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Cortez’s coach and conscience
Tom Flores had replaced Chuck Knox as head coach, and the only Knox assistants Flores retained were Tom Catlin, who took on the title assistant head coach/defense; longtime special teams guru Rusty Tillman, who became the defensive coordinator to replace Catlin; Paul Moyer, a staff assistant under Knox who became defensive backs coach under Flores; tight ends coach Russ Purnell, who took over for Tillman with the special teams; and strength and conditioning coach Frank Raines.
There was, however, another familiar face – and drawl – for Kennedy: Tommy Brasher, a fellow Arkansas native who had fallen in love with Kennedy’s unique talents while scouting him at the University of Miami prior to the 1990 NFL Draft.
But the reunion was not all hugs and how-are-ya’s.
“When I get here, Cortez of course remembers me,” Brasher recalled this week. “I’d been watching all the tapes on him, and to tell you the truth I was pretty disappointed. He comes to the office and we talked and exchanged pleasantries a little bit.
“Finally, I said, ‘What’s the deal?’
“He goes, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘What’s the deal with the way you’re playing?’ ”
While watching film of Kennedy at the University of Miami, Brasher saw a player he tried to convince the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select with the fourth pick overall in the 1990 draft (the Seahawks traded up to take him with the third pick). While watching film of Kennedy in his first two seasons with the Seahawks, Brasher saw a player who was OK but not overpowering.
“I told him, ‘You’re not playing like you should be playing,’ ” Brasher said. “He got kind of huffy and pouty. But when he started thinking about it, he came to grips with the fact that he wasn’t playing like he should be playing.”
To say Brasher’s straightforward approach helped Kennedy hone his Hall of Fame skills in their seven seasons together doesn’t get all the way to the roots of their relationship that transcended player and coach.
The proof turned out to be in the production.
In 1992, Kennedy turned in one of the best seasons ever for a defensive tackle: 14 sacks, 93 tackles, four forced fumbles. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year and voted to the second of his eight Pro Bowls. Those sack and tackle totals from ’92 turned out to be career-highs for Kennedy. But over the next five seasons in which he started 16 games, Kennedy averaged 68.6 tackles and 6.3 sacks.
“Cortez had kind of a special trait about him, because he would goad me into jumping his (butt),” Brasher said. “Because he had to know that I would do that. He had to know that I cared enough about him to do that. And he later admitted that.
“So he and I have always had a special relationship.”
Kennedy was asked about Brasher on Thursday, during a conference call to preview his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 4.
“Tommy was great for me,” Kennedy said from his home in the Orlando area. “What you see with Tommy is what you get.”
And, as that meeting in 1992 indicated, what you got from Brasher wasn’t always what you wanted, but it definitely was what you needed.
“Tommy will put you in the right situation and just let you play,” Kennedy said. “And one thing about Brasher, I didn’t get complacent because he was all on my butt.”
For example? “I tell you what, we played the Colts and I didn’t have a good game,” Kennedy said of a 1994 matchup with Indianapolis at the Kingdome where the Seahawks surrendered 31 points. “Some of the guys in the media asked Tommy (about me). Tommy was like my dad, like a coach, he liked to protect you. Especially when you played for him.
“But to me, Tommy said, ‘Tez, you had a decent game, but not your game. What the hell was going on with you?’ ”
If Kennedy ever had a bad practice, it was on a Friday. And Brasher never let it slide.
“Boy, coach Brasher would chew me out behind closed doors,” Kennedy said. “I said, ‘Coach, you don’t have to worry about that. I don’t want to get chewed out.’
“But I tell you what, he was a great motivator and he kept everybody on the same page in the meeting room.”
Hard feelings? Hardly.
Asked if he feels Kennedy is deserving of his spot in the prestigious Hall, Brasher said, “I’ll be there (at the induction ceremony). If I didn’t believe he belonged in the Hall, I certainly wouldn’t be making the trip.”
To which Kennedy added, “I love coach. I’m glad he’s coming.”