Searching For The Black Box: Ray Rhodes

Seahawks.NET
Posted Feb 22, 2005


In two years as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator, Ray Rhodes has provided apparently excellent motivation...but the results have been less impressive than expected. Seahawks.NET's Todd Webb examines the scope of Rhodes' history, and what we might expect in the future.

Searching For the Black Box …

The 2004 Seattle Seahawks Flight took off majestically … soaring to 35,000 feet … and looking as if it was bound for Jacksonville. Amidst the rubble of a defense that Hawk fans saw plummet from #1 … clear down to #23 … a great many are asking themselves: “Just who the heck IS Ray Rhodes anyway?”

The Looong and Win-ding Rhodes …

Rhodes is a guy that - if you ever catch an interview with him - put in a tape quick and pay attention. His public appearances are about as common as Halley’s Comet sightings. Where most people unwind by popping in the latest Blockbuster flick, Rhodes is a guy who eats his popcorn in the film room dissecting endless hours of game footage. Rhodes’ very dreams are filled with game scenarios, as he constantly schemes on how to defeat opposing offenses. A 10th round draft choice out of Tulsa in 1974, Ray Rhodes the player showed himself to be one who’d run through brick walls – which he did until his career ended in 1980. It was that type of tenacity and heart that earned him his first job after his playing days were over.

Embarking on the Rhode Trip ...

Rhodes was hired in 1981 by the San Francisco 49ers as their assistant secondary coach. In his first season, all the 49ers did was win the Super Bowl. The fact that the ’81 Niners had three rookie DB starters – Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson and Future Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott - speaks to Rhodes’ reputation as a master motivator.

Ronnie Lott recounted the story of his first day with the Niners in 1981. Lott had been standing in line for practice drills when Rhodes called him front and center …

Ronnie Lott: "From that moment, everything Ray Rhodes said to me shaped my career … Ray had a way of talking to you about the soul of the game. A lot of guys can't express to you why you play the game at a certain level. That is probably why I'm not coaching. To really get into a person's heart is to understand, and Ray could do that better than anyone. If he doesn't bring that every day, Ray Rhodes is just another coach."

Lott also talked about a phone call Rhodes placed to the players just before a Monday night game in 1990. Rhodes had just been wheeled out on a gurney from the OR following an appendectomy.

Lott: "He had the courage to call us and get us motivated before the game. It moved me to tears. That's the kind of soul he has for his players." (From Mike Sando’s piece in WIXT Sports commentary 9/18/2003)

It’s that kind of soul that’s fueled Rhodes’ pilgrimage through the NFL. Ray Rhodes became the 49ers’ DB coach in 1983 and served in that capacity through the 1991 season.

Here’s how the 49ers defensive backfield fared under his watch …

Year
Pass Completions
Yds Allowed
TD Allowed
Int.
1983
27th
3701 (19th)
23 (19th)
24 (10th)
1984
16th
3744 (19th)
14 (1st)
25 (7th)
1985
27th
3965 (23rd)
11 (1st)
18 (20th)
1986
24th
3773 (18th)
18 (8th)
39 (1st)
1987
2nd
2771 (1st)
13 (1st)
25 (5th)
1988
20th
3284 (8th)
25 (25th)
22 (10th)
1989
24th
3568(12th)
15 (5th)
21 (12th)
1990
13th
3278(13th)
17(7th)
17 (15th)
1991
9th
3254 (9th)
16(7th)
11 (25th)

Rhodes’ Frisco defensive backfields had 16 Pro Bowl invitations during his time as secondary coach. With the high-powered wallet of owner Eddie DeBartolo … the talents of George Siefert, Bill McPherson, Mike Holmgren, and others … and a plethora of Hall Of Fame talent … Rhodes’ fire-in-the belly speeches found themselves nestled nicely into the annals of 49ers lore. It was that type of soul power that allowed Rhodes to finally earn his first solo act in 1992 with the Green Bay Packers.

Paved Rhodes …

Packers Defensive Coordinator 1992-1993

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yards

Pass TD

Rush Yards

Rush TD

1991*

4-12

21st

3573(20th)

20(20th)

1546(7th)

10(11th)

1992

9-7

18th

4396(23rd)

16(9th)

1821(16th)

12(15th)

1993

9-7

9th

3201(8th)

16(8th)

1582(8th)

6(3rd)

1994*

9-7

22nd

3677(14th)

20(13th)

1363(3rd)

9(7th)

1991* … #18 Best Pts Allowed (313)

1992 … #15 Best Pts Allowed (296)

1993 … #9 Best Pts Allowed (282)

1994* … #5 Best Pts Allowed (287)

As you can see from the numbers, Rhodes improved the Packers D in year one … as the defense allowed 17 fewer points and saw its record improve dramatically over Lindy Infante and the Magic Man’s “steady” hands.

