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Seahawks having rough times

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

RENTON, Wash. -- This is how awful it's become in Seattle:

Mike Holmgren professes his love for the city and for the Seahawks he coached to six postseasons and their only Super Bowl. He says he "absolutely" wants to talk to the team about returning as its general manager in 2010.

He then has a day or two of talks this month with Seahawks chief executive Tod Leiweke, and instead goes to ... Cleveland?

The Browns have exactly one postseason appearance since reincarnating through expansion in 1999, and have just one playoff win since 1990. Yet, Holmgren chose that over the Seahawks' present situation.

Yes, these are Seattle's darkest days since at least 1996, when former owner Ken Behring briefly moved the team to Southern California until the league interceded. Paul Allen bought the team and the Seahawks stayed.

As their play suggests -- consecutive losses by 27 at Houston, by 17 at home to Tampa Bay, by 38 on Sunday at Green Bay, plus nine of this season's 10 losses being by double digits -- these Seahawks are running around with their head cut off.

The same team that Roger Goodell lauded last summer for direction and leadership now has no general manager or president since forcing Tim Ruskell to resign Dec. 3. Allen has been undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma and has been working from home, though he did attend Seattle's last home game.

The only one left above coach Jim Mora is Leiweke. And this month he said, "I've never professed to be a football expert."

Seattle has no known GM candidates other than interim GM Ruston Webster. Mora doesn't know to whom he'll be reporting next season. That's assuming he will be here, though Leiweke said this month, "I fully expect Jim Mora will be retained."

"I don't believe I've ever been involved with a team that's gone through this," Mora said Monday.

This was weeks after Mora said the league sees the Seahawks as soft, that Seattle needed more "dirtbags."

The most recent proof was a 48-10 loss to the Packers on Sunday that was a late Seahawks touchdown away from being the worst margin of defeat in their 34-year history. It was the most points the Seahawks had allowed since Nov. 27, 1983.

"I'm searching for answers," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "I wish I had one."

Seattle needs way more than one.

The former four-time NFC West champions and the conference's 2006 Super Bowl representatives are 9-22 since their last playoff game in January 2008.

Weeks after that game, the Seahawks made the unprecedented move of naming assistant Jim Mora as Holmgren's successor with a known start date, January 2009. The franchise said it was making the transition "seamless," keeping the Seahawks a playoff contender without major upheaval.

Yet the opposite has happened. Seattle is now only contending for a second consecutive top draft pick.

Last year's team went 4-12, its worst season since 1992. But Seattle's decision-makers wrote that off as anomaly because of a string of injuries that was among the worst in NFL history -- 26 players missed a total of 164 games in 2008.

Holmgren began having second thoughts that 2008 wasn't the way he wanted to go out, yet he admitted late in the season the decision had already been made.

So an already awkward year got more so, with Holmgren not really wanting to leave and Mora and Ruskell trying to make it seem as though they weren't pushing the future Hall of Fame coach out.

Now, the Seahawks are citing the upheaval and transition as the reason the offense is sickly, the defense is ransacked and the team is again among the worst in the league.

"We kind of downplayed the fact of how much change was made. But when you change the head coach, both coordinators, both schemes, almost all the assistant coaches, and then almost 20 players -- 11, 12 new starters -- that's just not always going to come together that quickly," Ruskell said in retrospect.

It's Ruskell who's linked with many of the missteps that help put the Seahawks where they are.

He traded a first-round draft choice to acquire Deion Branch from New England, then gave the former Super Bowl MVP a $39 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. Branch has had seasons with 53, 49, 30 and now 41 catches -- plus two knee surgeries. It'd be a surprise if he was back in 2010.

Ruskell's decision not to overhaul an aging and ineffective offensive line has helped leave Hasselbeck with a bad back, broken ribs, bruised throwing shoulder and banged thumb. The Seahawks expected Walter Jones to come back from major microfracture knee surgery for this season, even though there is no precedent for a 35-year-old weighing above 350 pounds doing that successfully.

Jones never played in 2009. He had a second knee surgery, and the six-time All-Pro left tackle may never play again.

Ruskell's succession plan of having right tackle Sean Locklear move over to replace Jones has failed. When Locklear hasn't been hurt, Mora has criticized him for not being tough enough.

Then there is left guard. Ruskell and salary cap guru Mike Reinfeldt -- now the GM of the Tennessee Titans, whom Seattle faces in its finale Sunday -- let Pro Bowl blocker Steve Hutchinson leave while mismanaging the franchise tag system months after Seattle's Super Bowl in 2006. The Seahawks have had five different starting left guards in the four seasons since Hutchinson left for Minnesota.

The line is the first place Holmgren said he would start in rebuilding the Seahawks if he was running them in 2010.

"Going from Mike Holmgren's philosophy to Jim's philosophy and how he wants to do things could not be done in one year," Ruskell said.

That wasn't the line he and the Seahawks were selling their fans and ticket-buyers last year or before this season.

"Those teams that are playing so darn well right now -- the Minnesotas, the New Orleans -- they've gone through this period, and now they've got an identity. They know who they are," said Ruskell. "(The Seahawks) are not there yet. It didn't happen."

So now what?

One of the first questions the new GM must tackle is about Hasselbeck. He turns 35 next season, the final year on his contract, and there is no long-term replacement behind him.

For the first time since Holmgren hand-picked him from Green Bay in a 2001 trade, Hasselbeck's future in Seattle is in doubt.

"That's something you think about and you talk about at the end of the season," Mora said. "I'm confident in Matt. We'll look at his body of work and see where we think he's headed and talk to him, but that will come later."