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saintz08 12-14-2002 10:46 PM

Interesting reading on Mueller
Mueller is just what Hawks need

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Their relationship was so close, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson told his general manager they didn't need a piece of paper to seal their deal. A handshake was as good as a contract, the owner told his general manager.

"He treated me like a son," said Randy Mueller, the general manager. "He never, ever made a negative comment to me."

Benson told Mueller he wanted to work out a long-term deal.

"He loves you," Benson's lawyers told Mueller. They scheduled a meeting.

"I was expecting to work out a long-term contract," Mueller said.

Instead, he was fired. And almost an NFL season later, Mueller still doesn't know why.

He came to New Orleans from the Seahawks before the 2000 season. They had no draft picks thanks to Mike Ditka's wrong-headed trade for Ricky Williams. But they did have salary-cap room, which allowed Mueller to take risks on players no other team wanted.

He traded a future third-round pick for a no-name quarterback, Aaron Brooks. He signed Joe Horn, who'd been a fifth receiver for Kansas City. He gambled on former Seahawks defensive back Fred Thomas, who struggled through an endless series of injuries in Seattle.

"We had to take some risks," Mueller said. "We needed quantity and we were lucky enough to hit on some midrange free agents. We got a bunch of guys with little chips on their shoulders. Guys who were hungry. Had something to prove. Guys who would work harder than anybody else.

"The way the rules are set up in the NFL, you can get well fairly fast, if you're willing to take risks and if you can evaluate talent. I can't imagine a worse situation than we had in New Orleans, but we took the risks, got a little bit lucky and it worked."

Mueller brought life to the moribund season. He worked closely with his good friend, Coach Jim Haslett. He restructured an organization that was buried during Ditka's archaic reign.

The Saints went to the playoffs in Mueller's first season. And the team that is 9-4 this season is mostly Mueller's creation.

But before he could start his third season, he was fired.

"When I got to New Orleans they were the laughingstock of the league," he said. "Lots of people were telling me not to go. I have a lot of pride in what's happened there."

After he was fired, fans saw him in malls and at gas stations and told him the Saints had made a mistake. They asked him what happened. He didn't have an answer. The questions began to wear on him.

"I knew I needed to turn the page on this," Mueller said, "and to do that I had to get out of New Orleans."

Mueller, 41, went back to his roots. He moved to Spokane and distanced himself from the NFL. This season he has done all of the things he didn't have time to do in the past 20 years. He spent the summer and fall on his boat on Lake Coeur d'Alene. He hunted and fished.

He bought Direct Ticket and says he watches more NFL football now than he did when he was general manager. He has been to local high-school games and has watched Washington State, Eastern Washington and Idaho play.

"This has been great — I recommend it," Mueller said by telephone this week from his home in Spokane's South Hill area. "When you're in the middle of the season, you're always in the grind, always in the shredder. This has given me a chance to recharge my batteries and now I'm starting to get a little antsy."

Mueller didn't call me. I called him. He isn't testing Seattle's chilly waters. He doesn't have to. Next month, when teams start re-evaluating their programs, he'll get an offer and the team that gets him will be better for it.

He should be in Seattle next year. He should be the Seahawks' next general manager. He could do for the Hawks what he did for the Saints. He can revive the franchise, fill the stadium and get the team into the playoffs.

In a perfect world, at the end of this season, Seahawks owner Paul Allen and President Bob Whitsitt would ask Mike Holmgren to relinquish his general managership. They would tell him to revamp his coaching staff. And he would agree.

Holmgren, who has four years left on his eight-year, $4.5 million-a-year contract, is still the same coach who took the Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls, but he needs to surround himself with the same kind of minds he had in that run.

In a perfect world, Holmgren's larger-than-all-outdoors ego would agree and accept the plan. That's only in a perfect world.

After four seasons of false starts, however, Holmgren has lost the right to make all of the personnel decisions. For the third time in four years, he will have to revamp the defense this winter. He will have to re-patch the offensive line. He has had his chances. He needs more help.

The unoccupied seats at Seahawks Stadium beg for a change.

Randy Mueller won't campaign for the job. He won't criticize Holmgren, someone he has worked for and respects.

But he's available. And he's the perfect choice to make Seattle a football town again.

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