Interestingly there’s a noticeable jump between 1992 and 1993 … and for good reason. In the 1993 offseason the Packers signed a certain minister … whose Sunday sermons often had many an opposing quarterback crying for the Lord’s mercy. The Packers improved from 34 sacks in 1992 to 46 sacks in 1993 (Reggie White himself blessing opposing QBs 13 times that year – an effort that would earn him a Pro Bowl appearance.) Rhodes’ exhortations produced two other Pro Bowlers besides White (LeRoy Butler in ‘93 and Chuck Cecil in ‘92) during his two years in Green Bay. Shots rang out between Rhodes and Wolf in 1992 over the Packers’ choice of Terrell Buckley over Troy Vincent. While Rhodes railed against the Packers GM for his drafting of Buckley … Wolf returned Rhodes’ 100MPH serve with force, saying that it was Rhodes who had Buckley rated as the better player. This apparent feud, coupled with Rhodes’ chance to be the head defensive honcho with the Niners, made the choice to move on an easy one.

The Rhode Warrior …

Defensive Coordinator San Francisco 49ers (1994)

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yards

Pass TD

Rush Yards

Rush TD

1993*

10-6

23rd

3513(19th)

23(25th)

1800(16th)

6(2nd)

1994

13-3

19th

3756(19th)

15(4th)

1338(2nd)

16(24th)

1995*

11-5

19th

3577(10th)

19(10th)

1061(1st)

5(1st)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before and year after Rhodes arrived.

1993 … #16 Best overall in pts allowed (295)

1994 … #6 Best overall in pts allowed (296)

1995 … #2 Best overall in pts allowed (258)

1994 was Rhodes’ crowning glory as he was carried high aloft the shoulders of the parade of a 49ers team that ran over the competition that year. Rhodes pushed all the right buttons, as the team steamrolled over the Chargers in the Super Bowl. But before we mail off Rhodes’ application to the Mensa society … a few items should be noted when considering the test scores:

A) 1994’s defense actually allowed 1 point more than the team from 1993.

B) Godfather DeBartolo made several key additions to the family in 1994 including: Deion Sanders, Ricky Jackson, Charles Mann, Bryant Young, Ken Norton, and Lee Woodall. Sanders, Jackson, Mann, and Norton were considered to be among the NFL’s elite at the time. Sanders, along with Merton Hanks, Dana Stubblefield, and Tim McDonald all made the Pro Bowl.

C) 1995’s team (the year after Rhodes departed for Philly) improved dramatically with the exact same players MINUS Deion.

Rhodes’ moment of glory propelled his star to the top of the charts as he was snatched up the Eagles to guide their ship in 1995 …

Rhode To Perdition …

“It’s better to burn out … than to fade away …”

Head Coach Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98)

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yds

Pass TD

Rush Yds

Rush TD

1994*

7-9

3rd

3359(6th)

20(11th)

1616(11th)

11(14th)

1995

10-6

3rd

3121(2nd)

14(3rd)

1822(19th)

14(18th)

1996

10-6

3rd

3243(5th)

18(10th)

1565(9th)

12(17th)

1997

6-9-1

3rd

3201(6th)

20(11th)

2009(25th)

16(23rd)

1998

3-13

2nd

3001(1st)

18(9th)

2416(27th)

18(26th)

1999*

5-11

23rd

3773(16th)

22(19th)

2001(20th)

12(20th)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before and year after Rhodes arrived.

1994* … #11 Best Pts Allowed (308)

1995 … #15 Best Pts Allowed (338)

1996 … #21 Best Pts Allowed (341)

1997 … #24 Best Pts Allowed (372)

1998 … #19 Best Pts Allowed (344)

1999* … #22 Best Pts Allowed (357)

Ray Rhodes bolted out of the gate as Eagles’ Head Coach as the team went 10-6 and made the playoffs each of his first 2 years. 1995 not only saw the M’s Miracle Ride … but also saw Rhodes named NFL Coach of the Year for his own miracle that season. Rhodes overcame a severe outbreak of injury-it is, a 1-3 start, and even a QB change to make the playoffs that year. After notching a 20-12 record and 2 playoff appearances in his first 2 years … it appeared to Eagles’ fans as though quenching their Super Bowl thirsts under Rhodes was just a matter of time.

