In 1995, the Seahawks were looking for a coach – for the second time in four years. Dennis Erickson, meanwhile, was looking to move to the NFL.
Club owner Ken Behring had tired of Chuck Knox’s conservative approach to winning and – after only three seasons and a 14-34 record – also fired his handpicked successor, Tom Flores. Erickson, who had grown up in Everett, was coming off six ridiculously successful seasons at the University of Miami, where he led the Hurricane to 63-9 record and two national championships.
Need met desire on Jan. 12, when Erickson was hired as the fifth head coach in franchise history – after being linked to the job when Knox was fired in 1991 and also during Flores’ exit in 1994.
“The decision was made right after my father and I spent four hours with coach Erickson,” David Behring, Ken’s son and the club president, said at the time – when Erickson’s introductory news conference was held not in Kirkland but Palo Alto, Calif., because Erickson was coaching the East team in the annual East-West Shrine all-star game.
“We were extremely impressed. He had the same philosophy as we did. We loved his intensity. We loved the commitment he has to winning. He has so many traits we were excited about that when he left we just made the decision.
“We wanted Dennis Erickson as our next coach.”
Erickson just wanted some sleep.
“It’s been awful. I haven’t slept much,” he said of the negotiation process, which was intertwined with his should-I-do-this-at-this- time process.
“It’s easier to make a decision when you’re in your home environment. I’ve been 3,000 miles away in a hotel room, and on the phone, because your family isn’t here to help you make it.”
Not all his family, that is. Erickson’s parents still lived in the Everett area, where his father, Pink, had been a successful high school coach. Erickson’s return – to coach his hometown NFL team, no less – was viewed as the right man, for the right job, at the right time. Finally.
“You kind of felt that he’s the guy,” said Eugene Robinson, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl free safety and defensive captain. “It kind of plays this whole story out. … It was something that was kind of assumed from the start, because he looks like the natural candidate.” The only thing missing at the Seahawks’ headquarters in Kirkland when Erickson did arrive was the symbolic hitching post to tether the white horse this hometown hero of a coach rode in on. Because of his hiring, things were looking up for a franchise that had not been to the playoffs since 1988 and last posted a winning record in 1990.
The NFL Draft delivered first-round pick Joey Galloway, an electrifying wide receiver/punt returner who had sprinter’s speed. The offense already featured Chris Warren, who was coming off back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons wide receiver Brian Blades, who had caught a club-record 81 passes in 1994 and quarterback Rick Mirer, the team’s first-round pick in 1993.
The defense was built around Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, who had played for Erickson at Miami defensive end Michael Sinclair, who would go to the Pro Bowl in 1996-98 linebacker Terry Wooden, who was acquired in the same 1990 draft that delivered Kennedy, Warren and strong safety Robert Blackmon and Robinson, who had been to the Pro Bowl in 1992-93.
But despite what happened in between (an 8-6 record and a 6-2 second-half mark), the ’95 season was best summarized by the season-opening and season-ending losses to the Kansas City Chiefs – by a combined score of 60-13. The Chiefs won the AFC West with a 13-3 record that season, and the disparity between where the Seahawks were and where they wanted to get was played out in the Kingdome on Sept. 3 and at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 24.
“A huge gap,” was the way Erickson described, well, the huge gap between his Seahawks and the in-control Chiefs. “They’re the best team in the AFC, and we’re not there yet,” he added after the finality of the finale at Arrowhead. “We are a ways away.”
But the 1995 Seahawks also took a quantum leap from the ’94 version – and especially the still-fresh-in-the-memory ’92 club that had gone 2-14.
Warren rushed for 1,346 yards and scored 16 touchdowns, and was voted the AFC Pro Bowl starter. Blades caught 77 passes, while Galloway had 67 receptions and seven TDs – to go with his 10-yard average returning punts that included an 89-yarder for a score.
In a Week 11 game at Jacksonville, Galloway ignited the 47-30 victory over the Jaguars with an 86-yard TD run off a reverse of a reverse and 114 yards and two TDs on five receptions.
“I’ve never been around anyone like him,” veteran wide receiver Ricky Proehl said after Galloway’s he-went-that-a-way day. “To do what Joey did yesterday and last week (the 89-yard punt return), there’s probably a handful – one hand – of guys who can do that in this league.”
On defense, Wooden had a career-best 135 tackles – then the fourth-highest total in franchise history and still No. 6 on the all-time list – and Robinson had 105, in what would be his final season with the Seahawks.
The special teams were paced by punter Rick Tuten, who led the NFL with a club-record 45-yard average, including a team-record 73-yarder kicker Todd Peterson, who scored 109 points, one shy of the club record kickoff returner Steve Broussard, who averaged a club-record 24.7 yards Mack Strong, who had a team-high 19 coverage tackles and, of course, Galloway.
In addition to Galloway’s three-score game in Jacksonville, the 6-2 run in the second half of the season included some impressive individual performances: Warren ran for 136 yards and one TD and Mirer passed for two more scores in a 27-20 win over the Redskins in Washington Peterson kicked four field goals in a 26-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at the Kingdome QB John Friesz led three fourth-quarter drives as the Seahawks overcame a 20-0 deficit, the largest in franchise history, to grab a 31-27 victory against the Broncos in Denver, which also included a 83-yard TD return of a fumble by defensive end Antonio Edwards and Warren scored three TDs in a 44-10 romp over the Oakland Raiders at the Kingdome.
Edwards’ scoring return against the Broncos came after Blackmon had forced Seahawks nemesis John Elway to fumble, and prompted this response from snapper Trey Junkin: “The first thing I thought was, ‘God, I never want to get hit like that.’ I mean, I thought I was going to be part of history – like I was there the day Robert Blackmon killed John Elway.”
There also were off-field events of note in Erickson’s first year as coach. Steve Largent became the first Seahawk to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Jacob Green was added to the team’s Ring of Honor and the team spent the week between the games against the Jaguars and Redskins in Jacksonville. That was noteworthy because while they were away a combination of snow, ice and wind tore a hole in the bubble that covered the team’s indoor practice field, which forced practices to be held at the Kingdome the rest of the season.
“We’ve got to get to the next level,” Erickson said after already taking the Seahawks to a next level in his first season. “We’ve got to get from 8-8 to 9-7, and then to that next level.”
Erickson’s initial season definitely was an improvement for the Seahawks. But ultimately, the team never improved on that 8-8 record in three more seasons under Erickson – which led to Behring hiring yet another coach in 1999.