Here is a full transcription of our conversation with Seattle Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke from this afternoon, courtesy of KJR-AM’s Curtis Crabtree.
(When did this begin to come together with Carroll?) “You know we had a good discussion last week and in that discussion it was clear to us that he would consider this. We knew that other teams had made runs at this man given his record and he was interesting to us because he was in the NFL and it’s clear to me that this man has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he can also win at the NFL level. He had a .500 record, but he’s been paying for that. This is a guy that then went on and did things in football that no man has ever done. After the last two seasons those are things that really resonate with us.
(What’s thinking behind guy who washed out in NFL and is viewed as a college coach?) “The fact is that sometimes guys are more effective after they’ve had a tough experience. By the way that was a long time ago for this guy and his record and his achievements at USC are really unparalleled. One of the great coaches today with the Patriots (Bill Bellichick) had a bad prior experience to that. We in some ways looked at that and said here’s a guy who very much wants to prove it and in fact if not for that, he probably doesn’t leave what he was doing because he’s in an extraordinary situation there.
(Was the decision to fire Mora independent of Carroll?) “I did stand up in front of the media when we announced that we weren’t going to renew Tim’s (Ruskell) contract and said that we anticipated continuing on and the fact is what we did seven days a week was we were really studying this organization, trying to understand how we break this cycle of losing we were in. We won nine games the last two years and, with all due respect, four of those were to the St. Louis Rams and that’s not acceptable. That’s not acceptable to our fans, it’s not acceptable to Mr. (Paul) Allen and it certainly isn’t acceptable to me. Some have said this isn’t fair, I’m not going to debate that point, but status quo was simply not an option. From that feeling of the last game to the feeling I have now, I’m filled with hope. I believe we will get it right with the general manager and I believe Pete Carroll is an extraordinary coach who could have gone other places and chose not to and, to the benefit of this franchise, he’s going to come here and lead us.
(On Carroll saying this was out of the blue) “It was an interesting discussion because we had an idea that this could be really good but there was a certain structure that was going to be really important to us. That structure was we were going to have a coach that was going to sit independent of a general manager because we’re excited as well about some of the general manager candidates who start coming in here beginning tomorrow. So I think if Pete had said to us that the only way this works is that these functions report up to me, and quite frankly given his achievements over the last number of years at USC you could see where a guy would say that, I want to be able to control all the outcomes around me. A huge factor was when he agreed that he would work shoulder to shoulder in tandem with a general manager.”
(So he will report to you?) “He will report to the office of the CEO and here’s my job. My job is to take the football organization and make sure that there’s fantastic collaboration. What that means is you have to people who are predisposed to that so Pete is absolutely ready to do that. He does not want to be the general manager and I think our hand is strengthened with general manager candidates where we can now go get somebody who is really going to be focused on that draft board and personnel. This is how you build out great organizations is you find people who are really good at what they do and put them in those roles and keep them in those lanes and that’s really our vision. Notionally the structure is going to be Pete Carroll, general manager and then cap contract which will be our Vice President of Football Administration.”
(So there will be 3 guys?) “Yes and my job will be to synthesize that group but everybody is going to sign onto a plan where they’re going to work together. We looked at models when we were doing some research and that was a model that has certainly be effective in the NFL.”
(Some have said that can’t be done, why can it work, this collaborative effort?) “Some would say giving one person total control also doesn’t make sense and so we believe it can be done and we believe that if you get like-minded people who are coming here for the right reasons that not only can it be done, it’s going to lead us to regaining our winning ways.
(Does making a sexy hire in Carroll does that allow you to go after a football guy for GM?) “To the extent of sexy, the thing that attracted us to him was that the guy’s won and we think he’s won with the toughest schedule in college football. His non-conference games, his record is extraordinary. We did talk to a lot of people and you can get a lot of things done in a short period of time. We talked to people in and around the program, we got intelligence from some of our players who had played for him. I do know some people in Southern California and all the intelligence we got pointed at the same thing, that this was a really extraordinary guy. My great question is would he want to come back to the NFL because he was in a great spot down there and he’s kind of the King of LA. I know when I traveled there yesterday a guy saw a Seahawk logo on my shirt and gave me some trouble about it so I’m going to have to be careful about going down to LA with the Seahawks or the Sounders in the future because I think I’ve inadvertently made some enemies down there.”
