No longer a child, not yet middle-aged, and still finding their place in the NFL world.

...the 30-year wall of silence is an impressive achievement for a League that leaks as a lifestyle.

He recommended Jack Patera enthusiastically for the Seahawks...

The letter C is coming soon!

The Seahawks used Williams’ local reputation as a promotional tool, as they would do (very briefly) with Ahmad Rashad.

The average Seahawk selected in the veteran allocation is 6-2, 222 pounds, just under 26 years old and is entering his fourth NFL season.

The Seahawks played the Rams...facing off against future Seahawk coaches Chuck Knox, Tom Catlin and Ken Meyer. decided early to pursue coaches with no NFL head coaching experience.

Patera had the boldness to recruit 3 coaches with no NFL service...

...why was there no place for one of the ultimate local heroes of the early 1970s – Sonny Sixkiller?

Thompson may have looked on paper like a conservative and safe manager for a new team with first-time owners, but...

...reports from the camp are unclear as to who did the special team evaluations.

As a defensive coach, Jack Patera valued his linebackers.

Maybe we'll come up with something soon!

...nobody else on the Seahawks squad took their dislike quite to the extent of Ahmad Rashad.

The Nordstroms were an obvious possibility because of their wealth and local presence.

Approximately 14 members of that squad would never play for the Seahawks again.

A simple lesson in draft history is to list the fate of quarterbacks for several years before 1976.

Jack Patera was unable to take a single Redskin veteran from the allocation list.

...the Seahawks’ offense would be directed by 3 men who had 2 years of NFL experience between them

Terry Brown’s Seahawk career lasted less than 24 hours.

...we think this story might just have been a good Patera Prank!

While Patera had an inside edge on stocking his team with Vikings, he only chose one Viking from the allocation...

Character would clearly play a part...

Patera lived up to his code of we will tolerate you until we can replace you...

Yes! We will have something for Y eventually!

What more need we say?

G is for Gambles

“The problems are different, but the solutions are about the same,” says Elmer J. Nordstrom on comparing running a football club to his previous business experience.

(Seattle Seahawks Media Guide 1976, page 3)

The key personnel within the new team were the Nordstrom family (long-time operators of a sound, established commercial business), Herman Sarkowsky (another A-List Washington State figure who combined sports promotion with positions in some of the state’s most significant businesses), and John Thompson (a General Manager with long experience in top-level football management).

The word suit comes to mind when looking at the pedigree of these people. One would expect that their combination would produce a cautious, long-view, unspectacular approach to developing the new team.

Some of this is true, of course. None of them had made their reputations by being extravagant risk-takers and flamboyant eccentrics. And in a football world that included genuine mavericks such as George Halas, Carroll Rosenbloom, Gene Klein, Al Davis, Clint Murchison, Tex Schramm, John McKay, Hank Stram and Leonard Tose — all of whom would cross the Seahawks’ path in 1976 — the Seahawks’ top brass looked positively sedate.

But it would be unfair to paint the 1976 team in uniformly gray tones. Underneath the conservatism that had taken them to the top of their fields, this was a group willing to take some gambles about the direction of the franchise.

A good example was the brief and unsuccessful pursuit of Bill Walsh for an interview as head coach (see Interesting questions). While the decision to consider Walsh was a bold one, the Nordstroms, Sarkowsky and Thompson all quickly backed down when Paul Brown resisted the approach and agreed not to rock the boat by demanding an interview. A more aggressive management may have taken the risk.

Another noteworthy step was to agree to signing Dave Williams before interviewing for a head coach. For all the publicity value of the deal, it left the management exposed to trouble if Williams and his future coach didn’t get on. A coach who might otherwise have been interested in the Seahawks could have had problems with inheriting players, so the decision to try to recruit was clearly brave. It should be noted that the Buccaneers did not try to follow the Seahawks’ lead.

These may be small steps in themselves, but they show an underlying pattern that the management understood that expansion teams needed to experiment and do the unexpected at times to avoid the traditional teething problems.

Jack Patera himself was another of the gambles. Despite the number of experienced head coaches who were available during or at the end of 1975, the management decided early to pursue coaches with no NFL head coaching experience.

Experienced candidates were definitely available, and John McKay hired 2 former head coaches in Abe Gibron (Bears) and John Rauch (Oakland and Buffalo). Gibron was one of 7 head coaches who had lost their jobs in 1974:

    Dan Devine (Packers)
    Sid Gillman (Oilers)
    Howard Schnellenberger (Colts)
    Nick Skorich (Browns)
    Hank Stram (Chiefs)
    Norm Van Brocklin (Falcons)

while the end of the 1975 season saw 6 more head coaches out of work:
    Ernie Hefferle (interim coach, Saints)
    Mike McCormack (Eagles)
    Dick Nolan (49ers)
    John North (Saints)
    Ken Shipp (interim coach, Jets)
    Charley Winner (Jets)

In addition, coaches were available from the collapse of the World Football League.