Alas, what followed the early highs of Rhodes-Stock … was a baaadd 9-22-1 trip man! Mediocre drafts, poor free agent decisions, and an apparently busted megaphone lead to Rhodes’ dismissal at the end of the 1998 season. The double-barrel criticism shotgun leveled at Rhodes at the time was that his Rah-Rah “Let’s Take this Hill” tactics worked well for the younger bucks at the start of the war. However, as the war dragged on, and the casualties began to mount … Rhodes’ tank appeared as though it had run out of gas.

Though it’s unclear as to exactly how much defensive control Head Coach Rhodes actually exercised, it’s hard to imagine a defensive-minded coach like Rhodes not at least having his hand in the cookie jar. Classic Ray Rhodes style is to attack the QB by consistently putting pressure on him and allowing the DB’s to mop up. The great disparity between defensive pass and rush statistics is a strong indicator of Rhodes’ fingerprints (Preview of coming attractions?).

Rhode Kill …

Head Coach Green Bay Packers (1999)

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yds

Pass TD

Rush Yds

Rush TD

1998*

11-5

19th

3401(13th)

23(19th)

1442(4th)

7(2nd)

1999

8-8

14th

3690(15th)

20(13th)

1804(22nd)

16(25th)

2000*

9-7

14th

3695(20th)

28(29th)

1618(8th)

7(4th)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before and year after Rhodes arrived.

1998* … #11 Best in Pts Allowed (319)

1999 … #20 Best in Pts Allowed (341)

2000* … #14 Best in Pts Allowed (323)

Rhodes’ defense in his one and only year as Packers Head Meister in 1999 saw his Rush defense plummet through the floor like the 1929 Stock Market crash. Rhodes came to Green Bay in 1999 with U2 level hype … and ended that season as a one-hit wonder. With his long-standing reputation as a player’s coach, Rhodes’ warriors initially battled for him. And after years under Big Brother’s wary gaze, Rhodes’ hakuna-matata demeanor and “Us versus the World” mentality was lauded by the players.

Unlike a good surgeon, however; Rhodes showed himself to be all thumbs when it came to stopping hemorrhages. As the losing streaks mounted, the Green Bay area seismometer registered increasing tremors, indicating lack of control and discipline in the locker room (the rationale that Wolf officially cited at the dismissal press conference.) It was a highly controversial firing by Ron Wolf that even got Jesse Jackson’s attention, and may have indirectly led to the NFL’s current hiring policies regarding coaches and racial requirements. Rumors later swirled that Brett Favre had secretly come to Wolf, advocating that Rhodes be replaced (a charge that Favre vehemently denied.)

Packers Defensive Statistics

Year

Sacks

Interceptions

1998*

50

14

1999

29

26

2000*

32.5

21

1998’s Packer defense went from flattening QBs 50 times … to a mere 29 in 1999. (We note that Reggie White had moved on to preach to another congregation just prior to the 1999 season.) As was the case in Philadelphia … we note that the rush defense statistics BALLOONED significantly in 1999 … and that both prior to and after Rhodes’ tenure those numbers rank amongst the NFL’s elite.

On the Rhode Again …

Defensive Coordinator, Washington Redskins (2000)

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yds

Pass TD

Rush Yds

Rush TD

1999*

10-6

25th

3953(25th)

23(21st)

1973(27th)

16(27th)

2000

8-8

2nd

2904(3rd)

12(4th)

1853(22nd)

9(6th)

2001*

8-8

1st

3116(3rd)

19(14th)

1869(20th)

10(12th)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before and year after Rhodes arrived.

1999* … #24 Best Pts Allowed (377)

2000 … #7 Best Pts Allowed (269)

2001* … #13 Best Pts Allowed (303)

The 2000 season for the Redskins can best be described as a game of Monopoly, with owner Daniel Snyder putting the maximum number of hotels on his little Boardwalk. With the additions of Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier - and LaVar Arrington in the draft - Snyder saw Ray Rhodes as the decoration on the top of his NFL Champions victory cake.

