The Seahawks have lost an influential member of their past.
Mike McCormack, who served as director of football operations, interim coach and general manager during an eight-year stay in Seattle, died Friday morning at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 83.
“Mike was the real deal,” John Nordstrom, the general managing partner during McCormack’s time with the Seahawks, said.
Not to mention a bigger-than-life presence. McCormack’s place in NFL history already was as rock solid as he was before he came to the Seahawks. He was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns from 1954-62, when he blocked for Jim Brown, and Paul Brown once called McCormack “the finest offensive lineman I ever coached.”
McCormack later served as head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (1973-75) and Baltimore Colts (1980-81) and also was an assistant coach for the Washington Redskins (1965-72) and Cincinnati Bengals (1976-79).
He came to Seattle as director of football operations in 1982.
“I really wanted a strong, strong football guy who had experience in league stuff, coaching, all aspects of the game,” Nordstrom said. “I told John (Thompson, then the GM), ‘Get him. I don’t care what it takes. Get Mike McCormack in here.’ ”
It proved to be a two-fer hire. “Mike not only understood players and coaches, he understood the league,” Nordstrom said. “Because we were babes in the woods in the league, we really didn’t have a good feel for what our place should be in league meetings and working with other owners. Mike brought that.”
McCormack arrived in Seattle during a transitional period in franchise history. When Jack Patera was fired as coach during the players’ strike in 1982, McCormack stepped in as the interim coach and led the Seahawks to a 4-3 record once the strike was settled.
Getting back on the sideline was McCormack’s goal when he came to the Seahawks, but Nordstrom had another idea.
“Mike wanted to be the coach,” Nordstrom said. “We had some discussions. I said, ‘Mike, I’m a neophyte managing partner. I badly need a guy to run this team.’ He said, ‘I’d rather coach, but I’ll do it. I’ll do that for you.’ ”
The first order of business was hiring a new coach. Nordstrom remembers interviewing 20 candidates – a list that included Marv Levy, Darryl Rogers, Hank Stram and John Robinson.
“We were kind of agonizing, because we weren’t really happy with any of these guys,” Nordstrom said.
Then McCormack got a call from Chuck Knox, who was wrapping up a five-season stint as coach of the Buffalo Bills. The Seahawks had found their man – or he found them.
With McCormack as GM and Knox as coach, the Seahawks went to the playoffs four times (1983-84 and 1987-88), advanced to the AFC Championship game in Knox’s first season (1983) and won the franchise’s first division title (1988).
“Mike hired some very good people to help him, and that helped us,” Nordstrom said.
One of the more indelible images of McCormack came during the 1987 players’ strike. When the league decided to field teams with replacement players, the Seahawks were one of the last to compile a roster because of the loyalty Knox and McCormack had for the striking players.
But when the bus carrying the replacement players arrived at the back gate of the team’s old complex in Kirkland, it was greeted by a gauntlet of angry striking players. McCormack walked to the bus and led the replacement players into the building, without incident.
“That was fantastic,” Nordstrom said. “There was a lot of respect for Mike because he was so solid. He didn’t do anything that wasn’t just totally above board.”
But McCormack and Knox lost their jobs after Ken Behring bought the franchise from the Nordstrom family in 1988 – McCormack in 1989, Knox after the 1991 season.
McCormack then helped Jerry Richardson acquire the Carolina Panthers’ expansion franchise and was the team’s president and general manager from 1993-97. McCormack was the first inductee into the Panthers’ Hall of Honor and there is a statue of him outside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“It is safe to say that we would probably not have a team in the Carolinas if it were not for Mike McCormack,” Richardson said in a statement that was issued by the Panthers. “He had contacts in the National Football League and was universally respected by everyone associated with professional football. He was a wonderful man.”
It’s also safe to say that the Seahawks would not have had the success they did in the 80’s without McCormack.
“Mike really allowed us to get to the AFC Championship game (in 1983),” Nordstrom said. “He didn’t get enough credit for it.”