Cortez: Countdown to Canton with Tommy Brasher

Posted Jul 26, 2012

Eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 4. We salute the achievement with some memories of Kennedy from some memorable individuals.

Tommy Brasher was well aware of Cortez Kennedy before being hired to coach the Seahawks’ defensive line in 1992 – which just happened to be the best of Kennedy’s 11-season Hall of Fame career, and one of the best ever compiled by a defensive tackle in the 92-year history of the NFL.

Their relationship began in 1990, when Kennedy was coming out of the University of Miami and Brasher was coaching for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“They sent me down to Miami to scout Cortez,” said Brasher, who coached with the Seahawks through the 1998 season and then returned to the Philadelphia Eagles until he retired after the 2005 season. “I go down there and I start watching this guy (on tape). I went, ‘Damn, I need this guy.’ ”

Brasher returned to Tampa and started what he calls “a campaign” to have the Bucs select Kennedy with the fourth overall pick in the draft. That got him called into the office of head coach Ray Perkins.

“Ray says, ‘What is it about this fat tackle that you think should make him the fourth pick in the draft?’ ” Brasher recalled. “I said, ‘Well, he just takes over games.’ Then Ray said, ‘I don’t think you spend that high a pick on a tackle.’ So I said, ‘You do for this guy. You spend whatever pick you’ve got to spend to get this guy.’ ”

Brasher, it turned out, was a little too open with his praise for Kennedy. Just before the 1990 NFL Draft, Brasher ran into George Dyer, who was coaching the Seahawks’ D-line.

“We’re talking about players, and I made a bad mistake,” Brasher said. “I mentioned Cortez and what I thought of him. On the day of the draft, the Seahawks traded up one spot in front of us to get him.”

The third spot belonged to the New England Patriots, but the trade allowed the Seahawks to select the player so coveted by Brasher. The Buccaneers then drafted Alabama defensive end Keith McCants, who had 13.5 sacks in a seven-year career that included stints with the Bucs (1990-92), Houston Oilers (1993-94) and Arizona Cardinals (1994-95).

Before Kennedy called it a Hall of Fame career after the 2000 season, he had been voted to eight Pro Bowls and named All-Pro four times. In that first season under Brasher, Kennedy produced 14 sacks and 93 tackles in being selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year – on a team that finished 2-14. Kennedy also was selected to the NFL Team of the Decade for the 1990s and inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2006.

Kennedy will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 4.

To commemorate his latest – and greatest – achievement, is asking those who coached him, played with him and knew him for their thoughts on Kennedy. Today, it’s Brasher.

The connection: Brasher’s relationship with Kennedy always transcended coach/player, in part because both are from Arkansas. But each also knew how to push the other’s buttons during their seven seasons as coach and player to produce positive results.

“Cortez was fun to coach, and he would test you,” Brasher said. “Like a lot of guys from where he came from, he was a little bit insecure and he had to know – every now and then – what you really thought of him.

“So he would test me, but in a fun way.”

The congratulations: “Cortez belongs in the Hall of Fame because he’s probably one of the Top 6 tackles in the history of the game,” Brasher said.

Asked who else belonged in that group, Brasher was quick to name former Dallas Cowboys Bob Lilly and Randy White, who joined the Hall in 1980 and 1994. Then came a long pause before he added, “I’m trying to think of a recent guy, and I really can’t come up with the recent guy that was as prolific at defensive tackle as Cortez was in his prime.”

But Brasher wasn’t done just yet. “The other thing that puts him in there is how in the world does a guy become the Defensive Player of the Year in the National Football League on a 2-14 team?”

In closing: Brasher never – ever – allowed his players to run around blocks. Until he ran into Kennedy.

“The thing that made him so great he is that he had just super instincts,” Brasher said. “I changed a lot of my rules for him. I always had a rule that you could not run around a block. But I changed that rule when I started coaching him, and the rule became: You can’t run around a block, unless you make the play.

“And Cortez did that a lot. A lot. Ninety percent of the people are not quick enough to run around a block and make the play. And he never did it unless it was the right thing to do. And he didn’t know it was the right thing to do, his instincts told him it was the right thing to do. So he taught me that sometimes great players are not subject to average rules.”