(Is the cap contract person in place?) “Yeah. That would be John Idzik. We thing is a really capable guy. Our vision is John stays and reports into the office of the CEO.”
(How critical is balancing the GM/Coach thing, these guys usually don’t have small egos.) “I think people had said this was a done deal. We had a really super important discussion last night in LA to talk about that very thing because that was a model that we were committed to and that was something that Mr. Allen was very committed to was we get people who are good and they’re disciplined and that they stay in their lane. We think we’ve gotten a fantastic coach. This is a guy other people tried to get and didn’t get. That’s not my opinion. We’ve heard that from lots of good sources. So we’re actually thrilled that he said he’s going to come here. Now we’re going to get a GM who’s not going to focus on what color the field is painted. He’s going to be focused on player personnel. We’ve got a phenomenal opportunity with a pick at six and a pick at 14 and we’re going to get somebody who truly has a passion and understands that, not a jack-of-all-trades but a master of players and the draft board.”
(Does there need to be a sense of independence? Someone to say Pete you are in love with this player we have to get rid of him.) “Yeah but the fact is by having a collaborative environment I believe you get the better answers instead of somebody unilaterally, you know, we’ve got a lot of work to do here. The last two seasons have been, for me, some of the most disappointing days of my career. To have our fans show up with the passion and fury that they’ve shown up with and for our team to play as flat as they have, specifically the last four games of the year, that had to be fixed, and status quo was simply not an option.”
(If that’s the case why wasn’t Mora let go Monday?) “I think perhaps that might be fair but you must realize that this has been a series of progressive revelations. It wasn’t too long ago that we really didn’t anticipate that happening but there was a feeling that this might be the time to have a clean slate. I now, in retrospect, think it was absolutely the right decision, but there was a chance that a week ago Monday that we wouldn’t have proceeded down this path. We had a discussion with the owner at a very high level. We then did talk to Pete, we looked at another candidate who I had a phenomenal discussion with this weekend, a guy named Leslie Frazier, who I believe will soon be a head coach in this league. I flew to LA last night. We clarified some very important points with Pete, which were open issues, specifically how we were going to structure this. He signed onto that plan and here we are.”
(There was an assumption that he wouldn’t take a job without being President and head coach, did he have those feelings and what made him come around to your thinking?) “Well we had a really good initial discussion and then we had a series of phone discussions and when he looked at this situation, I think he saw some unique things. First, that we were going to start from scratch. Second, that we were going to let him sit in these general manager interviews and while ultimately that choice will be Mr. Allen’s with my recommendation, Pete’s voice will be as important as anyone in the room. The fact that our fans, more illegal procedure calls on the visiting team than any stadium in the NFL, this headquarters facility, the commitment of Mr. Allen, and Pete and Mr. Allen had a very good discussion on the phone. So we feel like we’ve really been fortunate and to some extent it was a coup to get Pete because at the end of the day he was comfortable working in tandem with a general manager and being shoulder to shoulder.
(Will the GM have final say over personnel matters, how will that work?) “Again, my office is going to arbitrate any disputes, but I think absolutely fundamental is we got to get the right guys who are predisposed to this model and so far so good. Pete is in.
(Is that going to change your role?) “Actually, on one hand yes, but on the other hand we are going to get guys that are so technically sound that my job will be to break down any barriers these guys perceive between where we are and success. In some ways I go to work for these guys. It’s less about them working for me than me working for them and making sure they have all the resources and tools to be successful. It’s exciting because we’ve now got a chance to do something special. I think we’ve landed on a great coach in this guy and if we can get it right with the general manager we go from a team that had lost some hope here to an organization that suddenly there’s a lot of hope.”
(Do you forsee more involvement with the football team than in the past?) “No, you know, I’ve been here for seven years. I came here as a football fan. I’ve learned a lot. So I’m not at all intimidated by helping this group collaborate, but my job is not going to be to sit in judgment necessarily on specific issues, but overall to synthesize this group and make sure they have the resources they need to be successful.”
