games for you, but if you consistently bring in the types of people the coaches are used to working with, a like-mindedness in terms of passion for the game, that's how you stay consistent."

Ruskell was at the VMAC, just having returned from the owner's meetings What has he seen there? "It's just a chance for the league to get together, all the teams, and do business, get the updates on all the deals that are going on. Update with DeMaurice Smith, the new head of the NFLPA -- we got to hear him talk, and that was excellent. He's going around to all the teams, He'll be visiting us sometime in June That was very positive. We all want the same thing - we all want labor peace. From what we heard from him, that's something we're going to work heavily on, now that we have a leader on the other side."

Returning to the present, Ruskell concluded that after a year-plus full of drama, things are settling into place. "It feels good. Most teams will tell you that right now, but it does feel good. What we feel good about is that we had a plan going into the draft and free agency, and the plan came to fruition. That doesn't mean that everyone's going to do what you thought, but when you're able to have a plan and carry it out, that makes you feel good."

Doug Farrar is the Publisher of NorthwestFootball.net. He also writes for Football Outsiders, the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.


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