But after being blocked from approaching Bill Walsh, the Seahawks continued to concentrate on candidates without NFL head coach experience. The shortlist became Monte Clark from the Dolphins, Leeman Bennett (Falcons) and Marv Levy (head coach of Montreal in the CFL, but never an NFL head coach). Patera was interviewed slightly later, to accommodate his playoff commitments with the Vikings. Clark was already inclined towards coaching the 49ers, and dropped out of contention, but there is no evidence that the management ever seriously considered taking the conservative step of handing the team to a veteran head coach.

The management also allowed Patera to pursue coaches with no NFL experience (see Staff). It’s clear that the management did not sit back as Patera pulled a surprise move on them: he kept Thompson and the owners well informed of his strategy and recruited his coaches with their full support.

Patera’s well-known tolerate-until-replaced attitude towards players also guaranteed that the Seahawks would need regular decision-making about its personnel strategy. It was clear from the start that many of the veterans would have a limited lifespan in Seattle, with the team making plans from the start to bring through younger talent and build by dealing in the draft (leading, of course, to the deal with Dallas in 1977 to exchange the opportunity to draft Tony Dorsett for ready-made players).

This would not have been an attractive strategy to businessmen who believed in businesslike solutions to problems. Businesses thrive by creating loyalty and product identification: a quick turnover of players is counterproductive because the fans can’t identify with here-today-gone-tomorrow names.

The management showed its preference for building identification by its promotion of Dave Williams and Ahmad Rashad, even though both decisions backfired for reasons beyond the team’s control. The lack of other “name” players would have been a worry, as would the continuing rotation of personnel during the pre-season. However, the management held its nerve and soon reaped the reward of seeing Jim Zorn and Steve Largent among others develop into long-term fan favorites.

In the longer term, there seems to be only one issue where Sarkowsky’s harmonious relationship with the management team and Patera came unstuck. But it was the issue on which Patera’s position as head coach appears to have become shaky.

Bart Wright and Sheldon Spencer describe the events:

At the end of the 1981 season, Jack Patera identified some team needs for the future in a meeting with Managing General Partner Herman Sarkowsky.

It came at the end of the most difficult two seasons of the franchise, and it was a bold and direct assessment.

Patera said that, though the team shouldn’t waver from its philosophy of drafting a great defensive player when available, the Seahawks needed a split end, a guard, a tackle and a center and a running back.

“We probably needed linebackers and defensive backs, too,’ he said, “but we were in need of those interior linemen, a receiver and a running back. It wasn’t what the owners wanted to hear.”

“My God,” Sarkowsky said, “you’re saying we’ve got to start over again.”

“No, Patera said,” it’s not a matter of starting all over again, it’s just that these are the positions we need to strengthen to be a contender.”

It was a message that may never have been properly understood by the owners. General Manager John Thompson later spoke with Sarkowsky and afterward told Patera that Sarkowsky was left thinking Patera wanted to completely rebuild the offensive line.

(Bart Wright and Sheldon Spencer, Seahawks: An In-Depth History of the Seattle Seahawks, 1991, page 62)

After 6 years in business, this was exactly the assessment and renewal that Sarkowsky should have expected if he’d properly understood Patera’s plans from back in 1976. The implications that he didn’t get it, needed John Thompson to interpret it, and didn’t like it, are all surprising results given the close working relationship they had all started with.

Patera’s planning had always been based on staff turnover, especially in the first years of the team. The ageing veterans from 1976 would mentor the rookies and draft picks, and then give way as the younger players proved themselves. So there was no public expectation that the 1976 squad would stay together for a long time, and that is what happened: by the start of the 1981 season, there would be only 9 survivors from 1976 and 4 of them would finish with the Seahawks that year.

The pressure was huge on the mentored replacements to come through, but Patera’s list of needs made it clear that the younger players hadn’t reached the heights needed for the team to keep rising. But that had always been the biggest risk of the succession plan, and it is extraordinary that Sarkowsky did not seem to have understood that it could have come to this.

The related surprise was that this conference took place without John Thompson’s presence. The strength of the early years had come from the cooperation and common understanding of Sarkowsky, Thompson and Patera. As three men together, they seem to have had the knack of shoring up each other’s weaknesses and achieving common goals. By 1981, it may have been that putting two of them together instead of three was an unwise move. |
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