(How does Pete fit in with roster decisions?) “Pete will control his 53 man roster and that Pete will absolutely, we’re going to have collaboration on the draft and our general manager will hear from Pete and that’s a really important thing. That’s really how we wanted to set this up. There is two kinds of tension, good tension and bad tension. We’re going to set this up so there is good tension where everybody, people are weighing in and we’re talking and we’re communicating and no one person will sit in judgment of sweeping issues. We’re going to build a great team here and when we looked at models, that’s the model we admired the most.”
(Will Pete sitting in on those GM meetings be a part of it?) “He’s got his hands full. He does. That’s part of what we said last night. He said, ‘look, in thinking about this, I don’t want to be the general manager but I want to make sure we hire a great general manager.’ So I then said to Pete, ‘Pete, you’re going to be in on these meetings and so that changes your schedule here in the next two weeks to the extent you thought you were going to go back out on holiday, ain’t gonna happen. You’re staying here in Seattle.’”
(Is the list of candidates for GM final?) “You know, I think it’s going to continue to evolve and to be honest with you, we’re going to go through an initial group this week. We think we’ve got some really interesting names on there, but we’ll know a lot more by Thursday.”
(Does Ruston Webster remain a candidate?) “He does. Although I think that Ruston is also aware that we’re bringing others in and there’s a good chance that he would remain in his current role of being the second in command in our personnel department.”
(So you’ve got two of the three headed person that will head this thing right now?) “Yes. You bet.”
(How many GM candidates do you have?) “We have four or five guys coming in this week.”
(How would you say in became apparent for a restructuring?) “The last two years have been hard. This year, I think the last four games were hard. To go to the game in (Houston) Texas and then to come home and lose to Tampa Bay and then to go to Green Bay and in front of our fans on the final game of the season, to lose that game, those are heartbreaking things and they’re heartbreaking for me and I think they’re heartbreaking for the owner. One of the things that came out today was that Paul was insistent we fire Jim Mora. That’s not true. At the end of the day, Paul trusts us. That was an organizational decision but it wouldn’t have happened without Paul’s support but that’s the decision we made and I’ll take that. That’s on me.
“And let me tell you, that’s a hard decision because Jim Mora is a really good man and he’s a friend. I climbed (Mount) Rainier with him this summer and you get to know a guy different, but my job here isn’t to maintain status quo when things aren’t working. My job is to make tough decisions and we’ve made them. Letting Tim go and saying we’re going to renew your contract was a really hard deal and that’s just who I am as a person. I’m somebody who wants to get along with people and see the best. Telling Jim Mora he was no longer the coach, that’s on me and conversely, this guy coming in, I couldn’t be more excited. I think we have a truly special coach coming in to take the reigns. And now, the key is finding a great GM. Somebody who’s going to come in and understand our personnel and take the opportunity of two first round picks between 1 and 14 and make the most of that.”
(Normally a GM hires a coach, why is this different?) “We might have gone to that, but once we talked to Pete, it was clear he wasn’t going to wait because he had a lot of business he needed to get about as head coach at USC. So he said to us, ‘Look if I’m going to do something like this, this is going to go down sooner versus later.’ We also like the idea of Pete sitting in on the interviews of the GM and so this wasn’t something we were otherwise predisposed to doing if not for Pete’s candidacy.”
(Any worry about potential GM’s being turned off by coach already being hired?) “Listen, I think that any GM candidate is going to look at our situation and hopefully see what we see, which is we’ve got one of the most successful coaches in America who’s now coming to coach the team and that’s going to bring comfort. You know, one of the things I think Pete had to get over was there is a lot of work to be done here and I really pressed him on that saying ‘Pete, are you ready to sign up for this because this isn’t a one-year turnaround?’ and he said he was. That’s where we really got into pressing him in the interview, ‘Are you really up for this?’ So I think for a prospective general manager candidate to see that we were able to recruit this guy, a guy recruited by other teams, but ultimately they couldn’t get it done says a lot. I think one of the issues was early on he was going to be an omni-bus coach with all power. We’ve clarified that with all candidates. He’s actually reached out to the candidates today and we’re excited about that.”
(Can you name the GM candidates? Is what’s being reported accurate?) “Yeah, I mean there is a list and it’s generally pretty accurate. If I spit out the names, I’ll miss someone and somebody will call me tomorrow and say ‘hey, you left me off the list.’ I haven’t got a full night’s sleep in a little while here so I’ll stay away from that. We’ve got a good list. We’re feeling confident that somebody will come off that list, but if not, we’ll cast a wider net.”
