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Tillman Sells Self As Coaching’s Blue-Light Special Fired As Hawks’ Defensive Coordinator, He’s Experienced, Economic Alternative

Coaching skills will not help Rusty Tillman this week.

Designs for defensive schemes and coverages can be set aside.

What will be tested, now, is how good a salesman he can be.

The product he has to market is himself, and his 16 years of experience as an assistant coach with the Seattle Seahawks.

Tillman, defensive coordinator for the Seahawks, was fired last week along with head coach Tom Flores and his staff of assistants.

And now the 48-year-old Tillman is trying to sell Seahawks ownership on his ability to be a head coach.

Tillman said Tuesday he expects to interview with Seahawks management Thursday regarding the vacancy.

Considering that Dennis Erickson and Mike Shanahan are viewed as front-runners for the position, Tillman’s interview may be most relevant in that it defines a timetable - nobody is likely to be offered the job before he gets the interview he has been promised.

Reports in Philadelphia papers had Erickson, the University of Miami coach, interviewing with Seahawks management Tuesday.

The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, reported in Tuesday editions that Shanahan, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, had been offered the Seahawks job.

“Mike Shanahan and Dennis Erickson are great football coaches,” Tillman said. “I’m cheaper.”

That’s one point owner Ken Behring might appreciate. But Tillman must stress others.

“I think, to a certain extent, I’ve got to sell them,” Tillman said. “They’ve got to know what I’m really all about, how I would run things, what I think we need, and so on and so forth.”

So, there were problems with recent editions of the Seahawks that needed revision?

“As an assistant, if you’re loyal to your head coach, you don’t say those things. You support your head coach, which I have done in all situations for 16 years,” Tillman said.

“I think I deserve the opportunity. I’ve been a good soldier,” Tillman said. “I’ve been a private and a sergeant and a colonel, and now I want to be a general.”

Tillman, hired in 1979 by Jack Patera, said he has had a dozen job offers through the years, and has twice interviewed for head coaching positions - with Cleveland in 1991 when Bill Belichick got the job, and with Seattle when Flores took the position three years ago.

And while trying to be loyal to the ousted Flores, Tillman said he understood the firing.

“I don’t blame the ownership,” Tillman said. “I think we have great ownership They have done everything to get this headed in the right direction.

“Management felt we should have been 8-8 or 9-7 this year, and we all felt that way,” Tillman said. “Because we weren’t, we lost our jobs, and I understand this perfectly.”

In fact, he could see it coming.

“I started getting itchy when they announced 39,000 (attendance),” Tillman said. “That will get you fired faster than just about anything.”

None of which makes it any easier emotionally. Tillman said his 8-year-old son didn’t want to return to school after the holiday break Tuesday because he was afraid kids would tease him about his dad being fired.

“I don’t particularly like being fired; I don’t particularly like the idea of leaving Seattle,” Tillman said. “But I’ll do what I have to do to take care of my family. I am also checking out my other options around the league.”

Three other NFL teams have contacted him since last Thursday’s firings, he said.

After three years of finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in defense despite losing seasons, the Hawks slipped to 23rd in the league the last two years under Tillman.

Tillman said he understands that Seahawks ownership is enamored with the idea of hiring an offensiveminded coach - such as Erickson or Shanahan.

“I have some experience on the offensive side of the ball, and there are people I know out there who would run the kind of offense they want,” Tillman said, adding that defensive coaches like Belichick can help develop offenses because “they know the sort of things that are tough to defend.”

And whoever gets the Seahawks job should benefit from a strong nucleus of talent.

“This thing is not that far off,” Tillman said. “This team should definitely make the playoffs this year, no question in my mind. We have some needs, but those needs can be filled through free agency and the draft.”

And if he doesn’t get the job, would he be willing to be an assistant under his fourth different head coach?

“I will keep all my options open,” Tillman said. “I respect Dennis Erickson and Mike Shanahan. I know them both and they’re both fine football coaches. I would entertain any offer.”

Wordcount: 784
Tags: football

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