Once again, Rhodes proved to be the master of the quick turnaround, as the Redskins’ defense improved dramatically across the board between 1999 and 2000. Smith’s (10 sacks in 2000), Arrington’s (4.0 sacks), Carrier’s (1 Int), and Sander’s (4 Int) additions … caused a ripple effect for Marco Coleman (6.5 sacks in 1999 – 12.0 sacks in 2000) and the rest of the Redskin defense, as they recorded 6 more sacks, allowed 18 fewer TDs, 1049 fewer passing yards, and 120 fewer rushing yards.

As has been the pattern throughout his career, Rhodes’ ride in DC would again be a short one. Demonstrating himself to be the NFL’s version of King Henry VIII, Snyder axed Norv Turner after the 2000 season and turned to Rhodes to coronate him. Rhodes refused, saying that he had come to work for Turner, opting instead for a Rocky Mountain High when Marty Schottenheimer was brought on board …

Redskins LB coach Foge Fazio: "We had like an all-star team. The talent was unbelievable. . . . Ray deserves a lot of credit. When he stood up in a room to talk, the players listened to him. He could cuss with them or he could talk intelligently with them. He could enlighten them or get down and dirty with them. They all respected him, and he held it all together. . . . We only had one year together. You wonder what we could have done with more time. But you never know in this business. You have to move on."

Bruce Smith: "Ray is a players' coach. That's not to say we don't have individuals here now who are players' coaches. But he's been around the game a long time. He understands the game. He brought a certain mentality to the game and people responded to him."

One Lane Rhode …

Defensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos (2001-02)

Year

Record

Comp.

Pass Yds

Pass TD

Rush Yds

Rush TD

2000*

11-5

16th

4197(31st)

26(28th)

1598(7th)

13(16th)

2001

8-8

15th

3561(16th)

23(21st)

1492(6th)

9(8th)

2002

9-7

28th

3588(18th)

15(2nd)

1489(4th)

21(32nd)

2003*

10-6

3rd

3049(5th)

17(6th)

1605(7th)

11(11th)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before and year after Rhodes arrived.

2000* … #23 Best in Pts Allowed (369)

2001 … #21 Best in Pts Allowed (339)

2002 … #15 Best in Pts Allowed (344)

2003* … #9 Best in Pts Allowed (301)

As has been his pattern, Rhodes’ Broncos improved markedly in his first year as defensive coordinator, allowing 30 less points than the year previous. Rhodes FIRST Act once again had fans shouting for encores, as they anxiously awaited what Act II had in store for them. Year #2 under Rhodes, however, became a Tale of Two Cities … as the ghosts of defenses past once again reared their ugly faces …

2002 Denver Broncos …

 

Record

Points Allowed

Through Week 8 (first 8 games)…

6-2

170

From Week 10 on (last 8 games)…

3-5

174

The 2002 Broncos raced out to a 6-2 mark in 2002 and had many in the Broncos nation seeing visions of the return of the Orange Crush. That Crush bottle was quickly drained from Week 10 on however, as the Broncos defense began to demonstrate a pattern of getting beat late in games. Broncos DB’s allowed opposing QB’s to complete 63.6 percent of their passes … and the defense finished tied for the fewest interceptions in the NFL with nine. Once again, the low murmur of “too passive” began to be heard. Rhodes stepped down after that season because “he felt like he wasn’t getting the job done.” (Rhodes’ words from a prepared statement)

Rhode Closure Ahead? …

Seattle Seahawks 2003-2004 Defensive Coordinator

Year

Record

Comp

Pass Yds

Pass TD

Rush Yds

Rush TD

2002*

7-9

16th

3596(19th)

21(15th)

2441(32nd)

18(28th)

2003

10-6

32nd

3728(28th)

24(26th)

1759(14th)

9(5th)

2004

9-7

29th

3589(23rd)

24(19th)

2031(23rd)

17(25th)

* Indicates statistics and ranking the year before Rhodes arrived.

2002* … #24 Best in Pts Allowed (369)

2003 … #16 Best in Pts Allowed (327)

2004 … #22 Best in Pts Allowed (373)

Enter Ray Rhodes into the Seahawks universe … and onto the radar of most Hawks fans. Rhodes once again was able to improve the Hawks defense in year 1 (39 TD’s allowed by Sidwell’s 2002 Hawks … down to 33 TDs in 2003) … but experienced a vastly different story in year #2. In 2004, Rhodes’ defense going into Week 5’s Rams game was rated #1 in the NFL. The Rams came back to bite Seattle late in that game … provoking an agonizing slide that saw this defense morph into one of the NFL’s bottom feeders. Seattle defenders began to get dissected (particularly late in games) prompting the obvious question to now be asked – “Is history repeating itself?”