(You said Pete had contacted the candidates?) “He did. This morning he asked for their phone numbers to reach out to them and tell them how excited he was.
(Starting the interview process on his own?) “Let me tell you. The man showed up last night as well organized as anybody I’ve ever talked to about a job. He had a notebook, he knew our players, he had a vision and I thought my first meeting with him was striking and compelling and last night I was convinced that this guy is going to lead us to great things. We’ve got to get it right on the GM.”
(Do you feel you honored the spirit of the Rooney Rule?) “Well we went into this weekend with some significant open issues with Pete, so I flew to Minnesota because we were prepared to cast a wider net but we knew there was a process here. John Wooten and I have become good friends. We’ve talked a lot. I’ve talked to Tony Dungy multiple times. I’m actually proud of my history in diversity hiring. When it came time to hire a President of the Portland Trail Blazers, we found the best man, who also represented diversity. I actually had that seriously and Leslie Frazier and I had a phenomenal discussion. We spent some hours together in the morning and then he came back and we watched the football game together and I think Leslie Frazier is fantastic. And I will say this, that if we hadn’t resolved issues with Pete last night to everyone’s satisfaction, Leslie Frazier was going to be at the very top of our list. We would have slowed down and probably proceeded with the general manager interviews this week, but we didn’t take the path of least resistance and just interview someone on staff. We actually went out and saw a guy who we already had very high on our list. I camped out in a town where it was about four-degrees below zero and we did this in consultation with the NFL and I called Paul Saturday after my first session with Leslie and told him how excited I was, and it really gave us, in some ways, real conviction to get it right with Pete. Now, by the time I went to see Pete, he was predisposed to the model we were talking about, but Leslie is destined to become an NFL head coach.”
(Were you looking for a coach with a defensive background?) “Well, he was more than just a defensive coordinator. Everything the guy has touched has worked. He started a college program from scratch. He played the game with passion. You know, Leslie Frazier, everything the guy’s done has been, his life is just one success after another.”
(What is Pete’s title be?) “It will be coach and vice president so he’ll have associated duties within football operations and managing travel and some other things that will be important to him. He’ll work, as I said, shoulder to shoulder with the GM and the cap contract administrator.”
(So he’ll be VP of Football Operations?) Yes.
(Are you encouraging him to look at current assistant coaches here for his staff?) “Well, you know, this is not an inexpensive thing we’ve done here and it really underscores Mr. Allen’s commitment to win. We’ve also been an organization that’s had a pretty good culture and part of that is we care for the people who work here, so just blowing up an organization for sport is not what we want him to do. Having said that, he’s got to put together a staff he believes in and having said that, he showed up last night and he pointed at certain guys who were coaches here who he had a lot of admiration for. So, he’s true to his word and he’s going to give everybody here a fair chance and then we’re going to be true to our word that we’re going to support him in putting together the best coaching staff in the NFL.”
(So the guy’s under contract are still on staff?) “They are through the end of this month. Pete’s going to make the final decisions.”
(If on draft day with the #6 pick, Pete is hell-bent on one person, the GM is hell-bent on someone else, does it go to you to settle the tie?) “In a structure like this, you can go to all these extremes that they’re not going to agree on certain things, but actually what I go to is that it’s actually going to force a really good discourse here. And I think, to be quite honest, there was not a harmonious relationship between Tim and Mike Holmgren and it’s probably neither guy’s fault, but we learned a lot there. Can collaboration work? It does all the time in all sorts of environments and in fact, it’s how I lead and this is the model that makes sense for us. To get guys to work together, to share opinions and the coach’s opinion is going to matter who we pick, but ultimately that’s the general manager’s job to go out and find those guys. And how can you not ask Pete Carroll what he thinks about the draft? I mean, that’s exactly what we want here.”
(Is there a timetable on the GM?) “We’d like sooner versus later but we’ve done a good thing with the coach, we’ve jumped on this and so now our only real mile-marker there is to get it right.”
