Shortly after head linesman Earnie Frantz's blown touchdown call had handed the Jets a last-second victory over the Sea-hawks on Dec. 6, all but sucking the last breath out of Seattle's playoff chances, Sea-hawks offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was crestfallen. When a reporter mentioned how tough the loss must be on the coach's family—wife Rebecca, son Shane, 15, and daughter Courtney, 12—Bratkowski was too choked up to answer and walked away. He knew what the mood was like in his suburban Seattle house.
"Coaches' families aren't watching these games for entertainment," a somber Bratkowski said last Thursday. "They're watching to see where they'll be living next year."
Ten assistants on the 17-man Seattle coaching staff are in the final year of their contracts. It has been widely reported—and refuted by no one on owner Paul Allen's management team—that Dennis Erickson and his assistants are coaching for their jobs. The Seahawks, one of the league's most aggressive teams in the pursuit of free agents over the past two off-seasons, are 30-32 in four years under Erickson and have never made the playoffs. So Bratkowski, 43, who before joining the Seahawks in 1992 had been an assistant with five college teams in 14 years and wants to coach somewhere else if the axe falls, will probably have to move his family again this winter.
Bratkowski grew up in a football family—his father, Zeke, was a quarterback for the Bears, Rams and Packers, and he later became an assistant coach—so he knows the toll that failure takes. "My wife was awake when I got home from New York," he says. "She just shook her head. I said, 'Tough day, honey' Usually I sleep fine. Not that night. The next morning my son said, 'Dad, that sucks.' I told him talking like that's not going to do anybody any good. We've been fortunate. Football's been good to us. It's kind of unspoken between my wife and me: no sense in gloom and doom, especially around Christmas. We want to be positive and upbeat. We have to be."
Nevertheless, Bratkowski admits that the way his fate was apparently sealed "twists the dagger a little bit. I think the officials' job is very difficult. They need help in situations like that. The answer's probably instant replay. But officials have gotten themselves a little union. They're protected. Sometimes coaches are left to twist in the wind. I love coaching. I love game day. But when I see how it affects the family, I wonder, Don't they deserve better?"
Yet the coach doesn't hold a grudge against Frantz. "I have no animosity toward him," Bratkowski says, "just as I wouldn't have animosity toward a player who made a mistake in a game."