“This year’s probably been the toughest year that I’ve had coaching, because we did have a few things going. We gave up some critical plays in some situations that cost us the games. Two big games and probably more than that, but I'm referring to the Ram game and the Cowboy game. You have nightmares over that. That’s something that you go back and you rack your mind and you try to find what could you do different, and how could you do this during this situation, look at every call. I’ve done all of that. I feel bad because, personally, I feel like I’ve let this whole team down because I haven’t been able to get it done. That’s something that’s tough to live with. It’s not something that you can go home and go to sleep every night and feel good about anything. There has been a lot of restless nights. I’m one of those guys that’s not looking for excuses. I’ve had several people come up to me and talk about this and talk about that, but it’s all part of the game. You just have to get it done, and bottom line and we haven’t done that.” (Ray Rhodes 12/24/04)

Rhode to Wellville? …

“Losing Grant, you lost a lot of juice coming from the outside. You have a guy that can apply pressure and get them thinking about him a little bit and it makes the other guys better, too." -- Mike Holmgren on the impact of Grant Wistrom’s absence due to injury

When looking at the 2004 Hawks’ defensive collapse, the injury argument is one that must naturally be taken into consideration.

Defense in Games Wistrom Present …

Avg. Rush Yds/Game Allowed -- 111.75 Yds/Game

Avg. Pass Yds/Game Allowed -- 220.75 Yds/Game

3rd Down Percentage Allowed -- 49/120 (40.83%)

Sacks Created by Defense -- 21 (2.6 Sacks/Game Avg.)

Interceptions by Defense -- 16 (2 Ints/Game Avg.)

Fumbles Caused by Defense -- 8 (1 Fum/Game Avg.)

Pts Allowed -- 174 (21.75 Pts/Game Avg.)

Record -- 4 Wins … 4 Losses.

Defense in Games Wistrom Absent …

Avg. Rush Yds/Game Allowed -- 142.5 Yds/Game

Avg. Pass Yds/Game Allowed -- 233.62Yds/Game

3rd Down Percentage Allowed -- 48/109(44%)

Sacks Created by Defense -- 15(1.87 Sacks/Game Avg.)

Interceptions by Defense -- 8(1 Int/Game Avg.)

Fumbles Caused by Defense -- 5(.625 Fum/Game Avg.)

Pts Allowed -- 199(24.8 Pts/Game Avg.)

Record -- 5 Wins … 3 Losses

Good defenses start with strong pass rushes, something the Hawks had precious little of down the stretch. Grant Wistrom’s absence in particular appeared to have had a tangible effect on the defense’s production – one reason that’s prompted the Seahawks to seemingly hand Rhodes the brass ring for another go around in 2005. As the old saying goes though, injuries are no excuse -- something that teams like the Patriots have proven.

Reading the Tea Leaves …

If past performance is indicative of future performance … then what does the future hold for Hawk fans? Like a nomadic hunter, Ray Rhodes has migrated his way across the NFL landscape … as he has never appeared to camp anywhere for too long. The Seahawks defenders under Steve Sidwell often found themselves scratching their heads trying to follow schemes as complicated as a Harvard Lecture (which is fine if the Hawks want to draft more Kacyvenskis.) Rhodes took the katana to the playbook with his simplified attack first defense … and watched the defense immediately improve. Indeed, Rhodes’ defenses have repeatedly shown a pattern of quick improvement … but for one reason or another the armor begins to rust at an extremely accelerated rate afterwards.

From Ronnie Lott, to Bruce Smith, to William Fuller -- the List of Rhodes’ supporters among NFL veterans seemingly stretches endlessly into the horizon. Veteran players say the same thing -- coach Ray Rhodes is inspirational … the type of coach that they’ll gladly charge into battle for. The question at hand though is … what happens when Brother Bluto’s: “When the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech doesn’t work? Like teenagers who’ve heard their father’s speeches a million times … eventually players appear to put their fingers in their ears. When the speeches fail to inspire can he draw up schemes in the clutch that can get his troops safely through the shelling … or does he make his way for the foxhole?

Hawk fans will be eagerly awaiting the answer to those questions in 2005.

Todd Webb writes for Seahawks.NET whenever he can be torn away from his beloved Seattle Mariners. Feel free to send any comments, questions or spring training plane tickets to apologetic_thinker@yahoo.com.


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