(Are you concerned about players learning new schemes again?) “Well, I mean, there is some fallout from this, but this man practices his teams better than any college or pro football team. I mean there is going to be some learning to go through, but when you talk to Lofa (Tatupu), when you talk to Lawrence Jackson, Lawyer Milloy, other guys who have played for him, they’re ecstatic. I’ve had calls from players, you know, I mean it’s kind of funny having players call my office to say how excited they are. I think a lot of our guys are really excited because hope has now filled our sails and we’re only halfway there.”
(Do you feel there has been dysfunction the last two years?) “Well, I think some of that really led us to this idea of what if you had a clean sweep because you bridged the Mike Holmgren era with Tim coming in. Mike used to have that job so somebody on the outside would say, ‘hey isn’t that going to be a challenge?’ and it was. You then had Jimmy Mora sort of hanging around coach while he finished his so there were a lot of reasons for things not to work here and it’s kind of interesting because you get to a day like today and you look back and you say there were opportunities for this not to function. This could have worked in a much more harmonious way and a unified way and I think that a house divided is sure to fail and so what we’re doing here is a clean slate and it’s a new era for Seahawks football. For all those that wonder about Pete Carroll, a very high official of another team called me a moment ago and said ‘This is a coup. To get Pete Carroll while also allowing the room in your organization to find a great GM is a fantastic thing.’ And it says a lot about what we have here and I start with our owner, Paul, who has been incredibly supportive throughout all this and patient. Our fans, Pete was like, turn on the game and you could just feel the energy coming off the TV screens. Our stadium, this building, these are all things that bode well for us in talking to Pete about coming up here.”
(Can you speak more about the chip on Carroll’s shoulder and his previous NFL career?) “I watched a 60 Minutes piece that was done on Pete and they referred to his career as something less than flattering. The fact is he was 33-31, okay, but it wasn’t very satisfying for him and here’s a guy who’s a thoroughbred because prior to those experiences he became a head coach because he was a heck of a defensive coordinator and he had had lots of success. Then at a very young age he becomes head coach of the Jets. One and out. Still at a young age, he becomes head coach of the Patriots and lots of alibis there. At the end of the day he didn’t have a real satisfying experience in the NFL. So he goes off to college football and he does things that no one’s ever done before. I can give you the statistics, 97-19 is a pretty compelling one, but when you look at his non-conference record, when you look at the amount of coaches that left his program, he had coaches leaving time and time again and they still found ways to win. But I think there was something nagging at him and it was winning at this level and he wanted to try and find just the right place to do that and I think he felt he has.”
(Do you have any reservations about the NCAA investigation at USC?) “We obviously checked into that as well and here’s what I’d say. We would be very, very surprised, based on the people we’ve talked to, that his name ever gets associated with any of that in a direct way. When you’re a top program, you do become a target but there are two things, one’s an open investigation that’s been going on for four years and the other one is a kid driving an Escalade and in fact, I had a discussion this morning with someone associated with the University and he told me he believes that Pete will not ever be directly associated with those things. We also took some comfort that when the University released sanctions last week, the football program wasn’t a part of that.
(What do you think of the mixed reaction to the hire?) “No because you lead with your chin when you’ve had two years like we’ve had. When people see some dysfunction, when you have a legend like Mike Holmgren leave, when you let a coach go after one year, it doesn’t really set the table for a ticker-tape parade for the next guy coming in. But here’s what gets that right is winning. Mr. Allen gave us the authority to go out and find the best coach that we could. We think we have and now we’re going to find the best GM and I am confident that it’s going to result in what our fans ultimately want, which is winning.”
(What are realistic ideas for getting this turned around?) “Well I think we’re going to have a better team next year, but I think realistically when you look at this team and when Pete looks at it, it’s not a one-year turnaround but I think Pete is one of those guys that can ignite a spark unlike anyone else and just hearing it in our players voices. I’ve had a number of guys call me today to tell me how excited they are and that means as much as anything because when guys are willing to run through the wall, that’s when teams win. Pete’s ability to take good players and make them play their best is what is exciting. He can take guys and get the absolute best out of them and that’s how he’s done what he’s done down there. Ultimately, we’ve got to do two things. We’ve got to have great coaching, but we also need to have great players and we’ve got some work to do there.”
(Was that part of the issue with Mora’s tenure here?) “A little bit but you know, I think it was just an accumulative body of work for this whole organization and a chance for a fresh start and so, you know, tough thing.”