Tod Leiweke and Tim Ruskell said they wanted to get this out of the way so everyone—including potential free agents—would know who would be in charge in 2009.
But there are a couple of other reasons they did it now.
When Mike Holmgren announced last month that he was coming back for another season as coach of the Seattle Seahawks, he was asked whether Jim Mora might replace him. His reply: "That's for another press conference, and I won't be there."
Holmgren wasn't lying.
He wasn't present when team CEO Tod Leiweke and president Tim Ruskell surprised everyone by making the unusual—perhaps unprecedented—move of appointing Holmgren's successor when they announced last week that Mora would indeed replace Holmgren in 2009.
The announcement was not unexpected. It just was not expected to happen until next year at this time.
So why do it now?
There are a couple of reasons they did it now.
First, by inserting the succession plan into Mora's contract, the Seahawks made it clear they were not circumventing the Rooney Rule, which requires teams looking for a new coach to interview at least one minority, but also allows for contractual successions.
Second—and perhaps most important—the Seahawks probably were trying to send a message to Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant, who is scheduled to become a free agent Feb. 29.
Trufant blossomed under Mora's guidance in 2007, turning in his best season and making the Pro Bowl for the first time.
When Mora was hired to be the secondary coach last year, he immediately said he would move Trufant back to his natural side on the left of the defense.
He also gave Trufant confidence by talking openly about the Pro Bowl, and then Mora played his safeties deep so Trufant could play footloose and fancy free.
The Seahawks know it will take a lot of money ($20 million in bonuses alone) to re-sign Trufant, but Leiweke and Ruskell are trying to stack the odds in their favor as much as they can—hoping that Trufant's Northwest roots and the promotion of Mora will entice the corner to stay.
We can only hope Ruskell doesn't make the mistake of putting the transition tag on Trufant and losing him like he did Steve Hutchinson.
Of course, the franchise tag is not a great option either—that would cost the Seahawks $9.465 million for 2008.
The Seahawks know the best way to keep Trufant is with a long-term contract, and they are doing whatever they can to facilitate that.
The Seahawks gave Mora a four-year contract extension and wrote into it the stipulation that he would take over as the team's coach in 2009.
That kind of contractual agreement has been done before, most recently when Mike Martz was tabbed as Dick Vermeil's replacement in St. Louis and again last month when Jim Caldwell was appointed as the official successor to Tony Dungy whenever the coach of the Indianapolis Colts retires.
The difference is that those other succession plans were made with no timetable, while the Seahawks' decision to name a new coach a year early might be unprecedented in league history.
And for those who think the Seahawks have violated the Rooney Rule, that is not the case.
"Those who crafted the [Rooney Rule] said that this is how an organization should perform," Leiweke told reporters. "If you can have succession from within an organization, that is what a team should aspire to. That is how enlightened companies operate."
Cyrus Mehri, a civil-rights attorney who helped create the Rooney Rule, told ESPN, "Look, we don't want anyone to do any end-run around the Rooney Rule, but if you already had contractual succession planned—and that means in writing—then we don't have a problem with that."
"We're just trying to be consistent," Mehri added. "Consistent with what happened with Mike Martz following Dick Vermeil and Caldwell following Dungy. What has happened in Seattle seems to be following exactly the same approach. And I got reassurances from the league that it follows the exact same language as with Caldwell, so really it's the identical situation."
Ruskell said he never talked to Mora about this possibility when he hired the coach to mentor the defensive backs last year.
But even if he didn't say it in so many words, it was clear to all that this would probably happen.
Ruskell made Mora, the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons, the Seahawks' assistant head coach too. That meant Mora could only leave for a head-coaching job.
He had a chance to do that last month when the Washington Redskins came calling.
But he withdrew from that opportunity, surely knowing he would have the same chance in Seattle at some point.
A few days later, that chance materialized when Holmgren announced 2008 would be his final season.
"What [Holmgren] has done here, by announcing his retirement a year ahead of time, has afforded this organization [the chance] to make a smooth transition," Ruskell said, "to be seamless, to be non-chaotic, which is kind of rare in the sports world and certainly in the NFL."
Neither coach was present at the news conference announcing the succession plan, but both issued statements assuaging concerns that the plan would be a distraction in 2008.
Mora said: "I am extremely excited about the future but completely focused on the opportunity we have in front of us this season. My job this year, as it was last, is to coach the secondary to the best of my ability and support coach Holmgren and the defensive staff in any way I can. In addition to thanking Mr. Allen [owner Paul Allen], Tod and Tim for having faith in me and making this possible, I would like to thank Mike Holmgren, who has helped me immensely this past season, and from whom I have learned a great deal."
Holmgren said: "This makes a lot of sense for the organization, Jim is a talented coach who has already had a measure of success in this league and has all the tools here needed to succeed. As I have stated many times before, I believe, with Tod and Tim in place, the future of this franchise is very bright and the continuity a move like this provides can only be a good thing moving forward."
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