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Luckless In Seattle
Johnette Howard
July 24, 1995
A succession of off-field crises has made the Seahawks the NFL's most troubled team
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July 24, 1995

Luckless In Seattle

A succession of off-field crises has made the Seahawks the NFL's most troubled team

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During the first day of a minicamp in April he spoke to the Seahawks about his arrest. Given the alcohol-related charges Smith still faces for his accident, the players appreciated it when their new coach publicly apologized and then asked all of them, "Will you guys forgive me?"

"He didn't have to do that," Robinson says. "Who am I to sit here now and keep saying, 'Shame, shame, shame'?"

During an interview last week Erickson repeatedly called his driving while drunk a "stupid mistake" and said, "The thing I'm most grateful for is that I never hurt anybody." But in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story published three days later, Erickson strongly objected to SI's depiction of him, in the June 12 issue, as "hard-drinking." Erickson told the paper, "That's ridiculous. It's character assassination."

And yet, as one condition of his sentence, Erickson had to undergo a chemical-dependency evaluation, and an Everett prosecutor said in open court that Erickson was found to have a "significant drinking problem." In Washington anyone with a blood-alcohol level of .10 and above is considered legally drunk. Erickson's Breathalyzer test read .23. A reading of .25 often induces unconsciousness, and anything .30 or higher can be fatal.

To register a blood-alcohol level as high as Erickson's reading, one expert says an average-sized man, like Erickson, would have to consume 12 to 13 one-ounce shots of liquor in two to three hours. That meets any reasonable definition of "hard-drinking."

Erickson is similarly upset with the reviews of his tenure at Miami. He went 63-9 and won two national championships in his six seasons. But by the time he left, the NCAA was investigating his program for Pell Grant fraud and for a rumored pay-for-play system funded by rap star Luther Campbell. And when word leaked on the eve of this spring's NFL draft that star defensive tackle Warren Sapp had tested positive for drugs at least once while attending Miami, the NCAA promised to look into whether, in letting Sapp play after he had failed a drug test, Erickson had violated the school's drug policy.

Also, in articles that ran in The Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel just days apart in May, Erickson was accused of presiding over a program in which violence and sexual assault, drug abuse and possession of guns went largely uncontrolled.

Erickson dismisses some of the accusations because "they come from unnamed sources." He insists that others have "never been proven" or result from a "vendetta" launched by people who were angry about the way he left Miami.

To be sure, Erickson has always been clumsy about leaving the places at which he has coached. His longtime pattern of emphatic denials followed by quick exits dates at least as far back as his 1985 departure from Idaho. There Erickson termed rumors that he was headed to Wyoming "nothing but speculation—all of it" on a Friday. On Saturday the Vandals lost a Division I-AA playoff game. On Monday, Erickson announced that he was heading off to coach the Cowboys after all. The pattern continued at Wyoming, Washington State and Miami.

As with their support of Blades, the Seahawks are united behind their new coach. Kennedy and quarterback Rick Mirer, two of Seattle's linchpins, both used the same phrase—"I could care less"—when asked last week about Erickson's troubles. "All I care about is making the playoffs," says Kennedy. "Here. In Seattle. Whatever happened at Miami is the past."

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